time: Fred Hollands Geography of Thought.
By David Brickman
Art Museum, through April 10
There are so many ways to evoke the concept of home. More
than a mere dwelling, it’s also representative of who we are,
what we feel, how we recognize ourselves—where we truly live.
In the exhibition Home Extension at the University
Art Museum, co-curators Sabine Russ and Gregory Volk have
brought together the work of 10 international artists who
convey different aspects of this theme with reasonable clarity.
By exploring such subjects as daily routine, native language,
domestic appliances, isolation, family and homelessness, these
artists attempt through repetition, transformation or recontextualization
to engage the viewer in an inner dialogue on reconsidering
With a full smorgasbord of media and nationalities, the show
provides Capital Region residents with an extension of their
own homes, in that this is not work we are likely to get the
chance to see around here very often, if ever again; most
of the artists are foreign-born and all of them show internationally
as well as in New York City.
For the curious and/or travel-weary, this is a very welcome
opportunity. But I feel compelled to warn those expecting
brilliant discoveries that it is a cool, postmodern world
out there, and most of the works presented here offer very
little to get excited about. Not that they are incompetent
or lacking in intelligence, but there appears to be neither
great passion behind them nor sufficient payback to spending
time with them.
There are a number of possible reasons for this disappointment,
ranging from curatorial shortcomings to a generally lackluster
international art scene. Whatever the case, it’s too bad such
an ambitious undertaking has turned out to have fallen so
Among the highlights is an installation of collected words
by Karin Sander, in which handwritten samples of some of the
more than 100 languages spoken in New York are reproduced
as digital photographs and mounted directly to the wall. A
worn stool “shipped from the artist’s home in Stuttgart” provides
a spot to sit and contemplate this wall of Babel.
As an eager international traveller and enthusiastic linguist,
I couldn’t resist this presentation—but I wasn’t convinced
that it’s a work of art, and my doubt is strengthened by the
artist’s own words, in which she describes the overarching
project that generated this display as a “research project
in linguistic anthropology.” So, by simply presenting some
of the research on a wall, we have created compelling art?
I don’t think so.
A second piece in the upstairs gallery by Sander confirms
my suspicion of laziness—a small primed canvas is hung there,
with the explanation that it has hung in the artist’s various
homes over the years since 1988, thereby acquiring a patina
from these places and becoming a painting not “made by the
artist, [but] by the spaces where the artist has lived and
worked.” And the result is as completely devoid of interest
as it sounds.
Ragna Róbertsdóttir, Fred Holland and Sebastiaan Bremer, on
the other hand, seem willing to work way too hard for similarly
Róbertsdóttir has transported volcanic gravel from her native
Iceland and painstakingly stippled two large rectangles of
gallery wall with it, creating abstract textural designs of
charcoal gray and white. They look pretty cool up close, where
you can feel the roughness of the little stones, and from
an extreme angle, where they meld into overall blackness.
But, from a distance, where one would expect the images to
coalesce into something worth all the trouble, nothing really
happens. They just look like areas of dark and light texture—not
much evoking the exotic geologic mysteries of Iceland, as
Holland, an African-American, has drilled and strung on a
wire thousands of pennies, creating a snake that is suspended
from the very high ceiling and lands in a coil on the floor.
It looks like it must weigh at least a ton and took a lot
of time—and then you move on. His other two contributions
to the show consist of two square trays, one containing black
beans in a sort of Zen arrangement around a disc of dark marble
and a white crystal, the other making a vague target design
using nothing but black-eyed peas.
The press release (presumably using text from the show’s as-yet
unpublished catalogue) says “Holland’s ephemeral installations
become personal testimonies to the magic imbedded in black
folk art and the sensibilities rooted in home, migration,
and longing.” OK, whatever.
Bremer is a doodler. He takes very big photographs (apparently
not his own) and draws obsessively on them in ink, making
endlessly complicated loops and trails of dots until there’s
a sort of shadow image on top of the photograph’s own shadowy
image. The hallucinogenic result is like a puzzle, peppered
with hidden elements such as windows, chairs and cups, as
well as words and numbers. His skill and patience are remarkable—the
final pictures, however, are unsatisfying, though they do
at least entertain.
Actually funny are the three electrified constructions by
Ward Shelley, pieced together from odd bits of domestic accessories,
tools and motors. Object lessons in futility, his idiotic
robots behave pointlessly—one, a lamp with a hammer in it,
keeps rolling itself against the wall; another, titled Ambitious
Toaster, tries to boost itself onto a shelf, then gives
up and crashes to the one below. They’re one-liners, but they
do make you laugh.
The only artist here who completely captured my interest happens
to be a photographer (call me biased). Joachim Koester, a
Dane, has assembled a series of 16 fairly large prints, all
but three of them color, taken in an extreme northern outpost
of arctic Canada called Resolute. The series is a collective
portrait of a village perched where nothing seems to live
apart from the people stubborn enough to stay there.
There are the buildings, wires and pipes—and sky, water, snow
and rock. One image is a close-up portrait of an intense young
woman; most of the rest are landscapes of the village and
its environment, very well-composed and printed and framed
to the edges in white for a clean, unsentimental presentation.
The sequence, which takes up two walls, is a poetic elegy
to the fragility of our existence, and the fact that the mere
idea of home can be enough to make people stay in a very hostile
Also included in the show are a video and an installation
by Kimsooja, a video installation by Beth Campbell, three
acrylic paintings by Odili Donald Odita and two videos by