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Arts & Culture

IAIR 12.1 at Artpace doesn't quite line up. But that's a good thing

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Adam Pendleton, i smashed my sickening face, 2012. Installation view. Photo by Todd Johnson. Commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio.

Whether through mis-translation, or just everyday noise-in-the-channel, our speech acts and other attempts at signifying seem seldom to be received as intended. Fortunately, art isn't only a sort of text, though we seem compelled to read it. Florian Slotawa works with material translation — he moves objects from one place to another, and by combining them with other things, makes new objects and terrains. For his installation Local Plants at Artpace, the Berlin artist found metal office furniture, pieces of construction material, and other bits from around the Artpace building and stacked them with copies he made of bits and pieces of 1930s sculptures by the Polish avant-garde artist Katarzyna Kobro. Topped with potted plants of both native and imported species now found in Texan gardens, Slotawa's installation of assembled pieces can be read as a collection of whimsical sculptures, or a single work.  The work alludes to both European constructivism and Texan artist Donald Judd's works, which are often thought of as an expression of minimalism (Judd, who died in 1994, heartily disagreed with the label). The installation is a metaphor for Slotawa's trip to San Antonio — the artist seen as invasive species, domesticated as a component in interior design.

James Sham was born in Hong Kong and now lives in Austin. His interest in language stems, he says, from learning a rather rough version of English as a child. Three videos and a collection of talking glasses fill the darkened room that holds his new installation. Of the three residency projects currently on view, Sham's is by far the most engaging. Working with deaf performers and an eye-tracking device used by the military, stories are enacted on screen in American Sign Language, while an audio track and subtitles offer divergent translations. The actors' gesturing hands are often obscured by colored dots that represent the eye movements of readers fluent in signing, adding another level of distance between the hearing audience (and ASL fluent members of the audience) and the deaf actors. As an inverse complement to the videos, a wall is lined with glasses. By touching your ear directly to their surfaces, muffled voices appear; they are the voices of local politicians that Sham followed about as they told the artist stories about themselves. A third component of Sham's installation is in the Artpace courtyard — a balloon mock-up of a crashed American drone aircraft, modeled after photographs released by Iran. Like the eye-tracking device, it is a reminder of our modern presidio, Joint Base San Antonio, and the local surveillance industry.

In Adam Pendleton's installation, three black sculptures are placed in, but do not command, the room. Modeled roughly after Constantin Brancusi's modern masterwork The Endless Column, they are made of ceramic components that fit poorly together; slats of uneven light poking out between the pieces ensure that rather than seeming to soar upward eternally (as famously Brancusi's work does), Pendleton's three columns seem to be hammered into the floor — one, two, three. The work feels blocked, thwarted, furious. But the show's title, i smashed my sickening face  (a line taken from Chilean poet Raúl Zurita's 1979 book, Purgatory) leads one to consider that the sense of visual poverty that the piece engenders is part of the artist's intent. But why?


IAIR 12.1

Adam Pendleton, James Sham,
and Florian Slotawa
Noon-5pm Wed-Sun
445 N Main
(210) 212-4900
On view to May 20

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