Chicago

Adam Brooks

Abel Joseph Gallery

Adam Brooks embossed the Esperanto phrase: “La Pova de Lingvo, La Nesufico de Vortoj,” (The power of language, the inadequacy of words) in bold press type on an ex-terior window of the gallery. Though the phrase was not conceived as the title of the exhibition, it nonetheless described the parameters of his inquiry. Brooks is an artist who stands in awe of language, and his multimedia art bears restless witness to the instability of words. Simultaneously intrigued and frightened by the inability of words to fully accommodate experience, as well as by our complete dependence on this inadequate vehicle of social discourse, Brooks investigates the confusing patterns that characterize communication.

In Dispenser, 1991, Brooks orchestrates a series of uneasy harmonies. Eight liquid-soap dispensers were filled with substances such as ketchup, coffee, honey, glue, white wine, liquor, and paper money in vinegar. Painted bowls placed beneath each suggested a precaution against spills should the viewer decide to test their contents. Four-letter word-fragments engraved on each dispenser, in this case COND, STIM, AMBR, ADHE, and INEB, keyed a reading of the encased fluids. Brooks toys with meaning here; he creates a series of puzzles and accretive word games that both mystify and entertain.

At the heart of Brooks’ work is this additive quality. He employs lists or sequential chains in a carefully orchestrated textual autopsy. Trinket Set, 1991, is an edition of 12 tall drinking glasses with the word “trinket” sandblasted onto the surface of each glass in a different language. That “fronzolo,”“ninharia,” and “seud” mean trinket in Italian, Portuguese, and Gaelic respectively is not apparent to most viewers, but the democratic meaninglessness does ring true and clear. In a hanging piece entitled Stock, 1991, four large steel ladles filled with the redolent broths made from dissolved vegetable, beef, chicken, and fish stock cubes, were engraved with single words: “comatose,” “strapping,” “cowardly,” and “suspicious.” Here, Brooks immerses himself equally in cliché and in truth, or at least in as much truth as a stock cube can accommodate. Adrift in indeterminate seas of ambiguity and inconsistency, evidence and the truth it supports rest only in the mind of the beholder.

In Crit, 1991, Brooks turns his attention to the egregious excesses of “artspeak.” Arcane formulations from five critics are held up to respectful ridicule. Bernard Berenson’s use of “aphasiac,” and Rual Askew’s employ of “A borealis of meaning,” for example, are sandblasted onto glass and set beneath a voice-print of the words spoken aloud. Pointing to power’s abuse and stultification, Brooks’ gesture is an excellent example of his piercing investigations of language. Indeed, if there are inconsistencies in this exhibition, they rest in Brooks’ conflicting ambitions. He is simultaneously shocked, chastened, awed, amused, skeptical, contemptuous, delighted, and fearful of language. At the same time, he relinquishes focus in order to admit ambivalence; he allows himself to be temporarily overwhelmed by meaning’s plenitude.

James Yood