Ry Rocklen

Visual Arts Center, The University of Texas Austin

Katie Anania

Ry Rocklen, ZZZ’s (Second Sight in Black and White), 2010; mixed media; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and the Visual Arts Center; photo by Robert Boland

Ry Rocklen, ZZZ’s (Pipe Dreams 2), 2010; mixed media; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and the Visual Arts Center; photo by Robert Boland

Ry Rocklen’s installation ZZZ’s, the inaugural artist-in-residence exhibition in the Vaulted Gallery of UT Austin’s Visual Arts Center, reveals the Los Angeles-based artist’s permissive attitude toward found objects. Rocklen assembled cuts of carpet collected from local dumpsters to form a tessellated floor covering. Placed within the tessellation are various objects that appear to “want” to do something. In one corner, Rocklen solidified dozens of black-and-white photos, already slightly curled from age, into a structure of curved shapes using a mixture of epoxy putty and sand. In another corner, he placed a set of bed sheets bronzed to remain permanently folded. In the center, a black-metal four-poster bed holds a sagging mattress, made saggier by the weight of several hundred pounds of PVC pipe. Throughout the installation, Rocklen encourages and even hyperbolically extends each object’s respective inclinations.

As a result, elements of the installation that one might otherwise read as displays of baroque muscularity instead demonstrate the artist’s reverence and humility. The “woven” PVC pipes rest so gently on the bed’s bare mattress that they evoke a benign dreamscape. In another object, Rocklen covered the surface of his favorite pillow with gold- and silver tone tacks. The point-side-out tacks render the pillow’s surface useless, making it sparkle with artifice, but the pillow’s form remains bunchy and alive, as though someone had just slept on it. Rocklen seems to be conceding that his perception of objects is idiosyncratic and partial, so he works to dismantle our experience of them as well.

The abstracted objects in ZZZ’s become points of departure for contemplating a subject with an equally abstruse manifestation: sleep. Sleep is elusive; she who experiences it can’t study it empirically. Instead, sleep is experienced as a beginning (dozing off), an end (waking up) and an absence (not getting enough of it, or recollecting a dream). The forms we associate with it, such as pillows, blankets and bedside table photos, aren’t consciously experienced during sleep, and Rocklen takes care to show that how one might reckon with his “sleep objects” must occur in a similarly oblique way. Taken in their entirety, these instances of permission, caution and obliqueness convey a central problem with the way we confront things in the world: we may presume to do things with objects, but their inclinations unfold much more actively and assertively when we suspend our own will.

Katie Anania is a freelance art critic based in Austin, Texas, and a PhD student in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.

This exhibition will be on view until December 18, 2010.

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