With “Flatland,” curator Patty Ortiz partly plays with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s notion that the internet, social media and growing globalization have leveled the world’s playing field, but she also toys with modern art’s fixation on the surface of a painting, extending from Henri Matisse’s compression of space to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings through Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s pop-infused “Superflat” style.
Austin artist Xochi Solis, for example, appears to have used a battering ram to squish her candy-colored paintings onto the wall, eliminating the extra dimension of canvas and frame and leaving what resembles elegant stains. Solis’ If Only I Could Remember These Dreams is extremely flat, yet you can see layers of black, yellow, blue, green, pink and brown paint with a few photographic images peeking out. Like a computer chip, just because a painting is flat doesn’t mean it’s not complex and powerful.
Many artists abandon illusionistic space in their pursuit of perfect flatness, but Mark Hogensen perhaps best embraces the dual nature of “Flatland” in three drawings of a flat plane that appears to be magically floating in mid-air; he also includes smudge drawings on the wall of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria on Columbus’ voyage that proved the world isn’t flat.
Of course, a lot has changed since 1492.
“Our world is certainly flat,” Ortiz writes in her essay about the exhibit. “Whether we like it or not, the speed, ease and extent of everyday communication and transportation have altered and will continue to alter the condition of being here. We live in a giant round world flattened by technology. But flat does not mean equal and flat does not mean level. [“Flatland”] presents 10 artists who are maneuvering successfully in this flat world, juggling form, process and cultural meaning to keep the artistic landscape constantly shifting and expanding.”
Humor helps when confronting conceptual conundrums. Probably the most fun is Cisco Merel’s interactive video installation, Self-Portrait, which vividly illustrates that under the skin, we’re all just shimmering, shifting, multicolored parallelograms.
Spanish artist Carlos Aires uses cutouts to add dimensions of irony and social commentary to familiar flat objects. For his world-encompassing Love Is in the Air (Fly Edition) installation, he used a laser to cut vinyl records into silhouettes of pop culture figures, porn stars and people in the news. Combined with the song title on the record, the figures acquire deeper meanings, such as a stripper derived from Nat King Cole Sings My Fair Lady or the torture victim tied to a chair clipped from Lou Rawls’ Sit Down and Talk to Me. Other slyly subversive pieces include a devil cut from Billy Swan’s I Can Help, a woman cloaked in a burka made from David Houston’s A Woman Always Knows and a grinning skull culled from Jerry Vale’s What a Wonderful World.
Aires also employs cutouts to make political cartoons out of currency from around the world in his Disaster Series Collages, such as the contemporary art disaster of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of Gold embedded into a British 10-pound note. For USA 9/11, a passenger jet is cut into a dollar bill. The image of an Iraq prisoner counting the five one-dollar bills he was given by the United States government nestles in a five-dinar note issued by the Central Bank of Iraq. To commemorate the economic crisis that enveloped his native country after 2008, Aires incised the image of black garbage bags piled in protest on the steps of the Banco de España into a 1,000-peseta note, Spain’s currency that was replaced by the euro in 2002.
“The politics, economics and technology of the modern world has encouraged the ‘appropriation’ of found objects in every possible form, visual, aural, written and tactile,” Ortiz notes.
Rigoberto Luna uses found objects to add layers of psychological insight to his portraits. Mom, for example, is outlined in black on a sheet of glass, but behind her minimally-detailed image in a large-scale shadow box are personal artifacts that reveal much about her personality, including a Bible, a Selena CD, an Urban Cowboy VHS tape, a Kewpie doll, a cookbook and family photos.
Jason Villegas in Soft Crystal Gathering assembles found objects and handmade fantasy creatures into a cartoonish children’s science-fiction tale that occupies the universe of a flat wall. Ann Michele-Morales charts her worldwide travels on an imaginary circuit board containing the continents with clipped images that recall her adventures, including a Texas Horned Lizard, sandals, a hippo and a sailing ship.
Utilizing flat pieces of the felt material that German artist Joseph Beuys fetishized, Ricardo Rendón shapes and folds them into curving sculptures such as a large-scale chandelier that resembles a giant stalactite.
Artists have always borrowed from other cultures to enrich their styles, but easy access to images and information on the internet has flattened out much of the idiosyncrasies of art linked to a specific place, resulting in a broadly-accepted “international style” that tends to make all contemporary art around the world look pretty much the same.
“The flat playing field created from these new world connections currently confronts the ‘local’ artist with considerations outside his or her tribe,” Ortiz writes. “Could this irresistible global presence homogenize the diversity of distinct locales into a narrow vision, a limited conversation?”
What’s bad for art may prove disastrous for the natural world. Leigh Anne Lester shows this in her mash-ups of botanical drawings, grafting parts of different plants into beautiful yet vaguely menacing Frankenflora. Genetically engineered botanical mutants aren’t the only worry. Greater homogenization of the world’s flora and fauna leads to a less-diverse world of limited choices. Invasive species are far more of a threat to the American homeland than invading immigrant children.
Ansen Seale’s slit-scan photographs can transform reality into flat lines, such as his eerie Port Aransas beach scene, Interference Pattern, which suggests there may be more dimensions to our flat world than we have experienced so far.
In Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, a satirical 1884 novel about the Victorian class system and a groundbreaking mathematical fantasy, A. Square takes a spiritual journey from his two-dimensional world, Flatland, a perfect Euclidean plane, to the three-dimensional Spaceland guided by a mysterious Sphere. But when A. Square proposes that if there are three dimensions beyond his known universe, maybe there are four, the peeved Sphere sends him back to Flatland where the authorities brutally repress anyone who believes in the third dimension.
“Prometheus up in Spaceland was bound for bringing down fire for mortals, but I–poor Flatland Prometheus–lie here in prison for bringing down nothing to my countrymen,” A. Square laments after being jailed for his geometrically heretical beliefs. “Yet I exist in the hope that these memoirs, in some manner, I know not how, may find their way to the minds of humanity in Some Dimension, and may stir up a race of rebels who shall refuse to be confined to limited Dimensionality.”
Flatland is a fascinating place to visit, but living in it isn’t for the one-dimensional.
Noon-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday
723 S Brazos
Through Oct 11