Tauba Auerbach: Here and Now/And Nowhere
September 3 – October 27, 2009
Roughly a decade prior to the advent of the personal computer (and by extension, the digital revolution), famed semiotician Jacques Derrida, foretold its invention through an analysis of the human condition. Crowning mathematics as the universal language, he predicted the inevitable condensation of linguistic forms as a result of man’s fascination with codes: “What is natural to mankind is not spoken language but the faculty of constructing a language, i.e. a system of distinct signs corresponding to distinct ideas.”1 Thirty-five years after the transformation from alphabetic script to numerical blips began (and 42 years after Derrida’s quote, for those of us who are not so mathematically inclined), the graphically oriented work of Tauba Auerbach reveals the ongoing validity of Derrida’s theorems.
Auerbach originally broke onto the international art scene in 2006 when her first solo show, Yes and Not Yes, premiered at Deitch Projects. In these early typographic experiments, language, and more specifically the subject of alphabetic form, reigned as a communicative beacon serving as the basis for existential analysis, technological innovation, and artistic experimentation. But the face of that transmitter has been significantly altered in Auerbach’s newest series. Beginning with the exhibition's anagrammatic title, she prepares us for our trip down the rabbit hole. From here, language as we know it is left behind as the artist's former semiotic content is replaced by mechanistic patterning and repetition. Vanishing points have no place in this work. Plunging us headfirst into a perpetual state of ocular disorientation, every surface in the show merges to create a frenzy of waking REM movements.
With their ambiguously oriented focal points and video-game aesthetic (think Nintendo’s version of Tetris circa 1989), large scale photographs of TV static serve as the gateway for an analysis of meaning (or lack thereof) in the digital realm, while optically morphed “Crumple” and “Fold” paintings (all 2009) harken back to the minimalist gestures of Donald Judd and James Turrell. But while the paintings themselves, created with the aid of an industrial paint-sprayer, are impressive illusions of three-dimensional space, they do little to prompt a new-fangled investigation of modernist abstraction. After all, optics have long been a topic of modernist debate, serving as the primary criterion for Op art pioneers such as Julian Stanczak, Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarély, to name a few; as a result, Deitch Project's impressive installation of the paintings somewhat trumps their individual effect. Arranged in a pyramidal format, the “Fold Paintings” function on two levels—first, as an allegorical reference to the philosophically charged components that make up Auerbach’s oeuvre, i.e. the ascension and declension of the interpretive gaze, and subsequently, of interpreted meaning—and second, as a formalist reflection of the exhibition’s sculptural cornerstone, the self-referentially titled pump-organ, the “Auerglass” (2009).
Here, Auerbach’s original concerns with language become clearer, crystallized through another mathematically charged field, that of music. Measuring approximately 15´× 2.5´× 10´, the Auerglass, whose title extends from a combination of Auerbach's and Glasser's (the band name of the work's co-creator Cameron Mesirow) names, comprises a sizable portion of the exhibition space. The instrument itself is a conflation of proto-futurist design, carved out of various woods, metals and acrylic and containing four bellows, 49 pipes and two keyboards situated at either-end. It cannot be played individually as each keyboard requires air to be pumped into the adjoining parts by the second musician. This reciprocal system of exchange is at the heart of language, both verbal and non-verbal. As such, the Auerglass operates on a deeper level than the 2D work, probing not only at our linguistic and art-historical associations, but concurrently at our sense of community and cooperation.
The language of technology undeniably differs from that of alphabetic form. Here, precision trumps mysticism and logic rules as law. In the gap between calligraphic flourishes and this reductive system of ones and zeros, Auerbach’s recent series verifies that that conversion process is inexact. Like a hallucinogenic mirror, the artist presents us with a reality that is non-reality—where pure illusion is the premise of the game. Here and Now thus posits a state of communicative purgatory. That Auerbach may be correct in her deductions of societal transmissions, that the impact of textual reference no longer holds sway in our current world, is a cynical realization but a valid one, nonetheless. The question is where does the work go from here? Once a system has been drawn and quartered (à la Barry Le Va), what is left but a clever display of its constituent parts? That is for Auerbach to figure out. In the meantime, Here and Now offers some stunningly rendered eye-candy for us to feed upon, our appetite for codes temporarily satiated by her optical theater.
ContributorKara L. Rooney
Kara Rooney is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and critic working in performance, sculptures and new media installation. She is a Managing Art Editor for the Brooklyn Rail and faculty member at School of Visual Arts, where she teaches Art History and Aesthetics.