Jack Strange

Arthouse, Austin

Through July 3
by Sean Ripple

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      Jack Strange
      Biff, Griff and Mad Dog
      2009
      Three-channel video, 6:00mins., 6:30minutes, 7:00minutes
      Courtesy of the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; and Limoncello Gallery, London

      View Gallery

      That the British phrase “tongue-in-cheek” is the first one that comes to mind when viewing British conceptualist Jack Strange’s exhibit Within Seconds at Arthouse is nothing if not a pesky connection. This is unfortunate because as soon as the connection is made, it is a pretty hard one to shake, which makes for a fairly dull viewing experience. Yes, we get it: flatly ironic witticisms that highlight futility are your jam, Jack, but where’s the song? Is it streaming online perhaps?

      A montage comprised of clips of Tom Cruise running in various movies, glitchy video mashups of the Back to the Future Trilogy doing their best jittery Jimmy Stewart impression and projected slides of the artist and strangers standing side-by-side in identical red and blue jackets are all busy trying to convince the viewer that the artist is using his deadpan wit to great effect. The thing is, the work forgets to bring you past the threshold of the navel gaze. It alienates like only the efforts of a self-assured smartass can. What’s most frustrating is that there is defiant lack of transformation evident in the objects on display, even when the artist’s hand is tempted to lead us down this alley, as it is with the two laptop sculptures Fat Laptop and Lecture on Life Inside a Human Cell. With these two works, a mass of lard filling the space between screen and keys and an audience of clay balls sitting atop the keys of a keyboard (eyes fixed on the screen) respectively stand in as the human element of the techno-human condition. Instead of merging these elements in a manner that sincerely addresses this condition, Strange’s material use seems mostly mocking and noncommittal. 

      Curiously, a quick Google search proves that in earlier works, the artist crafted a number of fully packed punchlines worth waiting for. For instance, with the work g (2008), a lead ball sits on a laptop’s “g” key, registering the letter in a Word document until the computer crashes, alluding to Earth’s gravitational force on objects close to its surface. Even if you do not catch the physics reference, you can sense the depth and conviction of the underlying concept. The resultant humor, gleaned from little more than an online image, is emotionally rich, beautiful and truly funny. 

      That there is this difference in the reading of Strange’s work in virtual and physical space suggests something akin to a mind-body problem. Framed this way, it’s possible that a collection of visual one-liners can find a perfectly suitable home in the deepest corners of cerebral space represented online. However, when brought into the gallery, these same one-liners are quickly reduced to nothing but empty packaging. Much like Strange’s sculpture Believe, where an empty flattened special-edition Mars candy bar wrapper with the word “believe” emblazoned on it lies listless on a flat screen television over DVD loops of the cosmos warping.

      Sean Ripple is an artist based in Austin, Texas.

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