General 9-24-2004

Paper Ships and Postcards: Project Rooms at the Soap Factory

Collier White walks through the Project Rooms shows at the Soap Factory--tectonic industries' conceptual funnies and Valerie Snobeck's warm/cool paintings. Show is up through October 24.

"For Jessica"
"For Christa"

tectonic industries

A Russian neighbor of mine recently used my computer for a battery of online personality tests. Applying for positions as barmaid and housekeeper, she dutifully completed clones of the MMPI, periodically requesting help on a point of vocabulary or of culture. She asked me, “Is ‘nosy’ good or bad?”

Such tests suggest that our personal choices hide a lurking underwater menace, and for every test evaluated by employers, hundreds of online surveys claim to offer the keys to our selves. Far from finding them invasive, we enjoy the narcissism, even as invisible networks blur self-love and marketing. Even personality tests that collect no usable data have been crafted by marketers bent on shaping identities in the image of their products: A style survey for adolescent girls seeds four of its ten questions with concerns about sweat and body odor.

The personality survey and its parody have been done to death, so it initially seems redundant for tectonic industries to add to the muddle with this notion is only temporary. Transplanting the survey experience to the museum has the familiar odor of a single-idea Readymade. It’s to their credit, then, that their installation is engaging and mildly thought-provoking.

At the room’s entrance, viewers pick up a clipboard and a clean slate of friendly multiple-choice bubbles with which to tally responses to questions that scroll by on a projection screen. The test promises to identify your problems and assign a personality category from a list of six, then prescribe a course for self-improvement. Even as the questions and answers merge the mundane and the absurd, the exhibit challenges you to watch for meaningful patterns to emerge. There must be an authority here, or else who would scan this video screen in search of some key to herself?

Whatever the answer, tectonic’s tally sheets suggest we take a long time finding it. In twenty minutes of surveillance, I’ve barely put a dent in the more than 1,500 answer blanks that cover the page, and “F” has only a one-point lead over the other front-runners. “Greater accuracy will result from answering more questions,” the test instructs. And then, “If there is a tie, answer more questions until there is a clear winner.” Extending the testing process indefinitely, the exhibit incites its viewer to resist reflection. More than just lampooning our willingness to diagnose nonexistent pathologies, this notion is only temporary underscores the move from the process of making choices (where the pleasure is palpable) to the diagnostic mode, where the rewards are laughable.

Valerie Snobeck

At an opening dominated by noisy conceptual art that baits with trick questions, Valerie Snobeck’s simple water-and-earth-toned acrylics are like the quieter lagoon that’s still within earshot of the luau. Outside this pass-through room, house music pounds a backbeat to a video montage of television commercial time-lapses. Wandering out of the fray with a bottle of beer or cup of wine, solitary gallery-goers escape conversations and reproduce Snobeck’s monadic artistic mode as they enter the room dedicated to her work.

Like the travel diary of a lonely Lynda Barry character, these childlike paintings resist analysis even as they convey familiar alienation. Read from left to right the small paintings document a sulking holiday by the water, conveyed with ukiyo-e flat masses and amusingly childlike motifs. A meandering mountain river achieves waterfall force when its path becomes vertical on the page. The penciled sketch-line of a fox is still visible well outside of its finalized form. A model’s face is drawn with pen, then obliterated with paint. A geyser, in triptych, crescendos wanly.

At the end of the exhibit, a series of paintings on postcards suggest the weak appreciations of so-hip-it-hurts travelers. The ennui is documented one snapshot at a time. Uncomfortable posture and headphones enhance a quiet moment by the beach. A kite-surfer becomes the object of fascinated ridicule, and may provide the vacation’s only moments of laughter. A tropical flower behind the ear can’t sweeten a scowling profile.

The travel diary here is closely linked to self-portraiture. The recurring mountain ranges suggest a pair of knees raised akimbo. But what does the reclining artist see as she looks southward toward her opened legs? The sun rises on the near side of one set of mountains. A Bono clone, goateed and grinning has interposed himself between another pair. In yet another, a tourist offers a sleepy grimace.

The scenes mix their dulled appreciation of places with the hell of other people. Each is rendered with a simplistic iconography that suggests we’ve seen it all before, and it’s not worth capturing the details. Ultimately, sharing Snobeck’s sunburnt attitude, we can only wander away in search of happier shores.

“The Age of Consent,” a benefit party and art auction, will be held at and for the Soap Factory on September 25 at 6 pm. Tickets $25, more info at Soap Factory website, see link below.