To say that art should ponder the mystery and wonder of existence — and it seems a particularly human gift (or affliction) to comprehend mortality, loss, and the peculiarity of seeming to exist alone in infinity — at this point may almost seem a quaint and conservative opinion (or the position of some traditional dullard like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat). But this is only true if one buys into the reactionary mindset that only ‘serious’ (e.g. white, western, historicized art and culture) pondered such topics, and contemporary artists are mired in a decadent detritus of navel gazing and willful ugliness. But: Lynne Ramsay’s 1999 movie Ratcatcher may literally take place in piles of trash, but is on the same moving, elegiac wavelength as the 1973 Tarkovsky masterpiece Andrei Rublev. And Christie Blizard is on the same frequency of primal scream as bygone artists Egon Schiele or Lucian Freud.
San Antonio artist Amada Miller’s The Absurdity of The Fact of Us is spread across the modest two rooms and hallway in SA’s Sala Diaz, and is a quietly epic meditation on the sublime absurdity of existence. Employing ceramics, digital print techniques, and sculpture, Miller’s solo show telescopes between traditions of early civilizations (such as ancient Egyptian water clocks) and modern research about such mysteries as what space smells like.
In the main room, a loping arc of globular knobs attached to the walls adjacently frames two pieces standing upright on the floor — one glass, and one a digital print on silk. The silk pieces (several more are installed in the hallway), have a dreamy, blurred resonance somewhere between photographs of outer space and the stained glass of cathedrals. Miller subtly connects the sacred and the infinite with such aesthetic associations — gazing at the stars was the genesis of stained glass. The sky is the window of the world looking out.
In the adjoining room, a set of ceramic pots with an inky, shimmering glaze are assembled on the table. Each pot is covered with a cap, and paired with written descriptions given by outer-space researchers and astronauts of the scents they remember encountering out there. Viewers are encouraged to remove the cap and smell a concoction that approximates the scent described: burnt almond cookies, charcoal, raspberries. These familiar scents, here linked to the unfathomable expanse of space, creates an inverted Proustian madeleine; as you take in the smell, an understanding unfurls that’s not inward-looking, dewy, personal nostalgia, but rather a sense of profound mystery, as your mind stretches outward to conceive of the aesthetics of space.
The title The Absurdity of The Fact of Us generously reflects on the stark contrast between the scale of the universe and humble human techniques to process our surroundings. These records are in fact absurd in the face of infinity. They are also all we have.
At Sala Diaz, San Antonio through Feb 2, 2019
Photos by Mark Menjivar
This is one of those reviews that leave you with the feeling “I’ve got to get to that show!”