Sol LeWitt explained conceptual art best: "In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work ... The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." I've had bar fights over conceptual art with people who hate having a thinking requirement foisted upon them when they look at art. OK, maybe "bar fights" is a dramatic flourish -- it was once, over On Kawara, at a museum, where I was an intern, and I sadly could not have been more sober. But still.
Eric Zimmerman's Telltale Ashes and Endless Disharmony, at The Reading Room, is conceptual art. The show has eight collages made from National Geographic pages, two large black and white prints and a Letraset (that's fancy talk for a sheet of letters).
In the middle of the room is a stump with stacks of another work, a take-away booklet titled Oblivion. There was also a performance on opening night, which I did not attend. I am told it had a lot of people crammed into the little room and the beer went quickly. I do have the script from the performance, which was done by the artist and his laptop, overlapping the same voice.
The Reading Room is literally a room with a door to Parry Avenue, across from Fair Park, that exhibits visual art with a literary bent and dares to showcase conceptual art. It's an extremely large, frightening mission for a little guy like The Reading Room, but this show is inventive, specific, and challenging. It's part of a larger project with three venues in all: a website and a show in Houston at Art Palace Gallery called Endless Disharmony & Telltale Ashes, running September 7 through October 27. Yes, those titles are the same but flip-flopped. The art in each show is related but not the same, and the website adds another dimension where experience isn't bound by space and time, which brings me to the point: Zimmerman is pushing time around like a kitty with catnip, using visual means in two galleries with overlapping runs and a multimedia website building over time an artist's attempt to break out of the malaise of waiting around for something to happen. The simultaneity of the shows symbolically puts Zimmerman in two places at once, something that should be impossible.
The two big prints dominate the show from perpendicular walls. They look sort of like posters of news graphics or maps with codes to be cracked -- single words, related phrases, images, diagrams, but no easy answers, and the idea of sound, which is a time-based phenomenon, represented visually (the website plays directly with audio in fun ways, like a Roy Orbison song slowing down more and more the longer it plays and six splendid minutes of rain falling). One print is science-y, the other poetic. Both contain esoteric references -- a Houdini trick here, a Joseph Beuys performance there -- and this is the content of the booklet Oblivion as well.
But the word of the hour is ENDLESS. The Letraset has only the letters spelling that word removed. One of the prints has a list of overused phrases containing "end" where end means end of time, but then the final word, ENDLESS, negates every line above it. You know, time stuff.
Zimmerman's Field series holds a spot in all this complexity with collages that are simultaneously (there's that word again) representational and abstract -- an unknowable natural world humming with jagged shards of itself, made of identifiable material from National Geographic. Here are those moments when nature scares the bejesus out of you since you can't make it happen and you can't make it stop.
I really did not get this show while I was standing in the middle of it (I can't remember ever looking at conceptual art without initial suspicions of my own stupidity), but I was still thinking about Telltale Ashes and Endless Disharmony the next day. It's the kind of thing that rewards attention and repeat visits and disciplines you to use your imagination. It's a shame the run in Dallas is so brief, but maybe this time-bender is the origin of something more permanent, something indeed endless.
Go see Telltale Ashes and Endless Disharmony on Saturday, September 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. (or by appointment until then) at The Reading Room, 3715 Parry Avenue in Dallas, across from Fair Park.
Photos by Kevin Todora, courtesy of The Reading Room.