Terry Berlier: Erased Loop Random Walk

Review

Terry Berlier: Erased Loop Random Walk

By Rob Marks January 14, 2014

Half of the works in Terry Berlier’s Erased Loop Random Walk at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art hum with a mixture of ingenuity, obsolescence, and camp that would be at home in Los Angeles's Museum of Jurassic Technology, David Wilson’s Borgesian paean to the 17th century cabinets of wonder.1  The other half transport the visitor to what might seem to be a satellite installation of San Francisco's Exploratorium, combining high technology with a do-it-yourself aesthetic to explore and reconfigure the world.

Berlier frames her show in terms of the passage of time. Some artworks mark the ticking seconds via the back-and-forth motion of a rocking chair, the subject of both I Would Not Change It and I’m Dying; This is a New Experience (both 2013). They also mark the length of a visit to the show, via the repetitions of the Beatles’s Here Comes the Sun emanating from When Comes the Sun (2012), a machine powered by a solar panel mounted on the museum’s roof. Several pieces reference the longer intervals encoded in tree rings and even the unfolding geological eras in the nine six-foot long ersatz “core samples” that compose Core Sampling (Tick Tock) (2009).

Music, or more generally, the transmission of sound, becomes another temporal index in Berlier’s work. A sensor traveling the length of each core in Core Sampling renders chromatic changes in beeps, buzzes, and chirps. Three ancient phonographs in Log-rhythms (2013) spin tree rings into growls of static. A quavering voice in I Would Not Change It (2013) reads a coming-out letter to Berlier from her 84-year-old lesbian aunt in a voice that cherishes both the story and the listener.

But if time and sound are central concerns throughout Erased Loop Random Walk, it’s the artist’s process of craft and making that is at the heart of the exhibit. However campy, pieces such as Ambassador of Time (2013)—a tiny mechanized handsaw cutting through a redwood section—offer a rough-hewn antidote to the disconnection between production and consumption reflected in the polished surfaces of much contemporary product design. Berlier most explicitly confronts the complex relationships among what we have, where it comes from, and where it goes in Ekman Transport (Plastic Ocean) (2013), an undulating sculptural casting of bottles, cans, and other detritus, arranged in an eight-foot-diameter disc, representing a section of the ocean’s acquisitive surface.

Any despair over impending catastrophic environmental change evoked by Ekman Transport, or by the redwood sections and core samples, is balanced by a full-out sense of wonder and possibility. If the ocean casting evokes the endlessness and pointlessness of mass consumption, Berlier’s recoveries and re-conceptions make consumption pointed. They uncover its archeology, connecting what we consume back to how those things are made and to the meaning of that making. Berlier is not arguing for consumption, surely. But the unexpected marriages her work stages between culture and nature, camp and craft, and obsolescent and forward-looking technologies—not to mention the many sheer how-did-she-do-that? moments throughout Erased Loop Random Walk—certainly reveal something to love in our desires.

Terry Berlier: Erased Loop Random Walk is on view at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, in San Jose, through February 15, 2014.

Notes

  1. For more on the Museum of Jurrasic Technology, see Lawrence Weschler’s definitive account, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (Random House, 1995).

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