Pump up the volume

OIL, at Triangle Project Space through December 17, features the work of six contemporary Mexican artists. In the forground is an untitled work by Jose Dávila. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

'OIL' drills into the American empire and comes up with gold

Sitting around a cozy fire with drinks not three weeks after the recent presidential election, a friend of mine who worked hard to unseat George Bush was expressing disdain for European criticism of the U.S. I know Bush is terrible, he essentially said, but I don't need the damn French to tell us how to run our country. I liken this to the mother-in-law principle: Your spouse can criticize his mother all he likes, but you're wise to limit your input to the occasional muted assent. This same reaction may bubble up for some viewers of the current exhibit at the Triangle Project Space. One of the most refreshing aspects of this political season has been the extent to which policy was debated and confronted in exhibits from New York to San Diego, and here curator and gallery director Luz Maria Sanchez presents imaginative works by six Mexican artists, many of them critical of American-style imperialism.

The show, titled OIL, bitterly tips its hat to the natural resource that continues to shape foreign policy here, but has also played a role in Mexico's struggles with statehood, corruption, and relations with its northern neighbor. But oil, of another kind, was also arguably the most influential medium in America's post-World War II dominance of the modern art world - reflected in the title of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's recent catalogue of the same name documenting its permanent collection.

"Tarred and feathered bush," a mixed-media sculpture by Cristián Silva.
One work in the TPS show, "Noche Americana" by Gonzalo Lebrija, resonates not only as a steely-eyed examination of the American century, but of Texas in particular. Inside a corrugated metal shed, the seminal scene from the movie Giant - in which James Dean as Jett Rink finally hits paydirt - plays in excruciatingly slow motion. Dean's extended arms move in a celebratory dance as mist from the gusher covers him and the surrounding landscape. A portion of the film's soundtrack drags like a medieval procession in the background; it sounds like Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 given the Brian Eno Discreet Music treatment, slowed down to the point that it is breathed and absorbed more than heard. Lebrija has parsed a passage from our national pageant and discovered our id unwittingly embracing the means of our eventual demise; it resonates all the more with changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and news that Texas is volunteering to store greenhouse gases in pumped-out oil reservoirs. Waste not, want not.

Sitting a few feet away is the perfect complement to "Noche Americana," Cristián Silva's "Tarred and feathered bush," which doesn't need much further description except to say that in addition to recalling a notorious form of corporal punishment, the lifesize sculpture is a mute witness to the beaches and wild fowl that have been damaged by oil spills.

Through Dec 17

Dec 3-17
Opening reception: 7-10pm Fri, Dec 3

2-6pm Wed-Fri, & by appt.
Triangle Project Space
1501 S. Flores
Silva's rather brilliant dissection of human metaphorical and actual misuse of nature takes another form in "Orgy," a set of 17 small prints, 3/4- by 1-inch, of insects carrying on like there's no tomorrow (which for flies is more or less true). The delicate portraits give the lie to moralists who preach about the unnaturalness of sexual activity, and to biological determinists who want to use nature to excuse animal-like behavior in a species capable of such sophisticated socialization that science is regularly drowned out by dogma. But I think the series also makes a subconscious case for the sort of nihilism that's expressed by driving a Hummer while a war over oil rages in the Middle East and everyone grudgingly admits that global warming is a reality.

These are just three highlights in a solid show in which well-executed pieces are assembled to untangle a skein of interconnected, relevant issues. Oil may yet prove to be the American Empire's lead pipes, even as linseed oil becomes our epitaph.

By Elaine Wolff


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