Jeff Williams: Thickly Settled
For his exhibit 'Thickly Settled,' artist Jeff Williams has blanketed an array of everyday objects in an electrostatic flocking fiber that looks a lot like dust from an AC window unit
Reviewed by Amanda Douberley, Fri., June 8, 2007
"Jeff Williams: Thickly Settled"
Okay Mountain, through June 30
As the first truly hot days of the year approach and air-conditioning units across town are cranked into action, the timing of Jeff Williams' exhibition "Thickly Settled" couldn't be better. Williams, a current artist-in-residence at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Core Program, has blanketed an array of everyday objects in an electrostatic flocking fiber that looks a lot like dust of the window-unit AC variety. This brownish-gray grime covers everything from venetian blinds to a houseplant to two large carpets scattered around the gallery.
Williams' work may be familiar from last summer's installment of "New American Talent" at Arthouse. His Microwave maliciously hummed near the gallery entrance, a hole cut out of the appliance's front door, potentially spewing radiation into the space. This dystopian take on modern conveniences carries over into "Thickly Settled," with a wide range of potential meanings. My first take construed Williams' installation as a postapocalyptic environment worthy of end-days science fiction: Is this what the world will look like once we've driven ourselves to extinction or been banished to live on the moon, underground, or someplace yet to be conjured by fantasy writers? Could a polar shift or irreversible climate change trigger massive storms of household dust that eventually bury our civilization in piles of fluffy filth? Or should we take Williams' message to be less dire and interpret these heaps of dust as a metaphor for some long-forgotten room hidden in the recesses of our memories? A place once inhabited, now half-forgotten a read reinforced by the fragmentary nature of Williams' installation, which consists of isolated objects cobbled into groups rather than a fully articulated representation of a room.
Slice it another way, and "Thickly Settled" could be taken as smart commentary on the burden of consumption. The sheer amount of stuff with which we surround ourselves just creates, in the end, more maintenance work in our everyday existence. We might imagine this exhibition as a summoning forth of all of the dust that could ever accumulate on, for example, a single chair. Such a wealth of interpretive possibilities is a sure sign of great work.
"Thickly Settled" is also notable in terms of craft, attention to detail, and hidden surprises. The color-blended flocking fiber quite successfully simulates dust, right down to small piles of the stuff mounded on a carpet. The effect is virtually seamless no small feat in an installation of this size. Don't forget to look up, or you'll miss what appears to be one of Okay Mountain's air vents similarly festooned with dust. It's a little bit of life transformed into art for what is, on all accounts, a great show.