Laura A. Lindenberger
Construction Site, installations and sculpture by four Austin-based artists, fills AMLI Downtown. A product of the dot com boom before the bubble popped, AMLI emerged as part of a budding entertainment and living district in downtown Austin. Though most construction for the city-block-sized apartment building is finished, there is still over six thousand square feet of undeveloped area—concrete slabs, posts and corrugated siding on the ground floor—all of which makes for a perfect site for large-scale installations and sculpture.
Each artist in Construction Site creates successful, discrete installations within their individual spaces; however, the show lacks any unifying framework that might make it a cohesive endeavor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In a space as large as this, there is enough room to amble from one idea to another, making the unifying factor of the show its very lack of unity. The mix of work becomes a series of giant dreamscapes, involving the viewer in multiple narratives that sometimes bump into each other or end abruptly, stretching visual perceptions through their varying degrees of interaction.
Katalin Hausel, Drift, 2004
I entered the show through a side door near Katalin Hausel’s Drift. Her installation occupies a large room to the side of the main exhibition space and consists of hand-painted text on the floor—excerpts from Noam Chomsky’s The Responsibility of Intellectuals (1967). Stenciled black letters travel along the floor, dipping and arcing to mirror the meandering contours of the oddly shaped room, forming almost complete sentences; they require the viewer to walk along a convoluted path in order to read the text.
Building on a theme that also surfaces in her paintings, Hausel plucked single letters from the text, removing them from their context and rendering them as freestanding plywood sculptures. These letters, scattered about the room, invite the viewer to stand or sit on them, look through or touch them. They create a sort of Alice in Wonderland effect with respect to the viewer’s physical relationship to them: we seem to have eaten the wrong kind of treat and shrunk to the size of human bookmarks. Tucked away from the other artist’s spaces, surrounded by hot lights and filled with late-summer humidity, Hausel’s work has a quiet, dreamlike impact heightened by the languid rolling of words into unfinished sentences.
As a site-specific installation, Hausel’s work takes full advantage of its surroundings, breaking down our perception of the physicality of art and replacing it with a text-based set of information. Because the reader/viewer can never quite finish a sentence, the installation conveys a frustrating lack of closure, perhaps intentionally.
Barna Kantor, Retinal Massage, 2004
Most of Barna Kantor’s work involves the exploration of vision and requires the vast amount of space AMLI allows. It is hard to imagine Decelerators I and II as being anywhere other than here. Decelerator I, a video projection, is an eyelike, spinning half-orb reflected in a pool of water on the floor. The mirrored effect creates a tension between flatness and three-dimensionality, pushing and pulling the viewer into believing the floor continues into the smooth, flat plane of the wall. This mirage is broken as water pools in certain areas but dries in others, threatening our trust in our own vision.
Retinal Massage I projects a shifting overlay of spotted patterns, one on top of the other, on both the wall and the floor. Dubnoff metabolic incubators, machines resembling record players whose needles bump back and forth, create these patterns, which change with each wiggle of the needle and cover all who enter the space, rendering 3-D camouflage projection over the surface of their bodies.
Kantor is interested not only in optical dynamics but in everything that surrounds his projections and sculptures—light, machines, viewer, ground. This is more successful in certain instances than others. Total Area Control I and II, clocklike panels with multiple ticking hands sans numbers, are interesting exercises. Despite their soothing, rhythmic motion, they are an awkward fit with the rest of his works on display.
Lynn Richardson, Filter Fresh, 2004
In Filter Fresh and Chicken town U.S.A., Int., Lynn Richardson creates two environments, both about materiality. Despite their complexity, both pieces function as objects. Filter Fresh connects glassed-in, umbrella-frame pods (or trees?) with their giant counterparts through a series of tubes. Metal, Plexiglas, fluorescent lights and wood join together in a surreal landscape—part laboratory, part person-sized seed pods. This installation requires the viewer to walk around it in order to take it in; however, Richardson’s is the only work in the exhibition not completed through human interaction—a point that reinforces a dark, slightly ominous, science-fiction reading of the piece. Richardson’s work, through its invocation of a futuristic and (un)natural habitat, left me cold.
Young-Min Kang’s work—set squarely in the middle of the space—steals the show. A Slice of a Day, a large trapezoidal object with the photographic image of a face sprawled across it, slowly spins on a motorized base. Trying to connect the image to my line of vision, I followed the work around in circles, peering down the length of it to compress the stretched face into recognizable proportions. I was unsuccessful. Other pieces also play with stretched faces, the movement of the viewer and the “re-making” of digital images through distortion and displacement. Kang’s faces—one of President Bush, one of Creative Research Laboratory director Hana Hillerova and one of people kissing—challenge visual understanding. Unlike Kantor, however, Kang employs repetition and scale in collagelike combinations.
This is an ambitious show that stands up to the challenges of filling an enormous space. While almost all the works pose questions that require the viewer’s body to participate in step with her eye, those questions are as much about situation as they are about the artists’ chosen subject matter. Inevitably, Construction Site becomes a show about how to visually negotiate the space it fills rather than a common theme or idea. This is both its weakness and its resounding success.