Risa Puleo on Amanda Ross-Ho's Untitled Nothing Factory
At an open house event for Amanda Ross-Ho's Untitled Nothing Factory, I approached a student docent for direction. My question "Where do I begin?" was answered with a succinct summation of Ross-Ho's project at the Visual Art Center: "Its always the beginning."
Within the VAC's Vaulted Gallery, Ross-Ho has assembled a series of workstations, each equipped with materials and tools for one of three activities: stretching canvas, making paper, and hand-modeling pinch pots from clay. Each of these activities initiate a process in painting, drawing or sculpting; each is a potent and generative action, though not means to an end, in and of themselves. For the first half of the exhibition, viewers are invited to become participants in each of these activities in an open-ended and interactive exchange meant to collapse the site of making with the site of presentation. In the second half of the exhibition, workstations cease production, and through a series of interventions, Ross-Ho redirects the viewer's relationship with the artwork.
In addition to being the starting point for a larger artistic project, each of the three activities lend themselves to repetition, and through repeated action, accumulation. Those who witnessed Untitled Nothing Factory unfold from its inception watched the gradual accumulation of canvas, paper, and clay vessels, though in comparison to the massive apparatus organized for generating these products, the accumulation is much more subtle. To make paper, for example, Ross-Ho has arranged eight tables equipped with the necessary screens, tubs, paper mulch, squeegees, blotters, presses, and other varied accoutrement. The resulting stack of paper, however, is modest, calling into question the efficiency of the Untitled Nothing Factory as a factory.
As a title, Untitled Nothing Factory is an oxymoron that undoes itself, following the same looping process as the project itself—a factory that makes nothing. Ross-Ho takes the function out of factory through the repetition of Sisyphisian actions, an elaborate amount of process to make something that is essentially the beginning of a process. The paper, blank canvases, and pinch pots are it. Nothing will be done with them. Paper will not be used for drawing and the canvases are finished works. Through the mildly existential, mundane action of producing without a goal outside of the production itself, Ross-Ho creates a site where objects, anecdotes, and people can accumulate, creating a loop in which the potential of the factory’s products is suspended indefinitely, or at least for the length of the exhibition.
The inclusion of “untitled” in the title is a nod to that art cliché with all its feigned severity, the blank space where pure visual experience is without direction or narration. Also notable in the exhibition, is its monochromatic palette. All resulting products range across shades of white. A recurring theme in the work is the tension between presence and absence. In this exhibition, this notion manifests across formal, spatial, and social planes. The “vacated” objects, as Ross-Ho calls them, allude to the absence of their makers and the activity that generated them in the stillness that exists since the participatory aspect of the exhibition has ceased. Capitalizing on the site of the Visual Arts Center at the center of the Department of Art and Art History, many participants will return as viewers in the second stage of the exhibition, and engage with the objects they have made in a different capacity. Viewer becomes maker; tools become artworks, and the gallery becomes a studio. All terms are reversed, and then reversed again.
Ross-Ho makes nods to the organic evolution of the process in the decisions she has made in crystallizing the work into an installation as its final stage. The canvases are slightly out of alignment, pointing to the process by which they were hung upon the wall. Tools are staged as if their user just stepped out for a cup of coffee. The scene registers as a still photograph, frozen now for the duration of the exhibition, suspended in a state of potentiality that seems a perfect meditation for a university art space.
Risa Puleo is the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art