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Applying a Heavy Wash

Allison redefines the term "watercolors" for Colquitt gallery owners

McCabe is interested in ideas of truth and reality in the media and, increasingly, in personal interaction. While still living in Britain, she decided to host a dinner party and document it. One camera would record the conversation at the table, and another would record the body language underneath the table. McCabe wanted to juxtapose the two images to compare the truth of the verbal with the truth of the physical. She invited ten people and told them her plan; four showed up, and the other six arranged to meet her to discuss why they felt uncomfortable. The consensus was that they would rather have not known in advance, so as to spare themselves a self-conscious evening. They would have preferred to learn about the project after the fact.

The idea stuck with McCabe, and after moving to Houston and acquiring new friends, she wanted to try the project again. This time, following her friends' advice, she decided to tell everyone afterward, only then requesting their approval. She invited friends to dinner and set up a single camera.

Afterward, she told one invitee about the taping and was met with anger. The friend advised McCabe not to tell anyone else, and to do nothing with the video. Predictably, everyone found out anyway, and the whole thing turned into a low-level fiasco with misunderstandings and pissed-off people all around. Mutterings about lawsuits provided McCabe with a quick introduction to the more litigious aspects of American society. In response to the furor, the artist transcribed the video over a three-week period and presented the transcripts to each participant wrapped in tape from the video. Her copy of the transcript is displayed in a Plexiglas vitrine, unreachable and unreadable.

The New Gallery: With the sodden carpet removed, Thom Andriola thought the concrete floor looked kind of cool.
New Gallery
The New Gallery: With the sodden carpet removed, Thom Andriola thought the concrete floor looked kind of cool.

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Through Saturday, June 30. 713-523-9530
Art League of Houston, 1953 Montrose Boulevard

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Although McCabe describes the video as incredibly banal -- 45 minutes of the artist and her husband setting up for dinner, and a scant 20 minutes or so of table conversation -- the encased transcript has a certain lure. Something about reality captured unawares is compelling. Reality or pseudo-reality is big business in the trash-TV world, but McCabe's project malfunction speaks to our self-consciousness and our desire for privacy rather than exhibitionism.

That the project didn't work as planned is part of the appeal. Even the rebuttals that McCabe allowed her participants are incomplete. Only two chose to respond, which is telling. McCabe could have ignored her friends and shown the video anyway, but her concern for their reactions becomes an interesting component. It also brings up issues of exploitation. Maybe the video itself would have been a great piece. Would that justify showing it in spite of the participants' objections? McCabe's work touches on a host of provocative ideas. It deals with a candor that addresses the difficulties of executing a concept that works smoothly in the abstract but is fraught with complications in reality. It is refreshing to see conceptual work that isn't slick but instead slightly awkward, apologetic and human.

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