Set atop a very tall pedestal are two small pillars. Between them dangle a set of black-gummed ivories skewered through by a metal rod. The teeth are uneven and worn, but this strange jewelry is no cannibal relic. Rather it is a painted bronze casting of the artist’s own teeth, made by Graham Fagen of Glasgow, Scotland. Placed high, as if they were the only visual manifestation of a missing body, Our Shared, Common, Private Space is meticulously crafted, as materially gratifying as the bronze horseman of a war memorial cenotaph.
From behind a theater flat comes the sound of a rasping cello painfully intoning a rendition of Robert Burns’ poem The Slave’s Lament. It is the soundtrack of the video installation Heavy Manners, in which four characters pair up to enact a ritual of hand cleaning and exploratory touching, gestures that progress from tenderness to the violent pokes and prodding of the auction block. No master wants a slave that is too “long in the tooth.” Teeth are used to intone speech, and to eat with. Both private and public, they are like the eyes, a gateway that we use with little self-knowledge. On the wall hang two almost childish drawings, their white on black scratchings contrast starkly with the polished video and sculpture. In the drawings, Fagen has used his tongue to map out the insides, and again, the exterior of his teeth, then transferred his impressions to paper. His recorded sensations are lopsided and pointy. Objectively the visuals are false, but emotionally, sensorially, they ring true.
Fagen has entitled his exhibition Under Heavy Manners. It is a third part of IAIR 11.3, this year’s third International Artist in Residence program at Artpace. Exhibitions by Jeff Williams of Austin, and Frank Benson, from NYC, join Fagen’s works. Guest curator Russell Ferguson, chair of the Department of Art at UCLA, mentioned that one of the reasons he chose these three artists was because he thought they might get along well. They have done so famously; Fagen and Benson even formed a band along with Artpace preparator Chad Dawkins. A photo of Dawkins also appears in Benson’s show, Extrusions, named for the ribbons of clay that make up the small sculptures that spread to the edges of custom-made pedestals in his exhibition. Benson brought his guitar, a camera, and the clay extruder with him from New York, where he is known for his elaborate hyper-real sculptural portraits. Each are months in the making. At Artpace, Dawkins made the supports for Benson’s abstract clay pieces; the photo is a thank you, and a study, perhaps, for a future work.
Williams explores a new architecture in There is Not Anything Which Returns to Nothing, utilizing a video, three photographs, and two sculptures to reveal points of rupture in design, while literally baring the elements of building materials. The room is dominated by Tension and Compression (Evans Rd. Quarry/Alamo Cement Co.), a large unsteady sculpture made of locally poured concrete slabs that criss-cross each other, clamped tightly on threaded rod. The bottom pieces have cracked, but the whole stays miraculously aright. In a corner sits Conservation Fountain (Cibolo Creek Fossil), a large fossilized rock sourced from an outcrop of fossils in the Hill Country. Set carefully on a steel palette and misted with water, the rock seems to be undergoing proper conservation cleaning, but alas, the waterspout has been salvaged from a nearby swimming pool. The tainted water is eroding the precious find with chlorine. The video seems to be an AutoCAD animation, perhaps an element in a proposal for funding of some sort, but is instead a laboriously handmade construction. The photographs appear to be examples of architectural studies, maquettes. Their fanciful abstract shapes recall the works of starchitects like Frank Gehry, but are taken to impractical, unbuildable, extremes. Adding sauce to his slights to the profession, Williams has formed them with building materials that have proven unpopular, or have yet to pass accreditation tests.
Each exhibition comments on the nature of the residency itself as much as on the artist’s own concerns. There is much cross-talk between the shows. The actors in Fagen’s video are Artpace staff members, as are the subjects in Benson’s photographs, which give homage to construction, a realm that Williams critiques. There are many more mutual points of reference in the three shows, causing a delight in the viewer even before they become apparent. This time the artists are definitely in cahoots — the three shows are a triptych. •
445 N Main
On view to January 8