116 Blue Star
Exhibit on view to Aug 6
Making things, we are told, is virtuous, a good thing. But compared to, say, ants or wasps, we’re not very competent builders. We’ve made a mess of this place. A friend of mine recently told me, “Whenever I’m introduced to an architect, I want to punch him in the face. They’ve all got a lot to answer for.” Given that my friend is an architect with a doctorate in urban planning, I’ll have to allow that she knows what she’s talking about — lots of bad buildings have been and continue to be put up. Take a drive up 35 to Austin. It’s land rape, one roadside attraction after another, a litter of sprawling junk that could be anywhere from San Diego to Syracuse. Atopia — nowhere.
I suspect that Icelandic artist Gudjon Bjarnason might understand my friend’s sentiment. The current exhibition “DySTOPic ProgressiONs” fills the main room at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center with Bjarnason’s trademark sculpture made of blown-up building materials. The works on view were made recently with C-4 and other explosive materials and the assistance of a team of pyrotechnicians supervised by the San Antonio Police Department Bomb Squad. His sculpture has been exhibited worldwide in numerous museum shows and biennials, but he is an architect, as well, with his own studio and a partnership in the experimental architecture group ABZ-Associates. He has also taught at numerous schools including Pratt University and Parsons School of Design in New York.
Bjarnason’s exploded work, as exciting as it must be to make, is also a tool that he uses to discover new forms that are then used in his building designs. If you visit the show, be careful not to miss a small work in the very front of the exhibition. It is a maquette of a building Bjarnason will build. Made of metal, it is dissimilar to the large works as it is made of slabs cut and welded together, but the end on one side is shaped similarly to the expanded metal of his exploded building materials. The building, which will be sited on a hillside, will rest lightly on the land, connected to the earth by several pylons, perched like a bird. Also on view are paintings of sorts, a huge series of clear panels marked by faint shapes that overlay like restive thoughts, gathering density to course black clouds of static.
There is an eerie beauty to the sculpture, which on reflection might image media accounts of terrorism, the result of suicide bombers, car bombs, and IEDs. The torn metal, long, hollow, round, and square pipe, is however not the target of an external explosion, but has been ruptured from internal detonations. In some pieces Bjarnason has let an array of pipe or girders assume the chaotic pattern made by the blast; in other works he arranges them in simple geometries, Ys, Xs, and rows. The most interesting aspect of the work, however, are the blast edges.
At first, I struggled to identify the reshaped metal. Certainly not geometric, not a grown organic form. Well then, cosmic perhaps, like star births, or geological, like the volcanoes of Bjarnason’s Iceland. When seeing something new the mind stumbles about trying to process what the eyes see, trying to assemble scans into a whole. Sometimes, especially with abstract art, there is giddiness to the process. Old memories are brought up, synapses crackle, trying to find a match to the new experience.
One afternoon, lost many years ago, the sun going down after an endless day, the high grass and wild flowers rose up to my chin. Dandelions gone to seed were eagerly grabbed, and we went running through the open field beyond the garden, letting the wind of our passage or a quick puff make white flurries in the air that then slowed, and the seedlets twirled down to the ground like little paratroopers. The stems, now headless, were pale green and hollow. On their ends, where we had snapped them away from the ground, dandelion skin curled back as the stems dried in the heat, and finally splits rang ’round the little tubes like windows in Japanese lanterns as we still grasped the stalks, rolling them back and forth on our fingertips, not wanting to let go of the touch of summer.
That is what the exploded pipe looks like to me, like dandelions. Art is always personal.