The multimedia show Iconoclastic at Reed College’s Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery is about objects… and all that entails. The small space contains only a few objects, but it is not the objects themselves, but the gaps, which are significant.
Take, for example, Maya Lin’s Little Cone, which is 10,000 pounds of crushed recycled auto glass, piled in a corner. As the largest and heaviest work in the gallery, it casts an imposing presence, glittering like some sort of post-Twentieth Century urban snow drift, appearing synthetic, almost drug-like in its neat, sculpted pile. But the pile itself is not the full extent of the work— in the gallery guide, there are photos of the installation, which required multiple pallets, workers in protective gloves and masks, and a number of tools to create. The work is not just about the finished installation itself, but much about how it came to be. Where does such an amount of broken glass come from? Where is it going? What is this quantity, compared to all the broken glass that we produce every day, or every year?
These sorts of questions bridge the gap between our idea of the object or artwork, and the object itself. This is a crucial question in our current culture that overlaps onto virtual spaces, and Morenshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s The 3D Additivist Cookbook is invoked to launch us directly into this strange chasm. The book is actually a massive set of computer files available online, containing recipes, templates, and criticism for exploring the newly widespread ability of fabricating objects using 3D printing technologies. In the show at the Cooley Gallery, the Cookbook is only mentioned— but, an object from the Cookbook called Untitled (Octopus) is on view. Crafted from the depth-reducing plastic material common to 3D printers, the piece is almost translucent underneath the bright gallery lights. One is left to wonder, does it even exist at all? Is the real piece of art the 3D file, or the copy that was produced for the show?
Ryan Woodring’s video loops “(…) the oldest new structure in the history of this city,” Trafalgar Square, London (and also the similar City Hall Park, New York version) push this idea even further. The videos depict the unveiling of recreations of the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS in 2016, but recreated by The Institute for Digital Archaeology using 3D printing tech in 2017. Or, the videos did depict this. Painstakingly, Woodring has erased the images of the recreations from the videos, causing the sheet to be whisked away to reveal— nothing at all.
The problem with problematizing objects in a gallery show is that the work must be so conceptual, as to extend completely beyond the gallery space. It requires words, outside images, different times and places, dimensions of data, and ideas. In a sense it may violate the boundaries of sculpture, but in another sense, its sculptural space exists in the mind as well as in the gallery. There are only these differing senses in sculpture. There are only such objects, which both exist and do not exist, which have been both destroyed and rebuilt, which have been both imaged and erased. Iconoclastic begins in its own small space, but as the visitor departs the gallery, they take these ideas with them, out into the rest of the world.