Dawkins reactivates "Atavistic"

On Hills Snyder’s website, a mysterious section called “Lubbock” sits alongside the usual suspects: Projects, Selected Press, Biography, Links, etc. In this section a visitor will find one photograph, and one set of instructions, both titled “How to Photograph a Painting in Lubbock, Texas.” The photograph shows an abstract painting called Atavistic, which Snyder created in 1972, leaning up against a tree, behind which a few unremarkable cars and buildings are visible. The accompanying instructions offer a humorous guide for recreating the photograph: 1. Find a tree. / 2. Make sure the Broadway Church of Christ is behind the tree. / 3. Make sure a Cadillac is parked at the church / 4. Prop painting against tree. ...

Snyder, who directs the Sala Diaz gallery and currently has an exhibition at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, grew up in Lubbock but has been a fixture in the San Antonio art scene for years. He recently invited Chad Dawkins, a younger Lubbock transplant, to curate a Sala Diaz show. What Dawkins did, however, was to reproduce the Lubbock photograph using the instructions and whatever information he could glean from the image. He carefully copied the painting, drove it to Lubbock, scrounged up a Cadillac, and did his best to duplicate the location and composition of the original. In the gallery itself, Dawkins pinned prints from the website across from his photograph. In another room, Dawkins’ version of the painting leans up against a wall. Snyder himself was kept in the dark about the nature of the work until opening day, and the promotional materials are about as opaque as you could imagine. The details of process, intention, and interpretation were hashed out to some degree during an 11pm Q&A in front of Sala Diaz on the night of the opening.

By focusing on Snyder’s instructions and by conspicuously controlling the information flow around the work, Dawkins has in essence organized a show about verbal language and its sometimes-uncomfortable relationship with contemporary visual art. The artist appeared to follow Snyder’s instructions, as if following a George Brecht event score, but actually did no such thing. The tree Snyder had leaned his Atavistic up against was gone by the time Dawkins arrived, so he had his girlfriend crouch behind the painting to hold it up. Fidelity to the text was abandoned for the sake of visual likeness. At one point during the discussion, Snyder pointed out that Dawkins might just have asked him about the dimensions of the original (which the younger artist struggled futilely to determine from the photo), but they both agreed that this question would have ruined the work. A fleeting conversation would have spoiled a work of visual art?

Still more telling was the apparent lack of agreement about the meaning of self-titled among many of the artists and art-watchers present at the Q&A. Dawkins intended it as a challenge to move beyond post-modern discourse; others saw it as mired in that same framework, from which they had (happily) been freed years ago. Awkward moments were easy to come by, but the conversation was strikingly sincere, if not entirely rigorous. The breadth and passion of the dialogue was a testament to the fact that art’s relationship to its texts remains fraught, and that Dawkins can hit a nerve; but the artist has more work ahead if he hopes to actually shift the terms of the discourse. Chad Dawkins, Free, 2-6pm Thu - Sat, Through Nov. 21, Sala Diaz, 517 Stieren.

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