The man who isn’t there, the ghosts of New Orleans and deserted buildings at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa are employed to examine themes of abandonment and aftermath in New Works 13.3, the International Artists-in-Residence exhibit at Artpace. Paola Morsiani, formerly senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and now director of the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College in New York, selected artists from Italy, New York and Houston whose work shares “a strong sense of absence, of someone [who] has been here and gone away.”
Italian artist Micol Assaël, however, never arrived. She had an ear infection and couldn’t fly in an airplane, but managed the first Artpace virtual residency by emailing instructions to studio director Riley Robinson. He constructed a flat grid of heavy-duty magnets on the floor and then walked across them wearing shoes with metal tips. Where he stepped, the magnetized tiles stuck to his shoes leaving a trail of vacant squares. Poised on top of stacks of tiles at the edge of the magnet field, the shoes look as if they are being worn by an invisible man.
Fascinated with archaic scientific theories and physical phenomenon such as electromagnetism, Assaël investigates the interplay of the human body and the natural world in sometimes threatening installations. Fomuska, for example, enveloped viewers in an electrostatic field generated with steam and industrial ventilators. Her Artpace installation, Maybe Tomorrow, is magically minimal and purely sculptural, though signs around the gallery warn that getting too close to the magnets could cause physical problems, especially for people with metallic implants. But the most striking effect is the implied figure, and the fact that he’s not there.
Houston artist Ivor Shearer in his painstaking shot-by-shot recreation of the film The Road, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, created the most complex installation, utilizing items taken from a movie theater abandoned post-Katrina that’s now part of a scandal involving the New Orleans mayor and a movie theater tycoon. With a 35mm camera, Shearer filmed sites around New Orleans that served as locations in The Road for a post-apocalyptic world, which didn’t require any special effects other than a massive hurricane. He filmed them chronologically and for the same duration as they appeared in the movie made five years earlier, three years after Katrina. The work is a continuation of Shearer’s diligent exploration of the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, a city he inhabited both before and after the storm.
The interior of a decaying church, a shattered housing complex and the hulking movie theater may provoke thoughts about the world’s end, but Shearer is more concerned about the mediation of images in our perception of the world through film, and how these background settings provide the stage for our communal visions of the apocalypse. However, what can’t be shown is the human suffering that goes with these scenes of devastation. Or the socio-political cost of corruption and greed in high places that feeds on the aftermath of such a monumental disaster.
Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd haunts New York artist Erin Shirreff’s twin video projections, Concrete Buildings. Judd built the structures as prototypes for the galleries that now house his steel boxes and other works at Marfa’s Chinati Foundation. But the concrete buildings have been left to decay, looking forlorn and otherworldly. Shirreff took still images of the buildings at various times of the day and then layered them to create the moody videos, which slowly shift and fade from sun into shadow, designed to provoke profound changes in the viewer’s perception.
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