Breaking Down Monstrous Coupling, a Big, Wild, Springsteen-y Exhibit at UT Dallas

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Shifting from strange to familiar, then endearing to wacky, the UT-Dallas exhibition "Monstrous Coupling" finds both comedy and sobriety among oddball artistic pairings. Curator Andy Amato contextualizes each piece through a list-of-works stacked by each entrance, and it's a fun read, using a quote from The Tempest to set the mood and dialogue between the artists and himself to describe the art.

Let's break it down two by two:

The pairing of Kristen Cochran and Kevin Todora resulted in "Boss Shop," pictured above, a crazy plant land with Bruce Springsteen and mulch. It's a walk-in space with a red-carpet walkway and creatively placed pictures of the Boss, who is laughing at you, not with you. Here is an excerpt from Amato's context:

KC Andy help me rotate sculpture

KT Can I add cheeseburger?

KC I'm too far away to stop you;)

Ha! Artists are weirdos! (Though not all weirdos are artists.)


"Untitled," by Jenny Vogel and Brian Fridge, pairs a 33-second color video with a handmade record and turntable. The record player was built to function (it doesn't), but the visual suggestion of sound tricked me into believing there was indeed an audio track somewhere, and I got ridiculously close to each of the pieces, listening for sound that wasn't there.


Children's drawings are the hub of "Eyeball Monster Chronicles from The Monster a Day Journal," a collaboration between Rebecca Carter and Michael Blair, who created separate but related works. Carter's animated video uses drawings by Blair's son, and has an aquatic quality that renders the little boy's monsters simultaneously whimsical and terrifying.

Blair's painting has the same color scheme as Carter's video and looks like graffiti in detail -- and then you discover the context. The text in Blair's painting comes from a card written by Carter's grandmother, who was in the early stages of dementia. It's a lovely, heartbreaking circle.


A tiny, cave-like space inside the exhibition houses the twisty pleasures of a Michael A. Morris/Nick Barbee collaboration. Based on the mid-19th century Dallas commune La Reunion (not to be confused with our modern-day arts organization of the same name), the installation includes an unsettling 8mm film of graves accompanied by Beethoven's "Sonata Pathétique." Cyanotypes of different measuring techniques run along the wall, and a freaky plastic tub filled with floating cut lemons sits on the floor. It's a freaky and fascinating assembly of carefully gauged elements that left me feeling teased and bewildered. I did not understand it, but I was intrigued.

Next: Fucking with Facebook, and more.

Morehshin Allahyari's and Richie Budd's "Aragh" is one of the best pieces of art I've seen in Dallas. Three mundane objects lie enclosed in clear plastic on three plain pedestals. Because they are contained and elevated -- treated as relics -- there must be more than meets the eye, and there is. One contains the body sweat of a worker at a Persian Gulf offshore oil rig; one contains the body sweat of a worker at an undisclosed Shell oil rig near Weatherford; and one contains motor oil. There is no way to discern the individual role each artist played in its creation, but it addresses the threat of reliance that involves all of us, especially we energy-proud Texans. The piece is simple, intense, and extremely haunting.


The final pair, Brittany Ransom and Cassandra Emswiler, inserted each other into personal photographs to fabricate a shared history that does not exist. I had trouble finding it; "CJEBRRBF4EVR" is mounted on a wall near a soda machine, facing away from the other installations, and this is a disservice to the piece.

Initially I was dismissive since it resembled Flickr or Facebook. I thought about this more after I left, and discerned that it holds a power no less relevant than the Allahyari/Budd piece. In a time when our personal histories are being data-mined for targeted advertising and corporate profit, what if you just fucking lied on social media about who you are? What if photographs were total bullshit and status updates pure fiction? And come to think of it, how do we know the artwork isn't telling the truth and the description is the liar? We don't. Is that not awesome?

It brought the exhibition full circle for me, because this last piece brought me back to my regular day, inspired toward nonsense on my Facebook page.

Monstrous Coupling runs through November 17, 2012, in the visual arts building ("the art barn") at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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