IAIR New Works: 10.1
Artpace San Antonio
Buster Graybill, Tush Hog, 2010; mixed-media installation; dimensions variable; originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio; photo by Todd Johnson
Klara Liden, Corps de Ballet, 2010; 3 channel video; music by Åskar Brickman; production still; originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio; photo by Ulrike Müller
Ulrike Müller, Fever 103, 2010; enamel on steel; 15.5 x 12 inches (18 plates); installation view; originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio; photo by Todd Johnson
When Artpace San Antonio unveils its International Artist-in-Residence (IAIR) exhibits every four months, there are always attempts to conceptually and formally connect the three individual projects on view. Viewers, reviewers and even the curator try to figure out how the projects fit together, how they act on and lean against one another. Often this exercise falls flat, as the three artists—selected by the same curator and working in adjoining spaces—take their projects in entirely different directions. The IAIR work currently on view, however, demonstrates how well the confluence of the projects can sometimes shed light on each individual artist’s approach to a singular concern.
All three installations could have sprung from a single question: What happens when you take a minimalist surface and push a body up against it? In the answers provided by Buster Graybill, Klara Liden and Ulrike Müller, the kinds of surfaces, pushes and bodies vary widely: rams seeking corn butt their heads against stainless steel sculptures on a Texas ranch; a person clings to a concrete pillar high above the ground in downtown San Antonio; and bold, geometric abstractions referencing human anatomy fill the surfaces of small, steel plates.
In Tush Hog, Graybill released semi-minimal stainless steel sculptures filled with corn onto a ranch outside San Antonio. Small holes in the sculptures let the corn out, attracting wildlife—rams and feral hogs—and inspiring small feeding frenzies, while game cameras installed on the ranch captured video of these interactions. At Artpace, Graybill presents the rugged industrial sculptures, with dirt still clinging to them and corn scattered about the floor. Documentation (videos and stills) of the animals’ responses hangs on the walls. In one video, a ram jumps up and down around a sculpture as another butts its head against it. The sounds of rams butting horns and running into the sculptures echo through the space. The installation leaves one to wonder if the gallery invaded the wild or the wild has invaded the gallery; sculptures born at Artpace infiltrated ranchland, but what the land sent back was imbued with an animal energy foreign to the art institution.
Liden’s performative videos are a kind of inversion of Graybill’s strategy. While Tush Hog’s surfaces were created in the gallery and the movements came from the wild, in Liden’s Corps de Ballet the artist constructed movements in the gallery and then pushed them against surfaces in urban spaces. Three surveillance-style videos projected on the gallery walls bring her actions back to Artpace—and to the viewer. One video starts with a shot of a street and the corner of a building with large concrete pillars. All that seems to happen are views of cars passing by, but eventually one notices the arms and legs of the artist clinging to the top of one of the pillars as she slowly edges her way down. Just before she reaches the bottom, the video ends. In an adjacent projection, the artist performs the same action on a lamp post at night. A third, shorter video shows Liden doing a slow, minimal dance on the top of a parking garage and ends with her body curled up in the empty space. Across from the projections, tar roofing paper swoops down from the ceiling, covering most of the gallery floor and forming a kind of stage for the viewer to inhabit. Off to one side, large rectangular solids constructed from the same paper hang from the ceiling. A repetitive soundtrack of piano music and bird sounds ties the environment together into a powerful mass of darkness and urban solitude.
The third part of IAIR 10.1 is formally quite different. Müller rendered some eighteen striking enamel-on-steel paintings and hung them at even intervals thoughout the gallery. Simple and geometric yet frankly erotic, the works are together titled after the Sylvia Plath poem Fever 103° (each painting also takes an individual title from one of the poem’s eighteen stanzas). Müller’s process of “painting” with enamel powder and baking onto steel plates softens her hard-edged compositions with a slightly organic, undulating surface. Colors that from a distance seem strictly separate intermingle under inspection. No field remains pure.
Müller arranged for Fever 103 to be viewed only in natural light. The large garage door from the gallery space to an outdoor patio remains open during viewing hours. This decision demonstrates the idea that these pieces, both in their design and production, are perfectly at home in an outdoor setting. Her compositions derive from signage and tile design, and her materials are rugged. When viewing these enamel paintings, one is thus reminded of the meeting point of public spaces filled with signs, and the more intimate places one tends to associate with decorative tiles: the kitchen, the bathroom—places, incidentally, dedicated to the needs of the body. While Graybill’s Tush Hog and Liden’s Corps de Ballet explore the movement of the work of art outside the gallery and then back in, Müller’s Fever 103 subtly deconstructs her work from within. Gone are the video, the audio and the blatant industrial aesthetic of Graybill and Liden. However, Müller’s approach still draws from Minimalism; bodies still push up against surfaces. She too breaks down the edges of her compositions, the physical limits of the gallery and, ultimately, the psychological limits of the public and private realms.
Ben Judson is a poet and freelance critic based in San Antonio.
This exhibition runs through May 16, 2010.