The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Rachel Cook, December 7, 2007, Arts

'WorkSpace: Paul Ramirez Jonas'

Blanton Museum of Art, through Feb. 3

Is patriotism something we believe in anymore?

With statements like "This land is your land," "I solemnly swear to tell the truth," and "My fellow Americans," Paul Ramirez Jonas confronts patriotism and our sense of Americana in his current installation in the Blanton Museum of Art's WorkSpace. Ramirez Jonas is fascinated with history and American-ness. In a somewhat cramped space, there are multiple sculptures referencing analog vs. digital technology in an interactive, performative installation.

Ramirez Jonas draws on famous Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges as a point of departure for the show: "Reading, obviously, is an activity which comes after that of writing; it is more modest, more unobtrusive, more intellectual." In each of the sculptures, the artist uses various pieces of patriotic texts as jumping-off points, from lyrics to a song to a courtroom oath to a prompt that begins many State of the Union addresses. While these texts carry a certain amount of weight – ironically, the texts themselves are on pieces of clay, like the Ten Commandments – Ramirez Jonas attempts to breathe new life into them by turning on the microphone in front of them with the hope that the viewer will utter the words in public. I admit to feeling a bit bizarre standing in the middle of a museum repeating into a microphone, "Do you solemnly swear that you will consider all the evidence in this case, follow the instructions given to you, deliberate fairly and impartially, and reach a fair verdict? So help you God?" or "Is this land made for you and me?"

Each object is filled with various electronic components alongside traditional sculptural components. One of the standouts is a copy machine that has made copies from clay tablets of a religious survey, where one of the questions is: "Which of the following items best describes your belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?" You are supposed to circle one of the options: believe in, not sure, don't believe in, or unsure. I felt like I was back in religion class at the Catholic school I went to, taking multiple-choice tests on my belief system. It all seems like something out of the Fifties. Another piece is a clay sculpture of a video-camera teleprompter placed on a modeling stand with text coming off the prompter stating, "My fellow Americans." It is an interesting juxtaposition of a traditional technique of clay modeling with the media-driven political machine that a teleprompter represents.

The pieces that fall flat, or rather, don't activate in the same manner are the video and piano pieces, Wh_r_ Hav_ All th_ Flow_rs Gon_. Maybe because I am not a musician, and I am not quite sure what the significance of the missing C-note is, but it feels like something is missing in the piece itself. A piano with the C-note missing from it sits on one side of the wall as you enter the space, and you, the viewer, are invited to play along to the video that is playing a song without the C-note.

Maybe it is all this election banter that is going on right now before the Iowa caucus, but the sculptural pieces that reference political or religious elements are the most resolved and frankly need more space surrounding them for the type of interaction to happen, especially in a museum setting like this one. Ramirez Jonas leaves us to question our own notions of patriotism and our sense of American-ness. How fitting for this time to pose such a thought.

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