‘Peat Duggins: The Moment That Changed My Life Forever’

Peat Duggins' Art Palace show, 'The Moment That Changed My Life Forever,' contrasts the reactions of those in power and those immediately involved in the act of living

Arts Review

Peat Duggins: The Moment That Changed My Life Forever

Art Palace, through May 31

While Webster's first defines "reaction" as a simple "response to a stimulus," Peat Duggins' current Art Palace show, "The Moment That Changed My Life Forever," is reactionary in a way that reaches back to the origins of the word, back to the fundamentals of chemistry, where "reaction" is: "a change or transformation in which a substance decomposes, combines with other substances, or interchanges constituents with other substances." Now, this is not to say that Peat Duggins' work is radical or on the fringe of what the general public will accept. In fact, Duggins' work is that mix of mass culture and reaction that is driving postmodern art out of its modern, exclusive roots both into and through the general public.

So on to the exemplification of "reaction." To enter the Art Palace show is to again enter Duggins' animated world of Hickory Ridge, seen most recently in the 2005 Austin Museum of Art exhibition, "22 to Watch." Mixing his work as an animator and illustrator with his propensity for installation, Duggins combines imagination and substance to create a room inside a world. As the Art Palace scenery fades, the two human-scaled podiums that center the installation bring Hickory Ridge quite close to home. So close to home, in fact, that, even while facing each other and poised for debate, each anthropomorphic podium cannot escape its own introspection or run from its own false shadows. While one podium embodies a visual feedback loop, featuring a self-reflecting video camera where a microphone ought to be, the other is a microphone centered over its own speaker. The result is a politician's dream and, cunningly, most politicians' realities: an imaginary debate between two entities that can, in reality, only hear or see themselves. And as Duggins' painted shadows announce "All Debate on the Subject Ends," the viewer is instructed that in Hickory Ridge, as in Austin, the United States, Palestine, or Postmodernism (as Duggins would choose), power stops the voices of the populace just as it creates those voices from its own webs of meaning and signification.

Duggins' materials for the installation are the sort of low-budget items that represent both the reality of an artist's bank account and the materials of the everyday Everyman. Yet while combining the gallery and the lumberyard, the exposed wiring, screens, speakers, and computer chips of the podiums show that Duggins and Hickory Ridge have at least a basic understanding of sophisticated computer circuitry. Mixing these mediums, metaphors, and meanings, the installation is at once the postmodern climate of techno-equality featured in pop bestsellers like Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and a critique of that distance and removal. Moving into the secondary room of the Art Palace, illustrations from Hickory Ridge tell the story of anthropomorphic Volkswagen Bugs who are subject to divisions reminiscent of the wall being built through Gaza, who are both the victims and perpetrators of car bombings and violence, and who are stricken by love, anger, and the full range of human feeling and emotion. Again in an alchemy of illustration, illusion, and eluding, Duggins' work looks at the reactions of those in power and contrasts them with the reactions of those who are immediately involved, not only in tragedy but in the very act of living, or say, reacting, where the result of mixing events, thoughts, and actions is the stuff of life and Duggins' art itself.

Peat Duggins graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design's film and video program in 2000. He is part of an artist's collaborative, Okay Mountain gallery, opening this month.

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Peat Duggins:The Moment That Changed My Life Forever, Art Palace, Austin Museum of Art, 22 to Watch, The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman

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