Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Patrick Renner's Geology Lesson

by Robert Boyd

Patrick Renner's installation, chamber #4 (bounded operator), at El Rincón Social, is constructed of various materials and found objects, but the primary substance Renner uses in this piece is dirt. Dirt is used as a sculptural material and as a drawing material. The installation itself is on both sides of a wall. The wall bisects a cylinder made out of old window panes. The outside section (which faced into the large open public space of El Rincón Social) was where he used dirt as a two dimensional, representative drawing medium.

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator), dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

What Renner has done is to sandwich the layers of dirt, gravel, sand, and cloth between the pane of glass and something a couple of inches behind it. This is a gigantic version of the old, slightly kitschy craft of sand jars, which usually use different colored sands to create a picture or abstract design on the inside of a clear glass jar. At first, Renner's giant sand jar appeared to be abstract, but then I realized he had created an illustration--specifically the kind of illustration you might find in a high school science text book. It's a cut-away illustration of rock strata, and when Renner gets to the surface of the earth in this illustration, it becomes a landscape with distant hills.

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator), dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
 Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator), dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator) detail, dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator) detail, dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

In a sense, this picture of geologic structures is made out of the very material that it depicts. He's using rocks to depict rock, sand to depict sandstone, etc. And the process of making a sand jar mimics the way actual rock strata are formed. One thing about rock strata that was always drilled into me as a child was not only did they show us different kinds of rock, but they also showed us deep time.  A picture of strata is therefore a picture of time--millions of years of time.

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator) detail, dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

On the other side of the wall, in a small gallery, we have the other cylinder of glass. Here there is a bed of dark dirt with shaped indentations that contain objects. The indentations are precise. Among the objects is a shovel and a copy of A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. All in all, it looks like a very precise archeological dig. Again, time is referenced, along with memory.

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator) detail, dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

On the back of the cylinder is another geometric shape, a cone. It is more-or-less bisected by the cylinder's wall. The inside part of the cone is constructed of plywood. The outside is carefully, neatly piled up dirt.

chamber #4 (bounded operator)
Patrick Renner, chamber #4 (bounded operator) detail, dirt, sand, rock, gravel, window panes, plywood, found objects, cloth, 2012

In the end, we have a large, handmade structure. We have two fundamental geometric shapes, a cylinder and a cone, intersecting. We have rock strata and we have an archeological dig for more-or-less contemporary items. We have the timelessness of geometry, the deep geologic time of rock and stone, and the shallow time of recently unearthed memory. As a sculptural installation, it is extremely un-minimal.  Viewers are given a complex object that demands contemplation. It demands time. It's not a piece you can look at for a few seconds and say, "cool," and move on. There is a relation here with Earth artists from the 60s. I think for people like Michael Heizer, time was a major subject. They wanted you to take a lot of time to see their work and for their work to represent time in its materials. (Amongst other things.) Renner didn't build his installation out in the desert somewhere--it didn't require a pilgrimage to see it. Nonetheless, I had a powerful intimation of time seeing it.


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3 comments:

  1. Great stuff. Finally, this is some sculpture that equals the industrial equipment I talked about with you some time ago. Harris County needs to buy a bunch of public art from this artist.

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  2. I suggested he offer to build the installation for the OTC. They have shitloads of money--they should be paying for artwork. And this one sort of fits in with their "extract the riches from the earth" theme.

    You would like El Rincon Social. It has a bit of a CSAW vibe.

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  3. Great work from a great artist.

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