The Austin Chronicle

Girls Gone West

Reviewed by Andy Campbell, February 7, 2014, Arts

'Girls Gone West'

UT Visual Arts Center, 2300 Trinity
Through March 8

Student or not, one of the most interesting spaces to view artwork in Austin is the Center Space of the University of Texas' Visual Arts Center. Curated by the VAC's student organization, the FUBU rule – for us, by us – is in deep play here, and the results are a crapshoot. You'll either encounter work that's lackluster and undergraduate-y, or you'll feel like you're bearing witness to the first in a long, robust career of exhibitions.

Happily, the latest Center Space entry, "Girls Gone West," is well within the latter category. "GGW," in title and premise, takes the conceit of what is now an annual rite of passage, the undergraduate spring break trip (the horror), and turns it inside out. Instead of James Franco whispering, "Spring break foreeeeevarrr," we get quirky, think-y, and often hilariously deadpan riffs on a spate of Seventies earthworks scattered across the American West. Artists like Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Walter de Maria, and Michael Heizer made monumental interventions into the land in remote, hard-to-find locales, partially as an escape from the overdetermined space of the white-cube gallery. Each of the five young artists of "GGW" – Karina Eckmeier, Allie Underwood, Maia Schall, Ally Acheson-Snow, and Chantal Wnuk – has her own approach to the Rubik's Cube of making artwork about other artwork, yet all of the work in this exhibition feels forged from the same crucible. Lesser artists would be decimated, so this is no small task.

The classic American road trip – a kind of mythic journey and rite of passage of another era – informs a great deal of the work here. Wnuk's tiny, quietist work is a sustained meditation on the materials of the landscape (the constant use of red thread is practically Kabbalistic), while Eckmeier's task-based performance videos honor the seriousness and loopiness of these latter-day pilgrimage sites. In one video performance, entitled Tunnel Pull-Up, Eckmeier stands atop a small igloo cooler, grasping the large round holes of one of Nancy Holt's iconic Sun Tunnels (1976); performing the titular pull-up, Eckmeier's dress gets blown about by the wind. Like the wind whipping up, the performance shifts its intention, and thus its meanings, drastically. It's a sucker-punch of a video.

Of course, Schall, Acheson-Snow, and Underwood each produce stunning work as well, by turns formally compelling and historically playful. But you'll just have to make the trip to see it.

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