Paul Ludick

Bernice Steinbaum Gallery

In his installation piece here, Paul Ludick achieves a very tenuous balance between solemn concern for serious environmental subjects and a sense of humor with which to guide and stimulate consciousness. O Zone, 1989, is an arrangement of 31 identical chairs placed casually through the front area of the gallery. On the back of each chair the name of a city is painted in black; different typefaces suggest regional differences. Places as far-reaching as Uppsala, Tokyo, Missoula, and Thetford are represented in Ludick’s idiosyncratic cartography. On each circular seat, a selection of ten pounds’ worth of stones, apparently collected from the city cited, is carefully arranged.

To the uninitiated (like me), one geological sample looks much like any other; a specimen’s power to particularize is an object of foreknowledge rather than observable fact. But the identity of each city and its stones is visually silenced by a piece of see-through turquoise silk chiffon draped over each chair. Beyond the landscape of chairs, an illuminated globe hangs in front of a black partition wall. On the other side of this wall, a map of the world has small pins marking the 31 cities included in the installation. Also in this back space, texts acknowledge the individuals who assisted with the collection of rocks from each site, and provides a description of the ozone layer, its imperiled state, and the vast global and ecological consequences of its depletion.

The installation inscribes a notion of geography as a study of unique conditions in relationship to global phenomena. The rocks and labels tell of the small idiosyncrasies of particular regions; the identical chairs and translucent hoods suggest the pervasive infrastructure of earth and atmosphere that sustains all life. The work imparts the strong sense that isolated acts have far-reaching effects—that even the most pristine environment is a part of the earth’s endangered atmosphere.

Ludick commonly uses chairs to address issues critically. Because the chair is an extraordinarily prosaic object, because of its ubiquity, it is a powerful purveyor of meaning. But this functional item is also ideologically charged. It can be insidiously hierarchical—used to endow or confirm power. Any small readjustment of function or iconography is instantly discernible and usually decipherable. Most of us know what a chair is, what it is for, and recognize when it is no longer just this. Ludick’s manipulations make subtle use of this form, imparting a sense of altered status that, in turn, raises larger questions. Frankly, it was anticlimactic to enter the back room and to have the project explained, to have every possible query quieted. The artist seemed to lose faith in the vision of his own work and the viewer’s potential to participate in an open-ended process. Art is often that shadow of doubt that challenges the mind. The artist chose to relieve us of our uncertainties, but took away some of the humor and sense of active connection as well.

Patricia C. Phillips