Visual Arts

Energy Transference Inspires Object-Based Sculptures

Our planet reshapes itself in a million different ways – seeds emit roots and bloom, plants are woven into cloth, the tailor cuts a shirt, and the tattered rags of the discarded garment are reworked into a bird’s nest. Yet, throughout this process of eternal birth and expiration, our planet remains fixed in the unchangeable fact that there will always be only one hundred and twenty-six billion acres of land on the earth. In his current exhibit at Inman Gallery, Michael Jones McKean plays with the theme of energy transference through sculptural forms, appropriately titled a hundred twenty six billion acres.

In two of his works, shapes of the earth and five hundred seconds, seemingly random object shapes are arranged on solar panels and outlined with fluorescent green sea dye marker. Arranged as a pictograph, this nod to the earliest form of writing incorporates modern-day technology and culture (devices, food and pharmacopeia) and intersperses them with the natural world (feather and seashells) and ancient tools (stick and urn). McKean’s reference to the amount of time it takes light to span the 93 million miles from the earth to the sun is playfully played out on the UV coated vinyl.

His use of technology could not be more evident than in the monolithic the cold year, which sits alone in the South Gallery. In this piece an ultra low cryogenic chest freezer, which contains unseen boulders, is set at an inhospitable negative 186.9 degrees. The age of these ancient rocks is referenced in the bowls and urns that sit atop the freezer, serving as empty vessels awaiting their fill. A viewer cannot ignore the parallels with oocyte cryopreservation or cryogenic freezing, both of which suppress the now in hopes for a better future.

In we are see-through we never die, the ability to capture a moment in time through photography is referenced, while also alluding to the transient nature of technology. From the focusing cloth of early cameras to the ancient and contemporary human tools, the colorlessness of the sculpture enhances the objects’ shapes. A crowd of human heads in bas relief emerges from the distance, with facial recognition rectangles focusing on a select few. The piece is edged with a faint purple light and the viewer is left wondering why these particular faces were chosen by the soulless software.

The shade consists of a schefflera houseplant atop a diesel generator with a photo stand controlling the light source. The plant, known to become leggy with too little light and burnt with too much, seems to dance with the black felt of the stand in its hunger for photosynthesis. The entire piece, made of stainless steel and marine resin, is coated in a matte black finish.

The sixth and final piece, the present age, shows a computer charger melting into a folded towel – one object useful as a conduit for energy and the other as a buffer from the sun-infused heat of the sandy beach.

A hundred twenty six billion acres continues through July 11, at Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 713-526-7800,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney