Oscar Tuazon: Die

Benjamin Lima
August 26, 2011

The Power Station is a new exhibition space in Dallas with plans for a rotating series of specially commissioned, single-artist exhibitions. As the name suggests, it is housed in an early twentieth-century building that was originally a substation for the Dallas power and light company, located near the established gallery clusters of the Deep Ellum and Exposition Park neighborhoods.

For the Power Station’s inaugural installation, Oscar Tuazon executed two works in wood, concrete, steel and Sheetrock. On the ground floor, Die is a frame structure composed of three eight-foot cubes. Two of these are wooden and braced at the corners with metal corner brackets; the third, in reinforced concrete, completes the form in the shape of an “L.” Tuazon and his production team began this concrete section on the floor; then, using a crane (part of the building’s original and still remaining rigging), they winched the concrete cube upwards. In the process Tuazon pushed the “L” over on its side until the concrete buckled and cracked. They left the winch and its chains in place, tying the work to the building’s frame like a boat’s mooring (or perhaps an umbilical cord).

Oscar Tuazon, Die, 2011; courtesy the Power Station. Photo by Kevin Todora.

Upstairs on the second floor, Dead Wrong is composed of Sheetrock panels mounted between two of the building’s I-beam pillars and fastened securely across the upper section, but left to float free at the bottom. Tuazon poured concrete into the interior space between the two panels until the concrete’s weight pushed on the Sheetrock with sufficient force to spill out underneath it like lava, buckling and curling the Sheetrock panels out like old wallpaper.

The works at the Power Station drive home a powerful point made by Tuazon’s work in general. That is, a structure is defined not just by its materials and shape, but also by its force. Or, more precisely, by the counterbalancing of Newtonian forces that holds a structure together: tension, compression and gravity, to name a few of those obviously at work here. It’s possible to interpret this use of force through a concept of the index: it is a sign defined as the material trace of an action, like a footprint left in the sand by a passing step. This idea appeared in Marcel Duchamp’s play with dust and broken glass,1 but Rosalind Krauss more recently used indexicality to define the commonality of an otherwise disparate group of 1970s artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark, Lucio Pozzi and Marcia Hafif. Krauss argued that the index is about materiality and thing-ness. Writing that the index works to "substitute the registration of sheer physical presence for the more highly articulated language of aesthetic conventions," Krauss concluded that "Truth is understood as a matter of evidence, rather than a function of logic."2

Oscar Tuazon, Dead Wrong, 2011; courtesy the Power Station. Photo by Kevin Todora.

In Tuazon’s case, then, Die and Dead Wrong appear as indices of the various actions—pouring, winching, et cetera—that produced them. The way that Tuazon’s work engages basic questions of structure, materiality and entropy connects back to the work of Robert Smithson, Matta-Clark and Richard Serra and thus holds affinities with that of other contemporary artists exploring similar territory, for example Gardar Eide Einarsson and Alex Hubbard.3 All of these artists engage with the “sheer physical presence” so visible in the Power Station installation.

Although I think the indexical interpretation is accurate as far as it goes, at the level of purely intuitive response I am more strongly drawn to a different but compatible reading, one grounded in the sensual apprehension of the works’ materials and how they push and pull each other around. It is surprisingly easy to pick up violent or libidinal overtones from these works. Crudely put, Tuazon’s works exhibit pressure, friction, bulging, straining, penetration, eruption, breaking, crushing, collapsing and other such characteristics that slide easily into the metaphorical territory of the sex drive and the death drive. This interpretation relies on one’s susceptibility to read unconscious urges in perhaps unlikely places; still, I find the violence and libido of Tuazon’s sculptures impossible to ignore. Of course, this interpretation turns the work into a metaphorical “body.” The structures use the techniques of engineering and architecture for the anarchic pleasure of making things break and crumple. Executed in the former home of a public utility company, the latter being the very epitome of rational, constructive and orderly state enterprise, the dramatic tension between work and site is rich and rewarding.

  • 1. Specifically, Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare of her Bachelors, Even (1915 – 1923).
  • 2. Rosalind Krauss, “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America,” October 3 (Spring 1977): 81, and “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America, Part 2,” October 4 (Autumn 1977): 66.
  • 3. Like Einarsson, Tuazon is an alumnus of the Whitney Independent Study Program and the Acconci Studio; like Hubbard, Tuazon is a native of the Pacific Northwest and shown at a group of galleries that includes The Standard (Oslo), Eva Presenhuber (Zurich), and Maccarone (New York). Both Hubbard and Einarsson have visited the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in recent years.
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