New Works: 09.2

Artpace San Antonio

Through September 13
by Claire Ruud

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      Silke Otto-Knapp
      The full moon this fall, All night long I have paced around the pond, 2009
      7 Relief etchings
      19 ¾ x 17 ¾ inches each
      Originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio
      Photo: Todd Johnson

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      How do you evaluate the work created by an artist during a residency? That’s the question I walked away asking after visiting the latest round of Artpace residencies (Silke Otto-Knapp, Anne Collier and Charlie Morris). Over the past two years I have seen most of the exhibitions that culminate each round of residencies at Artpace. I often like the work produced by the artists-in-residence, but I rarely find it memorable. So I’m beginning to think my evaluative criteria are all wrong.

      Keeping this question in mind, let me pause and say a few words about the current Artist-in-Residence exhibitions. Silke Otto-Knapp, known for her translucent watercolor-on-canvas works, tries her hand at etching. The seven compositions, and the shimmering greys in which they are printed, hearken back to a few silver gouache paintings she exhibited earlier this year at Overduin & Kite. Recalling photographic negatives, the paintings appeared ghostlike. Printed, the same compositions lose their diaphanous quality and feel flat. Then again, the way the prints are installed in the gallery creates a rhythm. Equally sized and evenly spaced, each frame contains the “same” female figure in a different pose. Over the course of the first three prints, the dancer barely moves. Then, as if picking up the pace, she drastically changes position in each of the next four compositions. Taking the series in as a whole, the prints suggest the passing of time and the pace of movement, a new experiment for Otto-Knapp.

      Anne Collier, known for her conceptual photography, also tries on a time-based medium for size. She, too, elaborates on a subject found in earlier work: photographs of models and actresses with cameras. At Artpace, Collier lifts frames from the trailer of The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) to create a slideshow that tugs on your heart strings. The click of slides dropping sounds just like I remember that old Nikon’s shutter sounding during my childhood. My memory is helped along by the presence of a Nikon in the images on the screen. They are a series of close-ups of the actress’s face as she closes one eye to look through the viewfinder, then opens the eye, looking at something, and then widens her eyes as she drops the camera away from her face. The nostalgic tug of the slightly-pinking slides and the rhythmic click of slides dropping heighten the drama of the emotion in her eyes—anguish? fear? terror? While the punning on the eye and the camera and the setting, evocative of all those art history lectures, allows the viewer some conceptual distance from the images on the screen, Collier effectively uses the time-based medium to heighten the emotional content of her images.

      Charlie Morris, whose recent work has investigated war and the current political climate, works in sculpture, photography and video at Artpace. His installation is the most diverse and the least coherent. For one piece, he cut out all the figures from the plates in the Marquis De Sade’s Juliette, piling them in one big orgiastic heap next to the book. In another, he cultivated hemlock. In the third, he created a sculpture from stacks of military caps. Danger, censorship, military conformity. A vague critique of political systems is in here somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      The work an artist creates during a residency, of course, depends on the type of residency program she’s participating in. In my experience, most residency programs include three priorities into their mission statements, with an emphasis on one of the three. These priorities are (1) production (2) experimentation (3) community involvement. Artpace’s residency is weighted towards production, the exhibition of new work that culminates each residency. The artists must balance the compulsion to produce finished work with the two-month time limit. Many artists respond to these parameters in the same way Otto-Knapp and Collier do: choose an old theme, choose a new medium and see what happens.

      This tug-of-war between production and experimentation is present within many residency programs, and production often wins out. After all, how can we assess the value of a program if there is no product to evaluate?

      Are there other “products” we value besides art objects? Conversations, questions, experiments (really wild ones), classes taken, workshops given, archival research, reading, writing, I could go on. I’m not suggesting we reject our investment in art objects, either. But, (and I’m channeling my mother here) what about delayed gratification? If an artist produces a memorable, exciting object three months or three years later, isn’t the residency still part of the process that led there? After an artist has gone to the trouble of being an artist (the MFA, the low-wage day job, late nights in the studio) and applying for the residency (the portfolio, the artist statement, the statement of purpose), do we need objects as proof that they’re working hard enough to “earn their keep” during the residency?

      Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.

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