I never saw Unit B in Chicago, but rest safe that it has a sweet new home in San Antonio and, as it opens its second show in its new digs, it has a faithful following. Taking over an extra apartment attached to a one-story house, the white-walled, two room gallery with kitchenette is homey. This is truly a set up that encourages living with art, sans furniture.
I'm reading a Joseph Heller novel right now—Something Happened (1971)—and it's all about a guy who obsesses over his wife, kids, boss, and girlfriends. His past, present, and future is bound up in one neurotic, dissatisfied stream of consciousness. With this book on my mind, I made my way up the flower-lined path to the domestic environment of Unit B.
Reconstructing the Mundane, curated by Kimberly Aubuchon and John Mata, inhabits its domestic gallery space well. Destina Olivares (Austin, TX) populated the kitchenette with a family resembling life-size paper dolls. A man's suit, woman's green 1960s dress with red-fringed apron, and a little girl's yellow sundress float on filament from the ceiling--she at her sink, he near an exposed pipe. Their two-sided outfits have been sewn out of a raw canvas-like material and threads are left hanging at the edges. A white wall phone and an old toaster have been constructed likewise, with new cloth cozies covered in heat-transferred photos of their real selves. The phone reads, “helpful” and the toaster, “useful.” The stitched job titles turn family relationships into blue collar uniforms.
We are all in our little roles together baking a pie.
installation view of works by Brian Dettmer
In the living room, books line the walls—not spine-out on a bookshelf—but carved out and hung back cover against the wall. Brian Dettmer (Chicago) uses old, illustrated books with scientific, cultural, and anthropological illustrations which he then obsessively carves out in successive layers until they come together in a 3-dimensional tableau. They want to be fun, but are mostly serious, because they dissect and flay antiquated subject matter. Dettmer’s comic books treated the same way are lighter, more colorful. The only object in the center of the room is Scoop (2003), a set of encyclopedias glued together and dug out from the top like a canoe. I like the idea of just dipping into information like ice cream, but I wish he hadn’t painted the outside over and repainted gold stripes on the spine. It makes them look too wooden when the dimpled dinosaur encyclopedia looks so beautiful today.
No home is complete without television. And Reconstructing the Mundane has its own flat screen to showcase the gorgeous Jezt Im Kino (Now in [the] Cinema) (2003) by Matthew Noel-Tod (London), While Dettmer shows us a surgical cutting away of books, Noel-Tod creates the dreamlike feeling of reading and imagining at the same time. The footage was taken while whizzing through Berlin—the music is Mozart’s 20th Concerto in D Minor—and the text that appears and disappears like subtitles comes from a mélange of books and movies. The artist’s cosmopolitan resume is filled with European education and exhibitions, and the text he pulls from literature and film reads like a Milan Kundera novel or a Truffaut script—where philosophy is an everyday condition of human experience. Being a sucker for that kind of stuff myself, I cheerfully gurgled over lines that sped by like:
MARIA DRIVES, HERMANN SITS NEXT TO HER
THEY ARE JUST LEAVING THE SUBURBS
AND COMING TO OPEN COUNTRY
PLEASE DON'T FORGET THAT I'M GIVING YOU EVERYTHING
ALL THE MONEY IT DOESN'T INTEREST ME ANYMORE
I HAVE GIVEN YOU EVERYTHING
MY WHOLE LIFE
THEY ARE NOW ON AN OPEN HIGHWAY
MARIA SPEEDS UP
THERE IS A SHARP CURVE IN THE HIGHWAY UP AHEAD
WHERE ARE YOU DRIVING US?
TO THE COUNTRY
Noel-Tod is deep in thought about representation and creation, what is real and unreal. His appropriated text and music combined with elegant filmmaking technique, takes other artist’s work and splices it into something fulfilling to multiple senses. The only thing missing is a pie baking in Unit B’s oven to waft in and make us at home.
Catherine Walworth is an artist and critic,Transplanted from the Midwest, based in Texas and likes dogs.
Reconstructing the Mundane is on view through May 5, 2006 at Unit B (Gallery)
500 Stieren Street at Cedar • San Antonio