REVIEW: Curt Ikens

By Teresa Zbiciak

In line with the book theme in the Monroe gallery, downstairs in the Front Street Gallery, Curt Ikens' installation "Monument Beyond Passaic" deals with Robert Smithson's conception of entropy in the terms of outdated knowledge.

Separated from the galleries on the main floor of the UICA, one may never know what to expect to find in the Front Street Gallery. Heading down the stairs to the recent installation, Monument Beyond Passaic, the viewer's first impression is what looks like a mess of black and white confetti on the floor, boxed in by and spilling over onto books stacked in a grid. The books are situated bindings down, emphasizing them as symbols for any and every book, and the unimportance of their contents. The confetti spills outward, giving the impression that the books themselves are gradually crumbling into the center. On the far wall, letters clipped from magazines spell out a quote from Robert Smithson's Monuments of Passaic illustrating a metaphor for entropy, or the tendency for all ordered systems to eventually fall into disorder.

In its original state, Monument sat pristine: the confetti – shredded pages of texts long outdated – was a mottled-with-ink white on the left and solid black on the right. The night of the opening, the artist read a history behind his work as it related to Robert Smithson, his voice as stilted and unemotional as one might expect from a work about the transience of knowledge. A little boy, Curt Ikens' young relative, stepped into the knowledge-sandbox. It was a little unexpected, and made the respectful crowd tense at this innocently destructive invader of that fastidious organization.

As the boy tromped around, first clockwise then "anticlockwise", it became apparent that the boy was not there as a young familial fan, nor to merely suggest potential entropy, but to demonstrate it. The little boy shuffled the black paper into white and the white into black, stopping shy of the "hundred times" but nonetheless demonstrating that reversing his action would not reverse the increasing mix between the black and white. When the little boy had finished, and the artist had reiterated his point, the boy announced, "And it gets in your shoes, too!"

With this silly reassurance, viewers were invited into the box to expedite the move into chaos, which moved the polite gallery goers into disarray as well. Some eagerly entered and kicked up the black and white confetti. This sort of interaction is encouraged for the remainder of the installation's existence in the gallery. The lifting of typical gallery "Please Do Not Touch" rules allows a feeling of ease with this work. Interacting so freely with the space suggests that destruction comes naturally to us, as ordered systems ourselves.

Before this performance began, the Smithson quote seemed oddly floating, suggesting to the viewer to picture in their mind's eye what they could clearly see with their physical eyes. The static order suggested the potential, without promising it. It was as if the sandbox was the "Before" without any sign of an "After." Once the enactment of entropy took place, however, the "Before" remained implicit in the work. The quote's relevance is in the evocation of both the memory (or imagination) of what the physical work looked like to begin with, as well as a more symbolic form of the sandbox existing in a more conceptual realm.

Though potential energy decreases as actual energy is exerted, the actualized destruction of the work's original state is more compelling. The horizontal nature of the work lacked the tension of forthcoming annihilation. Though still as quiet as a decomposing log, the affected scene has an evident history of interaction, of which the specifics are lost to us.

This lost history parallels a loss of knowledge, one of Ikens' key themes. The work's very impermanence and lack of preciousness, so often bestowed on art, adds to an artistic dialogue concerning the passing of relevance and fame in objects, people, and knowledge. Examinating the "tenuous stance of information and knowledge in the face of time..." is a concept shared with many works in the altered book show upstairs, and the two galleries complement each other in a way that they rarely get a chance to do.

Posted on October 8, 2006 5:21 PM

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