Pam Lins, installation view, 2001



Although Pam Lins’s latest installation, “vent view” (‘01), did allow the viewer to examine its separate contents with calm detachment, its merit derived from the speculative and anxious experience of groupings of objects and images which, as juxtapositions, tended to resist coherent explanation and precise description.

Sculptural forms resembling ventilation ducts were mounted at different levels. One of them, “Vented Locale”, behaved, in part, as a duct should: it was metal and projected along the top of a wall until it contorted into a sinuous curve which thereby negated any connotations of use-value. Its terminus, a triangular formation, had a vent positioned centrally on a mauve background, which contrasted with the fluorescent orange on its adjacent side. Plunging outwards perpendicular to the wall was a second duct object, rendered in non-descript gray and a more hastily applied white. Dangling on its end was a bottle-like ornament with a yellow patina, accompanied by a white form which alternately read as smoke, as the early metamorphosis of a genie, or as a turd. Throughout the installation, such flourishes and additions to otherwise sober and banal geometric forms signaled Lins’s practice of diverging from a context of mundane industrial permanence often identified with the Minimalist tradition.

This divergence was asserted further by “Vented Avalanche”, a mainly white pedestal assaulted by a wheelless Ford explorer. The car’s point of contact was indicated in pencil as a cartoonish “crash,” while one of the pedestal’s corners seemed to have decomposed, perhaps from the heat of impact; some of the melted material gathered below and hardened as a stalagmite. Other portions of the block displayed gray, white, and mirrored vents with differently colored borders. The significance of the vents—or of the subversive critique of Minimalist aesthetics—was distracted relentlessly by the sounds of a video depicting Lins wearing toilet plungers (crudely attached with masking tape) struggling to traverse the floor and the wall. The three-and-one-quarter-minute loop focused on the her lower-body exertions, punctuated by the sound of suction cups disengaging faster and louder as she picked up speed; the sequence culminated with the artist’s exasperated outcry, acknowledging perhaps both her failure and the absurdity of the exercise.

The video’s placement deeper in the gallery space prevented its ability to assert semantic predominance, although its sound component of course infiltrated the viewing of the installation generally, including the adjacent display of twenty-three snapshots of stadium lights. This constellation of little photos, taken from different angles and at various times of the day, contained a myriad of minute variations—a glimpse of the moon, a helicopter, wispy cloud formations, the tops of trees. One oscillated between an analytical concentration on these variations on the one hand, and a less deliberate, and more uneasy, activity of taking in the arrangement as a whole while at the same time considering the video and other objects as well. For instance, the viewer might have reflected on how the stadium lights related in a rather straightforward manner to a section of blond wooden bleachers situated nearby. But this seating area was contorted into a steeply diagonal, non-utilitarian object which could invite consideration of, say, the deformed duct-like objects. The beholder might then have speculated broadly—and perhaps only momentarily—about the Conceptual and Institutional implications of taking away an (art) object’s utility.

Lins’s work indeed leaves one with the notion that installation potentially can and should be conceived as something other than a sport for passive spectators relaxing in the grandstands, comfortably receiving the novel, packaged product. The viewer needs to open up to the potentially difficult semantic and visceral possibilities which may only be experienced performatively within the gallery space—or arena—and which cannot be neatly summed up as a “vent view” or anything else.

Dan Adler
New York, New York