Americans generate a lot of trash. It is estimated that we each create about four pounds of garbage a day, which results in over 210 million tons of waste destined for landfills each year.
The resulting sea of garbage we leave in the wake of our collective consumerism is truly staggering. It is a system of creation and destruction so large as to become invisible, negated by our inability to comprehend the connection between our own seemingly inconsequential patterns of behavior and the shared results of our actions. The show Environmental Excursions, curated by Jennifer Davy, examines the metamorphic material identity of our disposable world through three very different lenses.
Richie Budd, a recent and very welcome addition to the San Antonio art community, creates sculptures that in his words “recontextualize common objects, fusing them together to invent systems based on sensory modalities.” In Environmental Excursions Budd’s sculptures become post-apocalyptic tumble weeds, cementing disparate, oftentimes disposable utilitarian materials into evocative chance encounters frozen in space. Bottles of lotion, outdated hair dryers, pockets of Cheetos, Speedstick deodorants, and blinking alarm clocks fuse together, aided by endless rivers of semi-transparent hot glue that drip and ooze around the objects like molten lava. Plastic bananas grow out of the sculptures like surreal erotic appendages; greasy wontons entombed in glass bubbles rub shoulders with a tussled toupee. There is a certain irreverent silliness to Budd’s sensory hybrids that evokes the spirit of the first waves of Dada and Pop art. Although it is the artist’s intention to create works based on shared sensory capacities, the utilitarian functions of the objects are often overshadowed by the irrationality of their meeting place and time. They are strangers in a strange land, and their strangeness is appealing.
In contrast to the finite material specificity inherent to Budd’s sculptures, Luz Maria Sanchez‘s large-scale video and sound installation records the endless, seemingly futile workings of an anonymous landfill. Huge bulldozers push mountains of trash across the screen, their comings and goings punctuated by the roar of their engines and the BEEP… BEEP… BEEP… of the dreaded backup. Pushing and hauling massive piles of threatening garbage, these mechanical mercenaries, enlisted to do our dirty work, display a brute force that is hard to comprehend. Like watching big waves crash onto the shore, it is impossible to gage the strength of force necessary to achieve such feats of physical maneuvering. The workings of these huge machines are contrasted by the seemingly pointless actions of a few small men who move single planks of wood, sheets of tin, single tires, and other small items from one position to another. The video in its unlabored documentation conjures the history of our industrial age, the symbiosis of humans and machines, and the unknown, possibly terrifying future results of their lineage. The video runs a lean two and a half minutes, and avoids reading as overly didactic through the careful, mostly invisible editing and camera work of the artist. The landfill is an idea familiar to most, but in reality is visited by few. And as the history of photographic and filmic documentation over the past hundred and fifty years has so illustriously demonstrated, there is a very big difference between knowing something is happening, and seeing something happen.
Warm Jets, the animated film by Berlin-based artist Kim Collmer, is perhaps the most visually delightful work in the show. Using stop-time animation, Collmer’s retro Technicolor film transforms everyday materials — acrylic stuffing, plastic tubing, Christmas balls etc — into fantastical futuristic landscapes. The six minute film follows a series of pastel pearlesent orbs as they travel through blue and pink tinted snowscapes, Logan’s Run-like clear plastic tunneling, miniature mountain ranges, and outcroppings of futuristic structures jerkily puffing white acrylic stuffing from cartoon smoke stacks. The film’s bizarre narrative and alien terrains are enhanced by ambient sound and lighting, which gain momentum and intensity as the film comes to an end. Collmer’s work, which in her statement balances a “‘subtle retaliation against the shininess of contemporary computer culture,” with “a celebration of artifice and of the manmade materials that make up our world,” evokes a nostalgic utopian vision of the industrialized world. Divorced from the specificity of time or place, Warm Jets hovers somewhere between our faded dreams and a fuzzy future.
Environmental Excursions marks the fifth exhibition for ArtWHERE?, a project founded and directed by Celia Mendoza, an artist and curator living in San Antonio. Over the last year ArtWHERE? has created a series of Urban Excursions, mounting smart and challenging exhibitions that take advantage of some of downtown San Antonio’s most interesting and underused buildings.