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Undoing Boredom at Lawndale Art Center, Houston

I am preparing myself for something very dull—an exhibition Staring at the Wall:  The Art of Boredom at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston. But, I wasn’t bored. In other words, I didn’t feel a sense of rote dis-ease, which boredom often engenders, or a sense of entrapment (except for Clayton Porter’s “work, try, hard” lyric looping in the background as audio to his video, which I’ll discuss below). I approximate boredom to: F–k. I’m stuck in study hall and I’m completely turned-off, nothing I can do here will arouse me.

People who bore easily might have a short attention span, or cannot easily be captivated. These are two types of boredom. One like a child and one like a professor (who has heard it all). The kids in Jenny Schlief’s video installation don’t seem bored, but the author of the video certainly does. A child jumps up and down in a messy home environment with the artist’s voice repeating like a drone: I am making art, I am making art.  This is Schlief’s life. She’s using her kids and her home, it seems, to say: I could make art if I could cut through the monotony of my days.

Clayton Porter’s work took much more the approach of here’s what I do when I’m bored. Well, he’s much more imaginative than most, employing a video camera, sticks of butter and his penis. (Thanks for the full-frontal.) As to melting butter with your hot penis when you are bored to form imprints in butter sticks, which are then cast in plaster (and also on pedestals, exhibited in the gallery), hmm. It’s hard for me to take this out of the context of knowing the artist personally. Considering his other sexually explicit works and his collection of sex toys. I almost admire that Porter’s “boredom” leads him to quasi-erotic behaviors. This video, Trying Hard, also features Porter’s voice saying: work, hard, try. Trying Hard sits in the center of the gallery, 3 TV screens (32 inches) are facing each other in an enclosed triangle instead of outward toward the audience—only by peaking through a 1-1 ½ inch gap is the content of the video exposed. This latest work by Porter seems influenced by Bruce Nauman, with whom the artist has been working for several years. It’s a move toward Nauman’s all-the-activities-I-do-while-in-my-studio-also-constitute-art mentality.

In a very different vein, a series of paintings on paper by Chris Akin shows the slippage into boredom. Menil Floor Collages actually captures that sense of boredom that one falls into right before, but not quite, sleeping. The paintings simply depict an abstract form in a primarily cool palette (grays, greens, blacks), weighted on the right side of the paper. But the painted form, like an iceberg, slowly drifts down the page throughout the series. From the catalog: “For Chris Akin, an artist and a gallery guard at The Menil Collection, spending hours on end staring at art—as well as walls, corners, floors, pedestals, and other architectural spaces and objects—is almost a daily practice.”

Staring at the Wall captures that sense of detachment, which to me is something boredom requires. However, the work itself is not boring, nor does it cause boredom. This exhibition is more a look at the result of having been bored, so it speaks to boredom’s undoing.

The exhibition Staring at the Wall runs through January 12, 2013. Work by: Chris Atkin, Seth Alverson, Uta Barth, Jeremy DePrez, Clayton Porter, and Jenny Schlief. Curated by Katia Zavistovski.

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