In one corner of the San Antonio art world this month, somebody is trying to pass off as a work of art a mound of crushed plastic water bottles. At the Southwest School of Art & Craft, though, Suzanne Paquette has demonstrated what "site-specific installation" can and should mean.
The room Paquette had to work with isn't quite the pristine cube sometimes associated with installation art (such a room, of course, would require no "site-specific thought," and could house exactly the same work in S.A. or Chicago). It is a spacious gallery with white walls, but the perimeter is broken by a handful of entrances, and the room features two wide columns and ventilation grills that are never obtrusive until one turns the room itself into a sculpture. Paquette addresses these obstructions with a brilliantly graceful solution: she spreads a clay-colored sand out in each corner, thick enough to blot out the black concrete underneath, and sweeps it away in a broad curve that defines a large oval in the room. A foot or so from the wall, runs a long, straight line of dark, clumpy soil, which reinforces the right angles of the walls against the room's newly voluptuous arcs.
All of this is framework for the beautiful, meditative construction in the center of the room. Clay soil is spread in a large circle around the room's center column, and subdivides in a waffle-like pattern, which transitions around the curve. From a subtle undulation near the doorway, the mounds defining the waffle pattern gradually get larger and incorporate the dark soil, until, at the opposite side, the chunks of earth rise into a low wall. In the center of the circle, wisps of white dust wrap the base of the column and scatter out toward the perimeter.
The use of a circle with textural variations along its circumference will remind viewers of the charred, wall-mounted wood panels Paquette has shown in the past. But where those black and yellow forms evoked a tempestuous sun in the void of space, this structure has a deliberately terrestrial feel, and provokes reflection on the environments we inhabit — not in any political way, but with regard to the body's (and the soul's) connection to the Earth. It's a contemplative piece that really demands something close to solitary viewing. Unlike so many installations, which seem mere rest stops on the trip to the landfill, this one, upon removal, will once again become a part of the ground beneath our feet. Only an idea will remain — but for once, it will be an idea worth holding on to.
Through August 31
Southwest School of Art & Craft
Navarro Campus, 1201 Navarro