By Chris Lane
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By Angelica Leicht
By Jef Rouner
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In the seminal CGI flick Tron, Jeff Bridges plays a hacker transported into a video game environment where he must perform all kinds of arcade-riffic feats in order to defeat an enemy programmer. Containing Christ-like narrative elements and super-cool -- you know, for the early '80s -- graphics, the movie offered up an interesting visual perspective on what it would be like to be inside what originally was a 2D representation of a 3D landscape.
New York-based Judy Pfaff has been doing the same thing with her art since the '70s, making installation environments that read like abstract, modernist paintings come to life. Pfaff is considered a pioneer of installation art, and she's got the MacArthur Fellowship, along with its $500,000 prize and "genius grant" title, to prove it. For her latest installation, ".....all of the above" at Rice Gallery, she's transformed the space into a sprawling composition of grids, circles and curves. Awash in fluorescent oranges, blues, yellows, greens and purples, the look is decidedly Tron, sans digitized crotch rockets and wacky helmets.
White discs are piled on the floor and hung from the ceiling, overlapping each other in a lopsided fashion, looking like ready-to-topple stacks of pocket change. In the center -- although not necessarily the focal point -- of the room, round rods of white steel spin around in off-kilter funnels. DayGlo strings span the space, running next to each other in grids, their colors activated by dangling ultraviolet lights. The walls have been marked with dyed string, a practice reminiscent of chalk lines used on construction sites, creating sloppy grids to complement those crisscrossing the open space.
But the environment isn't all circles and straight lines. Set up in juxtaposition to those elements -- and softening the CGI analogy -- are dangling vines, gathered from the artist's upstate New York estate and dyed black, gnarled around the space and often kept in place by brightly colored strings attached to fist-size fishing weights. Though blackened, these vines add a touch of warmth to the otherwise cool scheme. Crumpled around them are what appear to be pieces of aluminum foil (also dyed black) and the mechanical guts of several umbrellas (ditto). The latter element calls to mind Diane Landry's installation in the same space a few years back, in which the Quebecois artist used moving umbrellas to create floral apparitions on the ceiling. [See "Dark Star," October 27, 2005.]
With any installation at Rice Gallery, it's interesting to see whether the artist incorporates the large glass wall at the front or leaves it as a clear window into the world, and Pfaff definitely opts for the former. She has added black, string-applied streaks to the glass, not to mention stacks of reinforced plastic, clouding the view but still allowing the natural light to play with the UVs inside. This luminescence is an essential part of the piece, not necessarily in a Dan Flavin sort of way, but more through the use of what could be considered negative space, allowing the light to dance with your eyes as they move about the room.
Bright colors, strict lines, gnarled vines -- ".....all of the above" is definitely worth a look.
While Pfaff is a pioneer in installation art, Montrealer César Saez is making moves to become the interplanetary king of intervention art, a.k.a. effing with people and things in public. His previous projects include dyeing the water in the Louvre's fountains and releasing white crosses into the Canadian skies. His latest, still in the planning stages, is called the Geostationary Banana Over Texas.
The concept is simple enough: a 1,000-foot, helium-filled banana, floating 100,000 feet over Texas for the entire month of August 2008. It'll lift off in northern Mexico and then float over into the Lone Star State, where it'll stay thanks to an intricate system of wind-activated gyroscopes. So far Saez has only raised 15 percent of the $1,000,000 he figures he needs to get the banana off the ground, but he seemed optimistic in a recent interview with the Houston Press.
"What we're trying to do is going to be a new artistic practice," he says. "If Brazil is putting up stratospheric satellites, it's world news. If the shuttle goes to the space station, it's world news. Anything that happens in space kind of concerns everyone."
Saez says he chose Texas because of its persistent place, for better or worse, in the global media. When asked about his choice of fruit, he mumbled something about its aerodynamic qualities, although we find it hard to believe he doesn't see the banana as a stratospheric metaphor for our particular breed of politics.