Eileen Maxson: Cached Curses

testsite, Austin

Chelsea Weathers

Eileen Maxson, The Real Thing, 2011; mixed media; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and testsite, a project of Fluent~Collaborative, Austin

Eileen Maxson, Signal to Noise, 2011; VHS, Fog, Light; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and testsite, a project of Fluent~Collaborative, Austin

ďCoincidentally or not, 2010 was a recycled, identical calendar to 1993, and the opening of Cached Curses at testsite in January 2011 (also 1994) will mark the end of a year-long exorcism.Ē Eileen Maxsonís declaration in the press release for her current show suggests that Cached Curses is a purge of unwanted or even haunted material from her past. Maxson turned thirteen years old in 1993, so itís appropriate that works in the exhibition smack of the awkward adolescence of middle school.

Maxsonís assemblage The Real Thing (2011), which includes a framed jigsaw puzzle of outer space superimposed over a poster of Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell, is one of the more memorable of the several works that punctuate testsiteís interior. The effect of the obscured face is ominous, but its conceptual weight dissolves as the rest of the assemblageóa faded Coca-Cola beach towel atop a cheap office chair with one leg resting on a clay imprint of the artistís handóamounts to an amateurish riff on Jasper Johnsí casts of his own body and his deadpan use of vacuous commercial imagery.

Discarded VHS tapes recur throughout the exhibition, though two sculptures in the front room, Idioms of Distress (2010), a configuration of stacked video tapes in generic black and transparent plastic cases lining one wall, and Top 13 (2011), a collection of VHS and cassette tapes painted gold and arranged on the floor, donít suggest more than the obvious nostalgic potential of dead media. Signal to Noise (2011) is Maxsonís most creative use of this material. Its mountain of raw tape on the galleryís front lawn covers a machine that emits fog continuously, and is meant to look smoldering or like a visual pun of a steaming pile of excrement. Both interpretations are apt for the exhibition and its efforts to lay 1993 to waste through a trial by fire. The centerpiece of the interior space is the projected video Cached Curses (2010), which shows Maxson in front of a blank green screen with a purple mouth superimposed over her own. The mouth sings Billy Joelís 1989 hit song ďWe Didnít Start the FireĒ in demonic low tones, reminding me of my seventh-grade English class in 1992, when my teacher attempted to engage us in history by distributing a printout of the songís lyrics.

Though some of Maxsonís early nineties detritus dovetails with my own memories of that era, Cached Curses does little to push her imagery beyond references to pop culture that many of Maxsonís generation, myself included, are already well-acquainted with. Ultimately, the show never clarifies why exactly 1993 was so haunted, or why viewers should care about 1993 now. Perhaps the deeper parallels between 2010 and 1993 to which Maxson alludes are unique to the artistís autobiography; however, the banal imagery overshadows any clues to what that autobiography might be and leaves the exhibition strangely impersonal as a result. When a work includes an object presumably from the artistís past, as with the clay handprint in The Real Thing, the clumsy composition of the assemblage forestalls any narrative thread that would communicate a more complex message to viewers. Art about adolescence does not necessarily have to look immature (Todd Solondzís superb 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse is a case in point), but Cached Curses revels too aimlessly in a stage of arrested artistic development.

Chelsea Weathers is a freelance writer and a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.

This exhibition will be on view through February 27, 2011.

« return to table of contents