Terry Fox

Paley/Levy Galleries At Moore College Of Art And Design

Terry Fox was chosen as the first artist of the Moore International Discovery Series, a biennial exhibition planned for the next 20 years to feature artists given little exposure in this country. The first major exhibition in the United States of Fox’s work since 1973, “‘Articulations’ (Labyrinth/Text Works)” was a welcome reintroduction to an artist whose reputation was established underground in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Referred to as actions or demonstrations, his work was characterized by a ritualized, elemental force: the artist fasted and attempted levitation; bread, rose, and fish (attached to the artist’s body), died.

Discrete objects—not generated from performances or installations—appeared in 1972, after Fox visited the labyrinth in the paving of the nave at Chartres. The work in this show began with the “Labyrinth” series, 1972–78, in which Fox appeared to step out of himself, shifting his gaze to the body of the world. In Labyrinth in Plaster, 1972, he incised a drawing of the labyrinth in a small circle of plaster, filming the action through a magnifying glass, while in Labyrinth Pulled Out, 1974, Fox opened up a drawing of the form by cutting along the rings and stretching it out like some esoteric slinky strangely reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s Trois stoppages-étalon (Three standard stoppages, 1913–14).

Pendulums were also used in the series as Fox increasingly viewed them as related to the labyrinth. Site Pendulum, 1977, is sometimes encountered as a stationary object—a lead ball hanging from a piano wire, hovering next to a glass of water on the floor—while at other times, the viewer physically completes the experience by swinging the pendulum. Its rotations describe ever smaller labyrinthine circles as it slows down to gently meet the glass in the center.

The largest body of work shown coincided with the time of Fox’s permanent move to Europe and with the shift from private to public experience in his work. This work draws on texts as an expression of his fascination with language and cultural signs. Layered, euphemistic military images and political graffiti in steel-rod drawings made up the series of 27 “Catch Phrases,” 1981–84, two of which were exhibited. Other pieces included lines of braille and Morse code. While Fox’s work had never been easily accessible, these conceptual, language-based investigations into systems of communication became increasingly difficult to penetrate. Excursus, 1991, wraps an unbroken line of synonyms for the title around a wooden pole. The piece remains mute unless the viewer discovers that (like the lead ball of the pendulum) one must circle the pole to read this work. In each case, a code must be broken to play the artist’s game.

In Echo and Narcissus, 1992, the only work made specifically for this exhibition, the artist turned away from the obscurity of the texts and recast his thoughts as objects that had a more obvious symbolic content. This piece included a TV set, a radio, and a stack of newspapers (all text transmitters) hanging from a wooden, marionettelike structure, each hovering above an egg on the gallery floor. Sound was critical to this work, coming from both the TV and radio as well as a double-speaker unit and a brown beer bottle. For the opening of this exhibition, Fox performed a piano-wire work that was part of Echo and Narcissus. Accompanied by a siren activated by a hand crank, Fox moved his fingers along the length of two rosined piano wires attached to columns in the gallery which resonated with a range of penetrating sounds. At the end of the demonstration, he swung the hanging objects in a pendular motion. By performing at this exhibition, Fox brought the range of his creative work, figured by the pendulum, full circle. With Fox, the complexity of the early ’70s still turns before us.

Eileen Neff