Sicardi Gallery's new show is filled with artists suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Okay, well, maybe that's not entirely true. But OCD would sure as hell help you create most of the work in "Microwave: Troy/desTroy." These people make drawings in which the entire page is completely filled with tiny, hairlike lines; they shoot daily self-portraits that go on for years; they cover envelopes with tiny trompe l'oeil paintings of stamps. There's something really appealing about a lot of this labor-intensive, often conceptual work.
"Microwave: Troy/desTroy" was curated by the New York-based EC Group. Neither "obsession" nor "compulsion" is part of their curatorial thesis. In EC Group's statement, they talk about Homeric Troy's excavator, Heinrich Schliemann, and describe the show as "the information-age equivalent of the archeological dig" that's "about the impossibility of understanding." I guess you could make those arguments, but screw it -- I think the show's about OCD.
Take Ken Solomon. This guy has shot a portrait of himself every evening for the past three years, without fail. It doesn't matter if he's tired, sick or really freaking drunk (as he appears to be in several images), Solomon takes his own picture every single day of the year. While his diligence and memory are admirable -- there are people who can't remember to take life-saving medication on a daily basis -- it's what he does with the results that's interesting; it works equally well as an idea and as an end product.
Solomon compiled all of his self-portraits together onto a DVD, and it runs on a continuous loop, displayed on a tiny screen. His face appears in the same spot each time, but facial hair appears, disappears and reappears. His hair seems to take on a life of its own and animatedly moves up, down and all around. He tans and pales, and his cheeks cycle from lean to chubby and back again. Titled The Aging Project Part I (2003), the work is intimate, and its small scale mercifully unpretentious. It forces you to lean in close as you watch the artist change with the passing of time. Solomon plans to continue it until he dies. I wouldn't bet against him.
Solomon is also the one who took a stamped envelope and painstakingly painted exact duplicates of the stamp all over the front of it. Then he mailed it to the gallery. The people at the post office freaked out. Was it forgery? Was there actually a real stamp on there? Which one was it? After some explaining, they acquiesced and sent it on. It's not a bad piece, but the love-themed stamps he picked are irritating.
Correspondence, or the lack thereof, is also a part of Elena del Rivero's drawings, each titled Letter to the Mother. The title is typed at the top of the drawing, and the page is densely filled with "text" -- neat ink scribbles that are virtually unreadable. The artist's focused and meticulous lines create a kind of controlled visual static. Their seemingly self-censored content is left to the imagination, but it's safe to assume the letter's "content" doesn't consist of light, cheery chatter or banal niceties. To whose mother are they addressed? You imagine anger and accusations systematically suppressed. Showing three from the series together exacerbates the feeling of frustrated and thwarted communication.
The drawings of Jacob El Hanani have a similar density of line, but they spread over the entire page. Gauze (2003), with its network of lines, is appropriately titled. Its execution feels careful and contemplative -- the marks are less anxiety-provoking than del Rivero's.
Some of the most fluidly elegant works in the show belong to Noriko Ambe. For her "Linear-Actions Cutting Projects," she stacks as many as 200 sheets of Yupo -- a superthin, plastic-based Japanese paper with a matte-white, waxy-looking surface -- and then carefully cuts through layer upon layer, excising curving, organic forms. The shapes are graduated in size and create a gorgeous topography out of the thick stack of pages.
But Stefana McClure takes the Most Obsessive pennant. She "records" the dialogue of films by freezing and tracing subtitles -- each and every line from every movie she takes on. Really. She places her paper directly over the screen; the size of the paper always correlates to the size of the viewing screen. Then she takes her tracings and retraces her text again, one by one, on top of a single colored sheet of transfer paper. It's another cool Japanese paper, this time with a wax base, and it works kind of like carbon paper. The process is intense -- imagine how much dialogue is in the average movie.
Each page and line of text causes some more of the color to erode from the transfer paper. She ends up with works such as The Blue Light, English Subtitles to a film by Leni Riefenstahl (2003). It's a sheet of paper in a luminous blue with blurred-out white bands at the bottom. The lines look like they've been overexposed, as if someone left a camera shutter open. Most of the material wears away, but you can still see the faint marks of McClure's dogged tracings. The pieces that result from her strategies are attractive, but the process itself is ultimately more interesting.
"Microwave: Troy/desTroy" has an international collection of artists. They hail from Iceland, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Japan and Uruguay, as well as the United States. I guess we can conclude that obsessive compulsive disorder is an international phenomenon. Thank goodness.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.