Women & Their Work, Austin
Through January 10, 2009
by Lee Webster
Sasha Dela’s Let Love Flow investigates Austin’s relationship to its most cherished and endangered natural resource: water. The show, currently at Women and Their Work, consists of two videos and several sculptural installations, continuing Dela’s ongoing exploration of place and ecology. Though the conversation among the pieces in the sparsely filled gallery is sometimes disjointed, the show offers a few beautiful moments in Dela’s vision of a city tormented by a lust for development and a love for the natural resource that is both its threatened lifeblood and its most desired commodity.
Resist the urge to sink into the corporate lounge chair that greets you at the front of the exhibition. This chair faces a video with almost an hour’s worth of talking head interviews. The interviews, conducted by Dela with several of Central Texas’s water conservation activists, are unfortunately dry. The video may provide didactic material and lend context to the show, but its blandness stands in contrast to the rest of Dela’s work, which eloquently addresses similar issues.
Further inside the darkened gallery an even comfier couch awaits you. This comically over-sized leather wrap-around, with a big bowl of butterscotch candies perched on one end, will cradle you as you watch the 9 minute video from which the show takes its name. Let Love Flow (2008) is a loose narrative told through text interspersed with recent video footage of the city. Text and image weave a parable about a city who bore the very children who now eat and drink of her. Coddled within her, they disregard the danger that their unrestricted use of the city brings to their shared future.
As a dance beat starts, the sun peaks out from behind a cityscape and text describes: “The sun moved like fire through the air in the city of Austin.” In a timelapse rush, cars move through the highway veins of the city, residents exercise in a parking lot. The beat of the music with the video is pulsing, the text suggests the drama which is about to unfold. The montage of city images settles on the familiar scene of Barton Springs Pool, filled to the brim with swimmers. Longer shots show the banks of grass filled with sunbathers and swimmers bobbing in the water in quiet contemplation. The text on the screen states: “The bodies of water celebrated the bodies within…” “And they created and procreated.” Day turns to night in Austin. As the pace of the video picks up, the image shifts to a bar on Sixth Street. A grainy close-up shows a man and a woman in the bar, kissing as if desiring to devour one another. Dela’s text asks: “Who are the people of Austin. Are they brave? Are they strong?” The camera then spies a couple in a private embrace in the middle of an empty parking lot, “Do they love enough that the land will not eat them and start again anew?”
Let Love Flow ends with the warning that our city is awaiting the answer to those questions. Though the images are almost too literal to do justice to the text that provides the video’s poetic arc, the piece provides an important schema through which to view the rest of the show. On either side of the comfy couch are sculptural pieces that have found incarnations in Dela’s past work as well. Mixed Volumes 3 (2008), which sits on two beaten-up folding tables, consists of several books with titles like UFOs: Gods of Chariots and Kinetic Theory of Gases. Upon inspection, the pages of Kinetic Theory of Gases are not a science text, but pornography magazine pages cut to size. A book called Rats bears the pages of a familiar car catalogue like AutoTrader, and Nine and A Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair is filled with the pages of a catalogue for a building supply store. The books provide a dissociative and tactile experience, one that compliments the picture of a people so inured to the reality of the world around them they might cause its destruction.
Opposite the books, in the darkest recess of the gallery, is a tall wire metal shelf filled on each level with water bottles containing a glimmering, opaque black liquid. The liquid first conjures oil, another Texas commodity. But within the context of the show, the bottles seem to contain the antithesis of pure water; the piece, Water Shelve (2008), becomes the ultimate warning, the answer to what becomes of the city if her people cannot “love enough.”
The beauty of the show is in the parable, the strangeness of a tale that insinuates we could be blinded to our best interests by an almost carnal lust. The video Let Love Flow suggests that a flaw in human nature, a selfishness, could be the destruction of our natural resources. However, Dela leaves much room for interpretation throughout most of the show, which is what makes the juxtaposition of the video interviews jarring. On the way out, you might stop to watch more of the interviews, though ultimately they seem out of place in the gallery, as if they could have been condensed into a pamphlet or wall text. They don’t seem to speak to the narrative Dela has woven in Let Love Flow. That being said, the issues addressed in these interviews aren’t often given voice elsewhere, and education is one of Dela’s primary objectives.
Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.