International Artist-in-Residence, New Works: 11.1
Artpace, San Antonio
Through May 22
by Lana Shafer
A landscape of glowing swamp water, skeletal remains of saber-toothed tigers and an homage to 57 jazz musicians are the subjects of the works in Artpace’s current exhibition of artists-in-residence. Selected by Heather Pesanti (Curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York), the artists in New Works: 11.1 are Kelly Richardson (Toronto, Canada/Newcastle, England), E.V. Day (New York, New York), and Devon Dikeou (Austin, Texas).
Leviathan, a high-definition triple-channel video by Richardson, is a 20-minute loop of footage shot on Caddo Lake in Uncertain, Texas. The video displays the area’s indigenous bald cypress trees in their swamp environment. However, Richardson digitally enhances the composite image by color grading the water with undulating ribbons hued a glowing yellow green and replacing expected nature sounds with an ominous soundtrack. Utilizing the format of a triptych, the landscape is presented from a single vantage point, like a painting set into motion. Richardson’s manipulation of the video suggests several foreboding plot lines: the birth of primordial life, the emergence of an evil aquatic creature, or a post-apocalyptic Earth. The title itself (Leviathan) alludes to several textual references including a serpent sea monster from the Bible who is the gatekeeper to hell, Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 philosophical treatise, and a 1989 sci-fi film of the same name. These references become particularly relevant in the wake of environmental atrocities including the 2010 BP oil spill and, most recently, the earthquake and impending threat of nuclear disaster in Japan. Employing postmodern intertexuality, Richardson draws on the tradition of Leviathan as myth and metaphor encouraging the viewer to meditate on the possibilities of the implied narrative.
Day’s sculptural installation CatFight also takes cues from prehistory, focusing on the remains of two saber-toothed tigers created from casts of fossils discovered at the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Day reconstructs the skeletons in an archetypal catfight, a humorous play on the cliché of catty girl-on-girl fighting (as well as society’s fascination with it) and on gender roles as a whole. Suspended from the ceiling with a myriad of monofilaments and adorned with silver leaf bling on their teeth and claws, the dueling saber-tooths create a climactic tableau that can be circumambulated by the viewer. Hinting at a Debordian spectacle, the stop-action scene appears like a cinematic image or even a clip from a reality TV show. Day also includes several snakes on the floor surrounding the fight as audience members, or consumers, of the representation. Fabricated out of aluminum and positioned upright, fangs exposed and ready to pounce, the snakes serve as masculine counterpoints to the feminine drama. While Day runs the risk of creating a one-liner by using literal cats to signify a human catfight, the beauty and complexity in the form of her work, paired with the conflation of lowbrow cultural motifs, scientific intellectuality, and sociological inquiry provides much on which the viewer can ruminate.
Dikeou’s Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, the most conceptually rigorous of the three installations, exposes the oversights of historical classification through the lens of American jazz. As an artist, curator, collector, editor and publisher of zingmagazine, Dikeou has her hand in every aspect of the art world’s systems of recognition, which she questions and re-presents through her artistic practice. In the exhibition, Dikeou commemorates 57 jazz legends with photographs of gold plaques bearing their names. Upsetting the expected hierarchy of museum display, household names like Miles Davis and John Coltrane land alongside those who have fallen into obscurity, such as Illinois Jacquet and Sonny Simmons. Positing Simmons—a personal friend of Dikeou and a great forgotten jazz musician—as an authority, his photo-plaque is blown up to a monumental size (17 x 12 feet) that dwarfs the others, while a vocal track by Sonny recounting his thoughts on the other musicians permeates the space. Additionally, signaling her skepticism of the seemingly limitless amount of information available online, Dikeou undermines the Internet as an authority with the inclusion of two perfectly-rendered graphite drawings by San Antonio artist Chad Dawkins of the HTTP 404 Internet search error message. She has also created CDs, available for free, featuring The Sonny Simmons Quintet. Much like relational aesthetic artist Liam Gillick’s “platform” sculptures and Andrea Fraser’s exhibition tours that include the viewer as a participant in the critique of institutions, this installation implicates the beholder in the creation and dissemination of history and points to the curator’s power to insert figures into the art world.
Although the three residents employ divergent approaches, media and subjects, connecting threads can still be drawn. Both Day and Dikeou deal with modes of institutional display, such as those of natural history and hall of fame museums. Leviathan and CatFight work particularly well together; both works reference prehistory, the natural world and the dialectic they have with humanity. Each artist’s work can be enjoyed and celebrated on its own; however, the dialogue they have when exhibited together makes for a rich and successful installment of Artpace’s International Artist-in-Residence program.
Lana Shafer is a freelance writer and an art historian based in Austin, Texas.