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From Collaboration to Conception at Creative Research Laboratory

Creative Research Laboratory's From Collaboration To Conception is a total yawn. The show is mediocre and (even worse) terribly passé. Jade Walker, curator for the exhibition, managed to compile an abridged greatest-hits of outmoded trends: there's the adventure quest on a raft , there's the RISD-flavored counterculture thrift store raid, and the email correspondence installation. I hear in five years CRL is planning a collaborative show centered on skulls, heavy-metal iconography and trash sculptures titled "Interchanging It All Together Collaboratively: part CCXLV."
The exhibition consists of three works done collaboratively (like every other CRL show…): an untitled (as far as I could tell) Sodalitas (Shea Little, Joseph Phillips and Jana Swec) project, The Well-mannered Theft of Rainbow Mountain by Stephanie Bonham and Arturo Silva and Correspondence+Fear by Katalin Hausel, Jacklyn Pryor and Leanne Zacharias.

I don't get the appeal of Sodalitas. Their work never seems either original or exceptional to me. In this piece, they clomp down the well-tread path of adventure down a river on a raft we've seen so much of lately in Austin, collecting samples of stuff they find along the way "to [form their] own emotional understanding of Austin, which [they] term 'psycho-geology' or 'geography'." So let's start there. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals"(from Wikipedia). So I find it a little presumptuous of them to call it "their term." Now translating the concept to geology, the study of the composition, structure, physical properties, history, and processes that shape Earth's components, doesn't make much sense. I can see that perhaps they used the term geology to describe their travel outside of an urban environment but that doesn't make it more correct. In fact it defeats the purpose of a psychogeographical study, since the whole point of it is to jolt people and make them pay attention to things they ignore in an environment they have been desensitized to because of routine and repetition. Debord's concept is intrinsically tied to urban living (or wandering). Perhaps my problem with their use of Lettrist theories is semantical and had they inserted an "inspired by" somewhere in their description of the work I would have thought more of it. But I doubt that. In the end it shows a misunderstanding of theories I hold in very high regard and regardless of that one strike, the work is an uninspired "Keep Austin Weird" borefest.
Stephanie Bonham and Arturo Silva's The Well-mannered Theft of Rainbow Mountain is a dilettantish, clichéd and unfortunately named experiment in channeling Fecal Face (who incidentally, have curated Okay Mountain's next show). It's coffee shop caliber work.


Correspondence+Fear is a dreadful mess, which is dissapointing because I generally like what Katalin Hausel does. It feels like a forced collaboration, there's no substance to it, and it's terribly cheesy. It's also the most atavistic piece in the exhibition, recalling the good ol' late 90s, when the rest of the world was jsut discovering email and instant messaging. Technically it fares even worse; it wasn't working properly when I visited (and from what people tell me it wasn't the only time) and it was painfully obvious that neither one of these women really understood the medium they were working with. In the projected desktops the chat windows were logged in under the completely unimaginative and cringe-worthy "newemac1," "newemac2" and "newemac3." True artistry is in the details, and the details were certainly not in this piece. It made me think of something freshmen "artsy" girls might come up with to stay in touch over the summer break.

The one good thing I can say is that it's fantastically installed. The lighting looks like a million bucks and the use of ancillary materials in the form of LCD screens, projections, iPod lectures, reading room is very competent when they work (out of the three iPods, only one worked when I visited, and despite the magic of modern technologies of storage, only one of the three conversations were loaded). I wish CRL would become an exciting space I loved to visit, but every time I do, I leave disappointed and frustrated.

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2 Responses

  1. shealittle

    Yeah, timing can be a bitch in the art world. Other raft projects were out there, but we (Sodalitas) had been thinking about rafting for quite some time and the actual subject matter in those other raft shows didn’t correlate to what we did, besides having a raft as part of the installation.

    We are very aware of the term Psychogeography and do not claim it as our own, nor did we intend to use the term psycho-geology. I was the one quoted and I said “…psycho-geology (pause) or psycho-geography,” I should have said ‘rather’ or ‘I mean’ instead of ‘or,’ but I didn’t. Oh well.

  2. phillips

    Another thing I’d like to reinforce, other than that we were in fact familiar with the Situationists and the concept of the Dérive, is that our project was made in a large part because of what Debord and others had done- not in spite of it. We embraced the idea as something worth while, and the idea of the Dérive, or drifting, was very much at the heart of both the raft project and the ‘walks’ project that preceded it.
    You talk about ‘theories’ that you believe we ‘missunders[tood]’, but I disagree. We understood them, embraced them, and put them into action. Much of what Debord and other Situationists spoke of was action. They thought you could change the world through your everyday life. That’s the point that I think you seem to have missed. That these are not simply ‘theories’ to ‘hold in high regard’, but a call to action. They hoped for people to reinterpret their lives, their environment, and their daily routine.

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