November 6 – December 26, 2015
Opening reception Nov 6th
artist's talk 4pm-8pm
by Paul D’Agostino
Tom Butter’s artworks, no matter their variable mediums and dimensions, cease never to turn, spin and churn, ever aflux, ever astir. Structurally, visually and metaphorically, their operative modes and inherent mobilities—with regard, too, to pieces that might well be described as physically static—are wont to wind up or down, spiral inwards or outwards, surge forth robustly or tunnel quietly into their own formal interiors.
Yet for all the at least initially apparent complexities, mechanical or compositional, of Butter’s sculptures and paintings, his variably dimensioned objects gradually reveal themselves to be both generated and powered—conceptually and materially, and for implied perpetuity—by candid, brilliant simplicities. To view the artist’s works is to get very literally involved in a visual quest to unravel their ravelings—to figure out if and how their forces are centripetal or centrifugal, or if perhaps the resulting motions feed into and off of one another in a system of self-perpetuating ouroboric exchange. It is also to feel a subtle surge of energy, to make a surprising discovery, to power up and cool down, and to find mild amusement.
By far the largest-scale piece among Butter’s most recent suite of mixedly kinetic sculptures, Watching is also one of the finest exemplars among all of his works of their now quite calmly rational, now energetically paradoxical aspects and allures. It is composed of a spare set of implements and materials—steel, vinyl, a small motor—and its net weight and opacity alike are pared down to an ostensible bare minimum: its constituent steel elements are primarily thin rods welded into a grandiosely post-and-lintel, zig-zagged buttressing of one another; its broadly spanning arms, gyrating ever-so-slowly, are more minimally composed than their surrounding housing; dangling from those radiating appendages are vinyl sheets that are essentially transparent, their variable lengths reaching closest to the floor at the sculpture’s apparent core; a beguilingly little engine sips electricity from somewhere to set this all into delicate motion.
Yet for all its spareness, Watching swallows rooms whole. It might be only a foot or so taller than a taller-than-average viewer, but it towers and looms as if its own stature and extent were twice what they are. And yes, for certain, it does indeed watch, but the crucial aspect is that it’s also watching. That is, the piece’s slow rotation at once acts out and semantically requires it to be looked at and considered—as well as reflexively regarded—in a gerundial state.
Watching watches you while you look at it. It is watching you looking. Since Watching is moving, it’s a bit less like you’re looking at it, rather more like you’re watching it. As such, Watching is watching you while you’re watching it. You’re tethered to one another in a state of artfully subdued stirring. In active presence of one another, you share gerunds.
And then you think more about looking and regarding, and about waiting and watching. And you think about time due to Watching’s arms and motion. You reflect on the verb ‘to watch,’ on the noun ‘watch.’ And then, ‘Wait, watch?’