New York

Terry Fox

This recent exhibition by Europe-based performance and sound artist Terry Fox consisted of two parts, a suite of 21 drawings/constructions and an installation. Both seemed concerned with the issue of language, as if exploring its trajectory through social, political, and artistic spheres, and tracing the transmutations thereby incurred. The former works, entitled “Catch Phrases,” are mixed media objects in each of which three layers of phrases are superposed. The first layer, penciled over a 3-by-5-foot paper sheet, transcribes the emanations of newspapers and radio broadcasts; faint checkerboard squares each contain, and retain, one letter, the grid as a whole spelling out such loaded if vernacular messages as “death squad,” “electronic evidence,” and “friendly authoritarian regimes.” Over these Fox superposes felt-pen images of graffiti found on the walls of different European cities, and, in the third layer, variations of the latter drawn in linear steel. In this manner, through a visual and conceptual palimpsest, Fox sketches a transformation from the etiolated absence of the word to its hardened, physical presence.

What Fox seems to imply in this work is the process by which such chilling words become predictable phrases; through linguistic transubstantiation, they become media drone, as common as the graffitist’s scrawl. And, just as graffiti possesses its own political power, so it is through such social “hardening” that “catch phrases” can be “caught.” In the installation, Triplex, Fox extended this process of objectification, employing different objects in interactive situations to suggest such transit through time. In an open space two walls, painted institutional green, were set to comprise an equilateral triangle open on one side. Its interior and surround were arrayed with carefully chosen forms. One was a red cradle, another an overturned chair; a third was a black coffin, suspended from the wall by ropes and supported by sticks. Again, each object supported a penciled verbal play, ranging from a sentence (“Who shall harm me?”) to a homily (“A headless man/had a letter to write/t’was read by one who lost his sight . . . ”) to an arrangement of discrete words (“army,” “hot,” “ash”). This roundelay of objects, moving from birth to death, was thematically reinforced by the headphones appended to one wall, from which an audiotape emanated music that filled the space with circular and encircling sound. Just as the sound “shaped” space in a circular pattern, so the objects energized and articulated their surround; much as one moved through the installation in a circular motion, so this continuum was reinforced in the music and in the implicit transit from birth to youth to death. In this manner Fox established time and space as the media of transformation, shifting words and objects in continuous flux, and focused on those processes through which such perceptions are conveyed.

Kate Linker