The Austin Chronicle

"Elements of Expression" at ICOSA Gallery

The artists of San Antonio's Clamp Light Studios take over the Austin gallery and take us to surprising new places

By Robert Faires, June 11, 2021, Arts

The point isn't that Austin is so lacking in visual artists that we have to import some from San Antonio to put up a gallery show. And come August, when some Austin artists will be showing in San Antonio, it won't be because that city's in the throes of an artistic drought. No, the point of ICOSA displaying work by Clamp Light Artist Studios & Gallery members here and Clamp Light displaying ICOSA members' work there is simply that two neighboring art collectives are engaging in a neighborly exchange – the artmakers' take on, "I'll show you mine, you show me yours."

We're treated to the creations of nine Clamp Light members first: 21 pieces using wildly varied materials that range from oil and acrylic paint to embroidery to digital prints to lint roller sheets to kids toys with flocking. And that kind of variety is also the point: As curated by Raasin McIntosh (founder of the nonprofit Raasin in the Sun), the exhibition "Elements of Expression" is not just long on creativity – it's infinite on it. With no limits on an artist's autonomy, "the creation is ongoing, it is endless," McIntosh states in her intro to the show, and she wants these works to reflect that.

Which they do. From the outset, you can see these artists headed in their own distinct directions without constraints. In What a Fucking Mess, Sarah Fox has taken embroidery to a level of intricacy I typically associate with pen and ink – thread-thin lines of pastels and earth tones to delineate bird feathers, claws, and beaks – all in service to what may be the most succinct summation I've seen of the 2020 shitshow in a single image: two two-headed cranes, whose four necks and four legs are hopelessly knotted, still frantically flapping their wings in an effort to get free. Aesop would envy the aptness of Fox's animal metaphor here, while the rest of us just recognize how right she got that mess of a year.

Sara Corley Martinez also has a response to 2020 here, one that takes an entirely different form and tone. She's written a story about her young son during quarantine, how he made a friend at school who sometimes bullied him and encouraged him to do bad things and who turned out to be imaginary. Each sentence of the story was written on a separate disc of polystyrene plastic – a Shrinky Dink – and then reduced in size by Martinez using a blow-dryer. She not only invites visitors to read the entire heartrending story on the shrunken discs, but also to watch her meticulously shrink every one in an accompanying video – a mother's thoughtful metaphorical gesture to lessen the anxieties of her child during a situation that's beyond her control.

Across the room, on another video, Xavier Gilmore is kneeling on a large swath of black fabric that he shares with several pieces of electronic equipment, some contributing a loop of sounds and rhythms. In one hand, Gilmore holds a mic into which he periodically adds his own sounds to the feed; in the other, he runs a lint roller across the fabric. Over the 2½-minute run time of the video, titled Purification, he repeats this action over and over, with the roller occasionally shedding sheets. Those sheets, or some like them, have been mounted behind ruby-red glass in wooden boxes and arranged on the wall to form Gilmore's adjacent work, A Series of Revolutions. The two paired side by side raise complex and intriguing questions about who and what is being purified, what the sheets are attempting to remove, and whether their preservation in the wooden boxes with red glass is a sign of revolutions being memorialized or buried. With the simplest of objects, Gilmore constructs layers of meaning – perhaps infinite layers, as McIntosh indicates.

The half-dozen other Clamp Light artists – Taylor Galvan, Raul Rene Gonzalez, Randy Guthmiller, Jacqueline Ramirez, Cassie Gnehm, and Ursula Zavala – provide their own endless creations here, each headed somewhere different from the others and going just as far. Our pleasure is that we have this moment in which we can follow them all in Austin. And having done that, we may be inspired to follow them home to San Antonio and keep track of them there.

"Elements of Expression"

ICOSA Collective Gallery, 916 Springdale, Bldg. 2, #102
Through June 19

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.