Arts & Culture
This is Not An Institutional Critique: Artpace’s IAIR 13.2
Published: July 24, 2013
Failed utopias, form wrenched from utility, experience unhinged: if one were to attempt to buttress the work of all three participants in Artpace San Antonio’s summer 2013 offering under a central theme, the notion of dislocation comes to mind. Clarissa Tossin (Houston), Trevor Paglen (New York City) and Pak Sheung Chuen (Hong Kong), selected by Hou Hanru, remind the viewer that the International Artist-in-Residence Program is, in no subtle way, dictated by the proclivities of the guest curator; specifically, how and why certain work—or, more tellingly, a certain group of artists—fits into meta-narratives of their own devising. Hanru has long championed the idea of the “global artist,” itinerant individuals like himself who make work that traverses cultural boundaries in reference to—and/or in spite of—the rapidly shifting context of their physical location. Tossin, Paglen and Pak all fit this prerequisite, despite the varied aesthetic, formal, political, procedural and process-oriented concerns that manifest in each artist’s practice.
Given the layout of Artpace, a particular flow predetermines the experience of every exhibition, and thus Tossin’s installation is the first encountered. A relative newcomer to the art world (the artist completed her MFA in 2009), her work is nonetheless quite polished, presented with careful attention to archival practices and obvious underlying architectural concerns—a recurrent theme. As a native of Brasília, Brazil, the most radical, expansive New World manifestation of modernist ideals embedded into the built environment, the artist often grapples with the long-term social ramifications of quixotic, utopian notions forced upon an unwitting populace.
In Brasília, Cars, Pools and Other Modernities, Tossin’s roughly clockwise arrangement of images and objects forms an arc that begins in the late 1950s with archival images of the construction of Brasília (led by urban planner Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer) and ends abruptly, punctuated by a beaten-up beige Volkswagen Brasília outfitted with pool cleaning tools parked in the gallery—the same physical space that once housed a car dealership. Between these paradigms of the modern era, a video installation documents the artist’s road trip in the same little car from her hometown to Niemeyer’s “Strick House” in Santa Monica, Calif., an ultra bourgeois construction represented here through architectural plans and personal correspondence between the architect and the artist.
This is not the first time we’ve seen a marooned vehicle inside the confines of Artpace. Arthur Jafa’s My Black Death (2002) and William Cordova’s Moby Dick (Tracy) after ishmael, chico de cano y arl hampton (2008) come to mind, but Tossin’s installation has less to do with identity politics than the not-so-idiosyncratic practice of a society actively divorcing ideology from industry. Drained of lofty intent —as with Niemeyer’s involvement with the Strick House—he is just another architect designing playgrounds for the privileged. Likewise, Brazil’s attempt to propel itself into the future via a grand, planned, integrated community now amounts to little more than gated suburbs surrounded by favelas (slums)—utopia cannibalized. Overall, the installation is conceptually resolved but it is unclear if Tossin is attempting to be informative, generative or merely elliptical.