When you first enter Parker’s Box, you’ll find a clear aisle in front of you but to the right, a giant construction blocking your way. The size of the piece is imposing, but its material is puny — one of the most lightweight and disregarded objects imaginable, plastic drinking straws. The work is a manifestation of artist Patrick Martinez’s LINX, a system he devised and recently funded on Kickstarter that lets users assemble drinking-straw constructions with a specially designed plastic connector.
It may sound a little silly or frivolous, but Martinez’s installation is actually mesmerizing. You quickly forget you’re looking at straws, if you even knew that in the first place. The structure’s delicacy, contrasted with its large size (it takes up the whole front portion of the gallery), lends it a tentative equilibrium, like an enormous house of cards. You edge past, tempted to touch or blow, and hope it doesn’t fall.
Just beyond LINX lies Julie Favreau’s “Anomalies.” The centerpiece of Favreau’s installation is a video screened on a kind of white pad or cushion; below it hangs a white sculpture consisting mainly of geometric, intersecting pieces of wood. The gridded plane they form echoes the LINX, but the construction here feels sturdier; the concern is less blowing or knocking it over than it falling of its own volition, as the plane splays forward and slopes at an uneasy diagonal.
A softer form, something like an arm, snakes through the holes in the grid, and a few slats that look like they may have come from window blinds are strung together in the shape of a ladder further below. These add-ons raise questions that the LINX, too, seems to be asking: what can be made with the materials we’re given, the ones that already exist in the world? How can we transform blinds or plastic straws into something beautiful? Off to the side, another construction by Favreau echoes the first one’s tensions — malleable and organic matter versus the rigid, geometric kind. And while I couldn’t say for certain, the orchestral music that filled the space seemed to emanate from this second piece.
Favreau’s silent video consists of a few vignettes, each of them showing a single actor whose movement or efforts are an anomaly in nature. In one, for instance, a woman balances an easel on her head; in a second, a man levitates with a poll balanced upright on his crossed legs. Yet another man, wearing a conical hat, seems to keep an elaborate construction of sticks dangling above his head, while another woman arranges balls of clay on small, glass shelves (again that contrast of organic vs. artificial matter), her hands tracing obsessive patterns in the air. We seem to be somewhere at the intersection of science and magic here, perhaps dabbling in alchemy, confronting mysterious happenings that are clearly unnatural but that Favreau implies are somehow possible. Again the question hovers, of what we can do with what we’re given. The focused gazes of her actors, their intense concentration, suggest that they’ve achieved some kind of place or state that the rest of us are still in the dark about, still striving for. The sweeping, emotional music that plays out across the gallery reinforces the thought.
Moving on from Favreau, you arrive at Steven Brower’s “Hatch,” which is wonderfully and precisely what its title implies. The door contains a circular unit with a special lever to pull, instructions on how to open and close it properly, a repressurization valve, and other convincing parts and pieces. Brower hasn’t made art with the materials of the world so much as he’s created a work of art that convincingly mimics them. In doing so, he shifts the burden of activating the piece uncomfortably onto the viewer. I stood in front of the door for a few very awkward, drawn-out minutes when I first confronted “Hatch.”
Once you make your way through the portal, you find yourself in a pressurized chamber where a two-channel video by Mathieu Beauséjour screens on the far wall. The video is simple, just a loop of a man hitting a gong and a black circle that shifts ever so slightly, but its repetition and ritual feeling connect its actor with Deverau’s figures.
It also provides a bit of visual zen that works against its own title, “To Be Governed.” That title, meanwhile, captures something of the state of finding yourself enclosed in a not-so-small, but also (the longer you stay inside or the more people in there with you) not-so-big hatch. On opening night, after a man closed the hatch tight and said jokingly that he had locked it (there’s not really a lock), I could read the panic rising on a nearby woman’s face. She turned and told him to let her out.
Beauséjour’s second, stronger contribution screens in the back stairway of the gallery, a video of a man dressed in a suit and tie with a ball stuffed in and taped over his mouth. Though the image, along with the title of the previous work, may conjure up thoughts of S&M, it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t some coy sex game; the man wants, and is trying, to deliver a speech of some kind. His eyebrows move up and down, his voices comes out muffled but aggressive.
Handouts from the gallery will tell you that the video is called “Don’t Worry Darling, There Will Be More Riots in the Spring,” and that it’s actually about free speech. Once you know the premise, it starts to seem a bit literal and heavy handed, but the evocative contrast remains: the man who seems angry and menacing is actually trying to lecture you on the importance of freedom of speech.
If there’s one theme that strings all of the pieces in the show together, it may be that of contrasts, of false appearances that belie more mysterious, or just harder to understand, hidden truths. It’s not quite enough to deliver a strong, cohesive message, but it holds the exhibition together in a delicate, LINX-like equilibrium.
Brooklyn/Montreal: Mathieu Beauséjour, Steven Brower, Julie Favreau, Patrick Martinez continues at Parker’s Box (193 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through February 17.