New York

Alan Scarritt

Lorence Monk Gallery

Over the past 15 years, Alan Scarritt’s concerns have remained remarkably stable, though his means of investigating them, ranging from his performances of the ’70s to his current work in photography and sculpture, have evolved radically. Initiated during the height of Conceptualism, his project of blurring the boundaries between order and chaos, language and image remains pertinent in today’s neo-Conceptual milieu. Scarritt became known early on for his multimedia investigations of the disintegration of sound that often employed several audiotapes at once to layer and distort recorded text. This project culminated in the late ’70s with several large-scale performances and installations involving both sound and images—meditations on process that often set audio and video systems feeding back on themselves, endlessly recording and replaying increasingly distorted communications.

In the ’80s, Scarritt moved to sculpture as more than simply a way of documenting performance and began producing constructions of found, technologically oriented objects that evidenced a continued interest in the vicissitudes of communication, newly enriched with metaphoric possibilities. This show marks a refinement of this direction, resulting in a sophisticated investigation of language that remains concerned with confounding the boundary between linguistic and nonlinguistic modalities. Scarritt has designated most of these 12 works as either “glyphs” or “cuts.” The former are small sculptures that combine found and constructed objects to form nonverbal syntaxes that highlight the process by which the juxtaposition of components forms a linguistic unit. The latter are photographic images presented singly or in vertical succession, recalling outtakes from a film editor’s cutting table that also invite reflection on the construction of meaning. These works explore the nature of language on both visual and visceral levels.

In his glyphs, Scarritt thematizes language both in his self-conscious juxtaposition of elements to form potentially expressive units, as well as by the inherent symbolism of the objects and materials themselves. Untitled Glyph, 1989, unites an aluminum antenna with an umbrella, which, in addition to sharing formal characteristics, recall the opposite effects of receiving and repelling information on which all communication depends. Animal traps figure prominently in both Lethe Cocytus, 1989, and Mas Luz (for Robert Mapplethorpe), 1990. In the former work, three alternately closed and open animal traps hang from a grainy black and white photograph of a chain that appears to unify them. Punning on the notion of a “chain of signification,” these traps evoke the opening and closing of a speaking mouth, serving as a reminder that language itself is a trap. In a poetic comment on the endlessly repetitive nature of linguistic communication, a series of similar traps is held together by a metal chain and suspended in a circle above the viewer’s head, while a microphone attached to a cord rises off the ground to meet it. These constructions do not correspond directly to verbal language but function instead as corollaries that enact linguistic dynamics tangibly at the level of metaphor.

In two works (both Untitled Cut, 1990), Scarritt alludes to the language of film by presenting vertically aligned black and white photographs flanked with heavy borders. The disparity of these connected images draws attention to the arbitrary, even physical, nature of the cutting involved in the construction and editing of a film sequence and, by extension, a linguistic unit. The central frame of each series is covered by a brightly colored gel, obliquely evoking the blade of a guillotine.

Troll, 1990, an interactive sound installation, is a masterful assimilation of the artist’s consistent concerns into his recent metaphorical sensibility. Comprised of a network of electronic instruments that both send and receive information, its sprawling arrangement recalls that of a nervous system. Music, text, and random noise are projected from audiotapes, a shortwave radio, and an answering machine receiving calls from an unlisted telephone number. These factors, which are beyond the artist’s control, determine its evolution over time. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer activates this system by setting off infrared motion detectors. This work’s title is a clue to its multivalence, for while one definition of “troll” is the singing or recitation of successive rounds, it can also be a lure or trap. Alternately attractive and menacing, Troll demonstrates the way one’s experience may be entirely and unwittingly determined by information technology. Yet rather than simply rehashing this overfamiliar post-Modern saw, Scarritt finds vital ways to reanimate this problematic at the level of his photographic and sculptural practice.

Jenifer P. Borum

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