Wednesday, May 19, 2004

What exactly is chaos?

The simplest explanation ever given describes it as the idea that it is possible to get completely random results from normal things. But more importantly, Chaos Theory is also the reverse: It finds the order in what appears to be completely random data.

Or in the case of Margaret Boozer’s great new show at Strand on Volta Gallery in Washington, DC: Random art that is also beautifully ordained.

Margaret Boozer Actually, the real title of the show is Land/Marks and it is one of those shows that we will recall in years to come, as the show that positioned this gifted artist at a critical new juncture of her career.

Boozer already has an exceptional reputation in our Washington area as one of our leading ceramic artists. I am not a big fan of segregating artists under a label (Latino art is my biggest pet peeve), and just because Margaret has historically worked in ceramics, her vision and skill certainly demands that she be simply addressed as an artist. But I don’t run the art world, as fond of labels as it is.

Luckily, in this show Boozer smashes the notion (no pun intended) of her being a “ceramic artist.” This work is simply too complex, (and simple) to rationalize, or define – much like chaos theory.

What Boozer has done, is not only to recognize that all around her are potential sources for material to create art, from the rich, red clay that she dug from her backyard, to the shiny, black tar that she removed from the guts of a tar mixing truck, but also to introduce a sophisticated mixture of manipulation and randomness to the final product.

When we walk into the one room gallery in Georgetown, the viewer is immediately struck by the minimalist elegance of the work, hung as it is in a clean, open style that allows the half a dozen pieces ample breathing room.

In several large pieces, Boozer has splashed slip into a frame, transforming the liquid clay, for a moment, into a sort of prehistoric paint, much like our ancestors in Alta Mira did. She then has encouraged the clay’s natural tendency to crack and bend and create lines. This is where randomness, aided by her creative hand, comes to play. In others, she mixes porcelain slip, or stoneware, tar and steel.

In the end, and when hung vertically, we are offered a surprisingly elegant and visually challenging work of two dimensional art that breaks the barrier into three dimensions. The eye is sometimes fooled, especially when one looks at the pieces closely, into seeing an earthy painting – much what an abstract expressionist would deliver. Step back a foot or two, and you are looking at an aerial photograph of a rich desert, full or dried rivers, gorges and hills. In “The Present is the Key to the Past,” she has even spray painted a straight bluish line, almost resembling a road. The duality of the effect is brilliant – and because the manipulation of the media is driven by the randomness of the result – unexpectedly recognizable as a variety of subject matter that crosses genres between representation and abstraction, and painting and sculpture.

In a second series of works (Intrusion series), Boozer removed chunks of dried tar that accumulates over the years in the guts of those stinky tar trucks that are always fixing up street cracks. The resulting forms are surprisingly sensual and organic.

Here again, the effect of randomness is complimented by the artist’s sharp detection of the visual magnetism of these unexpected forms. Created by the ordained rotation of the tar truck’s mixing mechanism over a period of years, and dried by the off and on process of the mixer’s heating system, these forms are surprisingly interesting to the eye.

When hung on the wall, the shiny black forms sometimes resemble a horizontal beehive, but like no bee on Earth would build. Other pieces have a strange sexual association to them, as if we’ve been offered a voyeuristic view of a new sexual organ no one knew existed.

Lastly, she has pushed the envelope even further in one major piece titled “Angle of Incidence.”

This work, is a living, wet, moist slab of porcelain slip that is still drying, unfinished… one would be tempted to say. As it dries, it will eventually “finish” – but not before the element of randomness is introduced and becomes part of it.

And in this piece, it is not just the random effect of how the material will crack and split as it dries. In its finished stage a few weeks from now, the work will also include the addition of fingerprints. “Ooops I didn’t know it was wet,” said the slim, blue-haired woman who touched it at the opening reception – her finger mark is now part of the artwork, as is the beer that her friend spilled on the slab, creating a yellowish film on the center of the work.

And thus randomness and the disquieting order of beer being spilled at an art opening, somehow align to help finish this piece.

In these visceral maps, organic sexual forms, and evolving works, Boozer has created something that is refreshingly new while being pleasant to the senses of visual enjoyment and mental intelligence. In this show, this artist has smashed her “label.”

Margaret Boozer “Land/Marks” is at Strand on Volta Gallery, 1531 33rd Street, NW in Georgetown, Washington, DC until June 5, 2004. The gallery can be reached at 202.333.4663.