Totally Wreck

MASS Gallery @ Big Medium, Austin

Closed June 26, 2010
by Ariel Evans

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      Ben Aqua
      Detail, Oil Spill
      2010
      Ink on vinyl
      42x62 inches
      Courtesy of the artist

      View Gallery

      The press release for the Totally Wreck Production Institute’s show at Big Medium, In Science, the Lion Sleeps with the Lamb is worth quoting at length: 

      …Visions of progress and product were set aside, and instead, the identity of failure was sought out as a milestone containing shrouded and inherent success. Inconclusive dilemmas became holy events with hidden meaning and techno-spiritual meditations…Investors quickly ceased their funding of these experiments, based on an overwhelming fear that the institute’s pursuit of scientific conquest appeared to be slipping deeply into the palms of the psychotic/avant-garde…[1]

      Given its craftsmanship, I can’t help but see the release as one of the artworks in the show, particularly considering the fictionalized and manifesto-like quality of the text. Touching on concerns with science and failure, the press release creates a narrative for the show’s otherwise disparate artworks, implying that when science “goes wrong,” the unexpected results veer away from the rational and ascend towards the mystical.

      Works involving scientific failure include Kyle Dixon’s installation, where the artist covered the wall and floor with flattened and desiccated frogs and released 4,500 ladybugs into the gallery. Reminiscent of middle-school science class, the frogs and insects don’t lead to scientific enlightenment; they’re just gross.

      Similar ideas undergird Ben Aqua’s printout of a black-to-white gradient sliced vertically down the center and titled Oil Spill. In a show staged soon after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the title shifts the meaning of Aqua’s Lucio Fontana-esque gesture on a digital gradient towards commentaries on hubris and failure in technology and industry.

      Yet other works add spiritualism to the mix. The show’s title itself points to the spiritual by referencing Biblical narratives of the lion and the lamb, as does the press release’s “inconclusive dilemmas” becoming “holy events.” Eli Welbourne’s video installation with draped fabric and figurines over a television seems religious as well, and like Dixon’s work, has a middle school flavor. It reads as a thirteen year-old’s bedroom altar to a pop star, with its black, purple and gold color scheme, candles, figurines, and video work reminiscent of early MTV.

      Mixing symbols of technology and spiritualism appear as longstanding concerns of Totally Wreck. Early work by members of the collective includes projects for UT’s ACTLAB under Sandy Stone, where they created ritualistic performances detailed by electroluminescent equipment and interactive video projections.

      Unfortunately, the exhibition does not hold as much appeal as many of their other projects. Totally Wreck’s concerns with the technospiritual seem better expressed in their online tumblr blog, video work and performances, where the quickness and overload-quality of online viewership reinforces the nature of their message.[2] In Big Medium, Totally Wreck’s work seems more of a one-liner than anything else.[3] Galleries tend to encourage a longer engagement with single images than the exhibition’s works sustain.

      This is disappointing because Totally Wreck’s performance and online work is complex, humorous and fascinating. Instead of pausing at single images, the viewer flips through hundreds of brief and ephemeral suggestions. On the Internet, the sheer mass and diversity of their material becomes too large to fully grasp; it is religious in its celebration of that which we cannot hope to understand.[4] Much like the press release, Totally Wreck’s collection of bizarre online ephemera evokes a technological spirituality more readily than the handful of works in the gallery.

      [1] Press release, In Science, the Lion Sleeps with the Lamb, June – July 2010, Big Medium, Austin, Texas.
      [2] http://totallywreck.tumblr.com/
      [3] One exception are the Juan (“Johnny”) Cisneros’ paintings of arcane diagrams on grids—these are quite lovely and worth spending some time with.
      [4] Scientists, in this sense, are then spiritual. After all, the project of science is to understand the universe—this is of course a hopeless task. But we continue to try anyway and our failures still reveal. Totally Wreck is clearly speaking to ideas like this.

      Ariel Evans is pursuing her Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin.

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