A Chaotic Placement of Art: A critical review of “This is beyond insane. This is babel.” By ALAS

December 15, 2016

The best way to experience an exhibition is to enter with only knowing the title. Knowing just the title, leaves much more room for excitement and anticipation. Therefore, I find an exhibition’s name the most crucial aspect because it is the first encounter visitors have with the artworks. Upon entering, This is beyond insane. This is babel, and taking note of the first details and artworks, questions – similar to, “Who is ALAS? What is their artistic motive?” – begin to have answers.

The information given on the exhibition label briefly informs visitors of the San Antonio based collaborative, ALAS‘s, history. These two artists create their works by experimenting with rural objects and combining unrelated ideas relevant to their (rural) lifestyles. The Texas State gallery worked in their favor in this regard, because the large space welcomed exploration by giving visitors ample room to move around. ALAS‘s exhibition required a decently large amount of space due to the range and large amount of works.

While beginning with Gallery I, my curiosity heightened upon seeing markers (Sharpies) scattered on the floor, along with drawings apparently created by visitors because their content did not match that of the gallery works. It was apparent that the artists had provided the markers because of the amount and placement of them on the floor. This was the artist’s way of inviting the viewers to use the markers and draw or write freely on the provided parchment paper scattered on the floor. This gesture was appealing because the suggestion engaged the audience as opposed to leaving viewers to silently stroll through. The gallery walls themselves were covered with the artists collaborative name, ALAS, written in paint using an ominous font. The font appeared to contrast the rural essence of the works, therefore creating confusion amongst my first impressions of this exhibit. Confusion began to surface because the exhibition had a rustic, disheveled feel to it which did not match the font used on the walls. The displayed art itself ranges in medium and style from postcards, lists of objects and places, to a pair of dirty cowboy boots.

Upon entering Gallery II, I began to realize that ALAS’s works appear to be personal and intertwined with certain references that are significant to their partnership or friendship. This was my hypothesis in response to the obscure and seemingly particular subject matter, for example the specifically chosen pair of cowboy boots sitting alone on the gallery floor. The spot in which they were placed felt random because nothing was around them except the debris that had fallen off of them. From just examining these boots, it was certain that there was a story behind them or something being represented. Many artists use their works as symbols to portray something they have experienced or deem important. A sense of symbolism was received from this pair of boots, but it lacked a definite as to what the symbol meant because the object was not intriguing. And at the same time it felt very empty because of the banality and lack of effort in presentation of the boots. The two San Antonio based artists brought with them their rural backgrounds and characteristics, but unfortunately did not include much depth or imagination in their works. Many people who appreciate art, appreciate the combination of uniqueness and personality.

The exhibition, aside from the opportunity to draw with markers, was not inviting or interesting because the works lacked allure. In other words, the works presented an “inside joke” kind of aesthetic, which left viewers confused and uninterested. One work in particular that portrayed this feature was the random assortment of postcards laid out on a small wooden table. Each postcard had different text on it and were in no way related to the next. This work was creative, but there could have been more done to draw in the viewer and get them questioning the deeper meaning of these postcards – instead I just moved on. Another reason for the disconnection felt between the viewer and work, was the subject matter. I personally did not relate to their rural, obscure backgrounds and because of this did not understand their works. It can be difficult to appreciate a work of art when one doesn’t connect to the work, or relate to it in any way. While it is true that not every work will interest every person, I believe when an artwork is high quality art it can be appreciated by the majority of it’s viewers.

In addition, the art was arranged in a somewhat awkward or disorderly fashion, which was unpleasant because it disturbed the flow of the space due to the lack of direction. The works were placed in random locations on the walls and on the floor itself, which left large empty spots within the gallery. It gave off an unplanned, thrown together kind of aesthetic. Granted, they may have chosen the placement of each work specifically for a certain purpose, but it then leaves me feeling as if the disorder could have been more interesting or effortful. Personally, I believe the disorderly arrangement of the works reflected the lack of skill of the artists. If they are going for a chaotic aesthetic, then they could have put more time and effort into making the arrangement aspect of their exhibition more interesting. It seems as if the artists believed they were going “against the norm”, but did not follow through with the shock value.

Despite the exhibition being unenjoyable due to disorganization and lack of personableness, it remains one I will remember when visiting other exhibitions. This exhibition was unlike any I had seen before and it will be an experience to reference to when encountering new artworks and artists. The subject matter and artworks themselves were obscure and certainly possessed some sort of symbolism for the artists, however the presentation in its entirety was lackluster. Both artists may be worth checking up on in the future, and curiosity does remain, although, as to what their future exhibitions will contain and the subject matter they will choose to explore.

Rachael Pantuso