Two recent performances in Houston that deserve note:
This was really great art-as-Xtreme-sport, or at least art-as-David-Blaine-endurance-stunt. I’m still thinking about it weeks after. The images pretty much explain it all:
It’s hard to pin down what made it interesting. The finished product isn’t visually remarkable, though the chalk head sculpture is nice. As a process for making drawing, it went well beyond Robert Morris’ blind drawings. As a use of the artist’s body as medium, it was more extreme than Charles Ray’s early stuff (here and here). In the past year I saw an old wall drawing where the artist had to keep his feet within a square foot on the floor, but for the life of me I can’t remember who it was (nor dig it up on Google – was it William Wegman? Bruce Nauman? Anyway…) There are antecedents, of course, but they only enrich one’s appreciation of this stunt. It’s terrifying to contemplate for anyone with middling claustrophobia.
In the pictures, it looks like Adame is hamming it up to build the drama, but it didn’t seem that way in person. It seemed like he was being very careful not to break his neck with this incredibly heavy chunk of material around it. Also, it can’t have been easy to breath through that straw.
Adame’s performance was so awkward, I wanted to run up and help him (or at least mash his head into the canvas to make a prettier chalk line).
II. Mel Ziegler, “Downtown Mixer,” organized by Buffalo Bayou Art Park
[This paragraph is description. Skip it if you already know about the show.] Ziegler’s been doing breathing pieces where the pubic is invited to fill balloons (“give a breath sample”) for some years now. "Downtown Mixer" involved getting workers at eight different downtown Houston buildings to blow up balloons and draw a self portrait with a marker on their balloon. Each building had a specific color assigned to it, and the balloons were mixed together, reinstalled in the various buildings’ public spaces, and allowed to deflate over several weeks. Thus rainbows of balloons lined the floor in lobbies and walking bridges, and the “breath” of each building was intermingled with that of other buildings.
According to Ziegler, "Downtown Mixer" was meant to humorously critique the isolating culture of skyscraper offices. The one place where people in these buildings mingle together is the lobby, and so the collecting process occurred there. As might be expected, the vast majority of office workers shunned the tables of volunteers asking them to blow up a balloon in the name of art. Others were amused and gamely participated in the extreme craziness (by downtown office standards).
This piece had a couple of problems. The first is that, visually, it wasn’t as compelling as Ziegler’s past balloon pieces (at Dunn & Brown Contemporary and the Salina Art Center ), when the air samples have been collected in compressor tanks and the balloons themselves have been presented more sculpturally. Also, the crummy self-portraits drawn by the participants in "Downtown Mixer" may have put a face on the human side of the project (heh), but they muddied the potentially compelling formal aspects of the colorful balloons. In short, they looked bad.
(The balloons looked better from a distance, above, rather than up close:)
The other problem with this piece is that it seems pretty tame as as a humorous critique of corporate culture. Granted, I like art that’s not of the art world, by the art world, for the art world, but I am sure Ziegler’s metapoint of mixing the breath of these isolated cubicle-dwellers as a symbolic way to tear down the cold and indifferent walls of capitalist beehives was lost on his audience (as it was, admittedly, lost on the art world, which failed to tune in much to this project — Glasstire unfortunately included).
That said, 1,650 people participated in "Downtown Mixer" over 3 days straight of collecting breath samples. So the project touched a lot of people, even if they didn’t stop to ponder its larger significance beyond a chuckle during lunch break.
- the management
also by Rainey Knudson
- Catching up with Okay Mountain - February 4th, 2011
- Two Great Shows, Part 1: Dan H. Phillips at Webb Gallery - December 16th, 2010
- Toby Kamps moves across town - July 14th, 2010
- Who's Afraid of the Big bad Show? - July 8th, 2010
- Dear Old Umeå, or Art Where It Never Gets Dark - June 24th, 2010