Immaterial

Ballroom Marfa

Through February 20, 2011
by Erin Kimmel

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      Immaterial (exhibition view)
      2010
      Courtesy of the artists
      Photos by Mike Bianco

      View Gallery

      Heather Rowe
      All Day Light
      2010

      View Slideshow

      Immaterial explores art’s potential to transcend conscious states without privileging Immanuel Kant’s monumental formulation of the metaphysical over the sensuous. Though the twelve featured international artists work in various mediums, they are all united in process-based practices that lie somewhere in the interstices of abstraction, formalism and minimalism—essentially postminimalism. The artists are heirs to Eva Hesse’s pioneering practice, shedding the solipsistic claims of classical minimalism while retaining its reduced formalist language. As such, the strongest pieces are a handful of sculptures that evoke a strong psychic space outside the work, one that is almost as tangible as the physical space inhabited by the object itself.

      Heather Rowe’s All Day Light is one of four pieces commissioned for the show. Assembled from found materials in Marfa, the two large folding screens (roughly six by eleven feet) confuse interiority and exteriority. The raw skeletons are comprised of metal and wood while voile, mirrors and wallpaper drape the panels separately. Most panels are left blank or empty, cutting up the space in a decidedly architectonic manner. As the viewer circumambulates the work, rectangular mirrors fastened to the hinges fracture the sightlines and vanishing points created by both the screen and the viewer’s reflection, thus allowing for fleeting moments of self-consciousness.

      The mirror is a metaphorically rich material. It plays a cardinal role in both psychoanalytic and cinematic theory, as it represents the gap between the illusory unity of self-reflection and discordant emotional experience. The deconstructed screens thrust the viewer beyond a well-defined subjective framework—one that manifests the impossibility of establishing a link between what is seen and felt. Slavoj Žižek terms this unsayable abyss the “uattainable kernel of the void,” which threatens the integrity of one’s psychic space because it points to the inadequacy of the discursive realm.  Thus, the more the viewer interacts with Rowe’s dismantled screens, the less she will be able to express the what she is experiencing—echoing the ambivalent masquerade that characterizes inter-subjective relations.

      Across the room is Australian-born Rachel Khedoori’s Cave Model (2009), another material exploration that evokes and produces an immaterial space. Sinewy and uncanny, the meandering plaster paths of the sculpture, representing a cave’s interior, resemble a design for a surrealist rollercoaster. A number of critics have noted that the form recalls brain matter. This is fitting, considering Khedoori’s inspiration for the work grew out of an interest in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Khedoori’s practice appears, however, to eschew Plato’s concept of philosophical clarity, which privileges the realm of forms (ideas) over the material world of change (perception). Instead, the two inform each other in her exploration of an otherwise hidden space—that of the mental.

      In the north gallery Erin Shirreff’s four untitled, unobtrusive but striking sculptures hug, brush and lean precariously against a long wall. Though the sculptures look like thin limestone slabs, they are compressed from local wood ash, hydrocal and armature. An adjoining room features a 32-minute video documenting the slow movement of shadows over a full, crater-faced moon. Shirreff composed the video from 500 stills. Together, the video and sculptures create one of her trademark “hybrid scenarios.” In these, she explores the ways in which 2-D media, here photography and video, inform our encounters with sculpture and architecture. Shirreff’s textured but flat sculptures mimic the grainy resolution of the video screen. In foregrounding the often overlooked material qualities of the screen, Shirreff forces her viewers into a negotiation between real and virtual space.

      It is perhaps the exhibit’s focus on physical and psychic tensions that led executive director and curator Fairfax Dorn not to broadcast the fact that all twelve of the artists featured in Immaterial are women. Female psychic space is a loaded subject, and gender tokenism equally limiting. In keeping with Immaterial’s theme and borrowing from Russian critic Victor Shlovsky’s idea of the purpose of art, Dorn’s non-qualification underscores “things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

      Erin Kimmel is a freelance writer based in Marfa, Texas.

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