Construction by Destruction = Deconstruct

“Destruction, hence, like creation, is one of nature’s mandates.” – Marquis de Sade

This is only one of many quotes from Speaking of Destruction… a supplementary booklet produced by SI for their 3-part exhibition called Under Destruction I-III.  I have chosen this one out of many quotes by equally renowned creative personalities (such as Picasso, Malevich, Metzger, Rothko, Duchamp, Bourgeois, Mondrian, Pollock and etc.) is because of its concise phrasing and yet it also seems to sum up the main thesis of the first installment. Through acts of destruction, inadvertently it often results in many different forms of creation.  Although they may never be the ones that are fully intended but usually are the ones that lead to enlightening discoveries.  This is what I mean when I say construction is by destruction, when taking apart the construction and subverting its apparent significant unity the core of our analysis becomes clear.  Maybe not a completely crystal clear one, because then it would leave us no reason to further explore.

What I like about this first installment of Destruction is its subtleness, rather than violent explosions or devastating ruinations these works are meditative to watch.  This piece named Perpetuum Mobile (40kg) by Nina Canell despite its austere appearance and the simple construction, the result is one that looks utterly mesmerizing.  When I saw this piece, I felt so completely transfixed on the kinetic workings of the steaming mechanism that the sense of real time passing seemed to have escaped me.  In other words, I would have stood there until the cement powder solidified into a block of concrete without feeling like any great amount of time had passed.   If you are curious to know, what makes the water go up like a little fountain is actually a very small amplifier that sits on the bottom of this bucket.  Its movement is propelled by the same mechanism as in the 1986 Gary Hill Meditation piece in which a voice comes through a speaker while a hand slowly pours sand onto the amplifier. Even though both works are about the process of transformation, however the concepts of the two pieces are very different.  On one hand, Hill’s piece focuses on the process of a physically disrupted relationship between a human voice and its sound vehicle, the electric speaker.  Whereas in Canell’s piece the process of transforming cement from a powdering substance to a solid concrete mass shows the metamorphosis of destroying one thing to create something entirely different in texture, shape, form and mass. 

UnderDestruction I_SI_2 from Chennie Huang on Vimeo.

The other aspect I really enjoy about this exhibition is that there is a good number of time-based works.  Being a film and video practitioner myself a few years back, I am naturally drawn to these works.  In this piece named Untitled (Bulb) by Michael Sailstorfer, a light bulb slowly explodes into air as the chards of glass disperse out into multiple pieces of tiny stars.  From reading the description for this piece, the footage of a light bulb after it’s shot by an air-rifle was initially recorded on video then transferred onto 16mm film.  The film transfer added much more texture and meaning to the piece, in other words the light quality of the projection serves as a synonym to the light bulb as both are seen as the only source of light against the dark surrounding.  Maybe I am old fashion for saying this but, personally I have always preferred film more than video.  It is because when you are watching a film being projected, you are instantly made aware of the magic produced by the physical phenomenon of light and sound (of the projector). And this is especially important for this piece, as the light bulb disperses into tiny little pieces; it almost looks like a starry sky.  In other words, rather than a film of destructing the bulb, this is a film about making a beautiful starring night.  Even though I have pretty much the whole thing on this video, but in order to really experience the work I highly recommend a personal visit.

UnderDestruction I_SI from Chennie Huang on Vimeo.

Lastly, this image is taken from a work by Alex Hubbard called CinĂ©polis.  In this video, the artist takes a small projection screen as a prop to stage a humorous play of plastic balloon destruction.  The humor begins with seeing a hand ripping apart the scene, or opening the curtain so to speak of it symbolically.  Since the gesture is done in such a crude manner, it seems as of something out of a slapstick comedy. Then as the “show” begins, the hand comes back into the scene and starts to cut out pieces of the backdrop then sprays tar around the surface.  This gesture is almost Pollock like, if you can remember the photograph in which he is in the process of making one of his famous drip paintings while holding a cigarette in his mouth.  Ok, maybe not the cigarette part, but the likeness to a Jack Pollock drip painting is undeniably there.  Then the show takes a dramatic turn, when the shiny plastic balloons start to populate the scene.  There, I see a strong visual analogy to Jeff Koon’s balloon sculpture as symbols for American Pop Art.  Without giving away too much of what happens next, let’s just say nothing really lived until the end.  Perhaps the artist is trying to mark an end to the “new” art out there that still makes reference to Pop Art and our endless fascination and praising of American Abstract Expressionism.  With this piece, the result of destruction is still unknown but I surely am looking forward to find out more.

Under Destruction I is currently on view until May 8 at SI.  (p.s. there are other amazing paintings and sculptures included in this show besides the ones I have just mentioned)


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