Jasmyne Graybill’s new sculptures, on view at UTSA Satellite Space this month in
Domestication, are, like their inspiration, unexpectedly successful symbiotic relationships. Disco-blue and acid-yellow Sculpey-clay organisms bloom like mildew and fungi on modern artifacts: a muffin tin, a razor, a mailbox. An uprooted metal pole, one end encased in
cement, is covered in safety-orange scales designed after common greenshield lichen, the most
environmentally sturdy strain of the familiar bark and rock cover.
Lichen are really two independent organisms that operate as one, and, Graybill notes, while they can thrive in an array of Survivor-worthy settings, most of them are extremely sensitive to air pollution, making them a bellwether for air quality. To Graybill, the common greenshield, like the mold that stakes out territory on your bread heels or the sugar ants in your pantry, is a pioneer, or a wily holdout.
“I’m interested in urban sprawl and how it displaces nature,” she says, “and how nature adapts.” Her organisms’ synthetic colors refer on one level to the pollution she sees in New Braunfels — when post-rain runoff flows directly into the Guadalupe River, turning it into a full-size version of those roadside oily-sheen-covered rivulets — and metaphorically to the way humans have altered plants’ and animals’ genetic codes through pesticides and other toxins, unwittingly affecting their ability to function and adapt.
But as with any successful art, you don’t have to know all this to enjoy Graybill’s sculptures, which hint at our passive-aggressive relationship with our environment in many ways. At times, I half expected a pink or blue form to leap off its manmade surface and start dancing and morphing Fantasia-style. When I previewed the show, Graybill was still installing the display tables, meant to evoke kitchen countertops (of the contemporary Williams-Sonoma variety) and specimen tables, but the room already had the feel of a future laboratory, where the chroniclers aren’t entirely sure what role a collapsible collander, overtaken by a pretty minty-green growth, played in our lives. Maybe one day, lichen, which among other neat tricks breaks down rock, will evolve from accommodation to reclamation and return some of our Ozymandian creations to dust.
Equally complicated manmade problems are the subject of You Had No 9th of May!, Julieta Aranda’s Sala Diaz installation that opened last Friday. The show, the title of which is taken from a poem by American short-story and verse writer Francis Bret Harte, explores the conundrum of the International Date Line, a useful — and, it turns out, very malleable — fiction that allows the world’s commercial powers to agree on billing and receivable dates, if not tariffs, air-pollution standards, and New Year’s Day honors.
In the front room, a bookshelf of faux coconuts and real books point up the sometimes dangerous proximity of science, science fiction, and fantasy (from The Manhattan Project through Labyrinths to The Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson), and a wall collage of overlapping, brightly colored boundary lines suggests that our new conduits, circuits as invisible as the date line, create another set of arbitrary rules even as they free us from the old ones.
“Newstar,” a charming, old-fashioned, community-style newspaper, chronicles Aranda’s muse: Kiribati, a Pacific island nation whose tiny land mass is scattered across fathoms of open ocean, and who in 1995 succeeded in moving a portion of the International Date Line 2,000 miles east, so that the entire country could function on the same calendar page. Accompanying stories document other strange tales of this once-ignored area (Amelia Earhart’s unsolved disappearance over Kiribati, Howard Hughes’s truly day-tripping exploits), the cost of being in the middle of nowhere in the modern mind (nuclear testing), and a growing resistance by the far-flung area’s residents to the outside hand of fate.
But these items, as smart and thought-provoking as they are, in the gallery context are merely background narrative for two truly beautiful Minimalist representations of the date line’s poetic geometry. One, a small clay model on a pedestal, looks like a trophy for human folly and shortsightedness and evokes more immediately harmful barriers in such places as Israel and the Texas-Mexico border. The other, a red yarn sculpture suspended about four feet off the ground, like Fred Sandback’s yarn constructions reminded me of the power of ideas in form, and our ability — when they’re clearly not working for us — to change them.
On my way back out of Sala Diaz, thanks to Graybill, I noticed a team of ants busily mounding their pile along the sidewalk crack and welcomed them back to the neighborhood. •
Noon-6pm Fri-Sun & by appt.
Through Apr 20
Opening reception: 6-9pm Apr 3
UTSA Satellite Space
115 Blue Star
You Had No
9th of May!
Through Apr 27