Fear not, this artistic examination of what worries us will reward your attention.
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Sept. 4, 2009
Pump Project Art Complex
Through Sept. 19
So many things to cause anxiety in this complex life.
Did that sentence catch in your mind in an interesting way? Are you a bit more invested in finishing this review now? Or are you one of the people personally connected with the show being reviewed here, perhaps one of the artists whose work is on display at Pump Project Art Complex, and so you would read this anyway, because if you didn't, you might experience a skoshie of anxiety yourself? "What did they say about my work in the Chronicle? Who the hell is this Brenner to judge the work of real artists, anyway?" sort of thing.
I feel ya, brother and sister. And so does Andrea Mellard, curator of this exhibition that provides a temporary showcase for the visual contents of the latest issue of Cantanker magazine. Mellard is the assistant curator at the Austin Museum of Art, so you'd guess that she knows what's up. See this "Anxiety" show, and you'll see that your guess is right: There are a good variety of anxieties addressed by the gathered works, from a similarly complex variety of artists both local and from beyond the Lone Star State.
Anxiety is a force of inner nature; its catalyst can sometimes be among the biggest forces of outer nature. Hurricanes, specifically. El Franco Lee II offers a painting of a Katrina-flooded New Orleans, a family of people struggling through the deluge and confronted by armed government employees. No, there's nothing quite like a potentially fatal amount of racial tension in the immediate aftermath of a devastating windstorm to chafe those raw, overworked nerves.
Sandy Carson (who sometimes shoots photos for your Austin Chronicle) documents the aftermath of another hurricane, Ike, with a large metallic Chromira print of a house that's fully intact and only slightly ragged but upside down in the middle of a field. Someone's spray-painted an arrow on the house's wall, near the grounded roof, indicating which end is "up." Gallows humor.
If you were on your way up a gallows, for real, the stairs that led you to the hangman's noose might well look like those captured darkly in Stephanie Martz's Vertical Vertigo, a mixed-media-on-paper piece. We may all be on our way to the gallows, environmentally speaking, as water resources get so scarce that more of our planet resembles the fissured crusts of Earth depicted in Shawn Camp's Begrebet Angest, a large, horizontal trio of thickly textured paintings.
The fight for water, so they say, is going to make the fight for oil seem like child's play in comparison – and we may all be soldiers in that war. Anxious yet? Wait until you're captured by enemy forces and then tortured. Never mind waterboarding, friend: Try dealing with methods employed by the Inquisition, with the instrument known as the Spanish Spider (aka Breast Ripper). Terri Thomas has provided one, although it's archly rendered in Swarovski crystals and beads over a soft fabric form. That Spider provides dissonance more evocative of horror than humor, but there's also a bit of laughter to be gleaned from this show: James Van Arsdale displays a wall built from tiny, lovingly sewn sandbags. Funny thing is, these are exploding sandbags – it says so, right on their sides. So as long as the sandbags aren't doing their job (absorbing impact), you're safe, but if they thwart a bullet or even the brunt of a storm, baby, you're toast.
Ah, and so much more: 19 artists are represented here. If you're a general reader and you have slight anxiety about checking out what "Anxiety" has to offer – because maybe it won't be worth the time, maybe you should instead go and hang at your favorite coffee shop where that one hottie barista might be on duty again – fear not. This show will reward your attention.
Even if you snag a copy of Cantanker from somewhere else and gaze at the photo-representations therein, this exhibition will be better experienced in the flesh. Never mind about the proximity of others in the gallery, about all the germs, the airborne viruses that may or may not be ready to infiltrate your soft tissues and reduce you to a dying, blood-spattered husk: Those could be at the coffee shop, too. Or anywhere, for that matter. We're never safe. Eventually, come the reaper, all our worries will cease. But we know that life is short and art is long, hurray, and right now the Pump Project is offering a fine length of visual diversion for all who attend.