Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin
Through November 26
by Sean Ripple
The photograph is part of the exhibition. The photograph is a part of a series of nine that you can choose to have displayed. The scuffs and nicks on the frame in which the photograph sits along with the dust on the pane of the glass of the frame are part of the frame. The art, the artist, the gallery, the art handlers and the audience combine to create the whole show.
With Dust Breeds Contempt, artist Colby Bird is hung up on the relationship between discrete units and the notion of a unified whole. Just check the stop motion animation of constantly recombining parts of a finite series of wood sculptures playing on a television for clues. Sitting inconspicuously on a bookshelf like a monitor for a surveillance feed, the video depicts the fractured interplay of 2x4s and blocks of wood moving about on their own in the artist’s studio. The compression of time, and resulting sense of completion, afforded by video is something the exhibition as a whole lacks. The conceptual framework of the show leads you to think that you’ll experience a high degree of carefully considered recontextualization that in turn will spur aesthetic reevaluation. However, without the elements of accelerated time and motion present, the whole affair feels gravely static… there’s no sense of a shift… there’s no whirlwind. It’s like a snapshot of a video of someone sticking a large branch into a fan.
Taken individually, much of the work on display has a considerable draw, with the series of deconstructed and reconfigured chair sculptures and sculptural assemblages being the most enticing. The carefully arranged precariousness of bits and pieces, the seductive quality of the materials used and the minimalist gestures bring you in. No doubt, this is some beautiful stuff. But like Bird’s photograph of a Howdy Doody puppet sitting on a loveseat, with his head turned away from the gaze of the viewer, there’s a resistance to perform according to expectations. Bird leaves the responsibility of setting all the parts of the exhibition in motion entirely up to the viewer. And while the idea of allowing the viewer to vary the arrangement of the parts that make up the whole exhibition is a fairly exciting one, there are problems with this conceptual frame that the show just can’t overcome.
For the exhibition’s concept to truly work for an audience, viewers would need to visit the space weekly, with a keen eye for difference and degradation in order to see the effects of time and motion subtly affect the objects on display. It’s only by interacting with the show in this hyper observant, participatory manner that something like cohesiveness begins to emerge. If all you have is one visit to give, then the bit is all you get, and the bit is just not enough to pull things together.
Sean Ripple is an artist and writer based in Austin, Texas.