james kalm

BRIAN CONLEY: PSEUDANURAN GIGANTICA: unlimited o art basel 33 basel, switzerland


Brian Conley, "Untitled", Art 33 Basel, Pseudanuran gigantica, mixed media


The summer of 2002 in Europe saw an unusual convergence of mega art happenings. Documenta 11 opened in Kassel to mixed reviews, many commenting on the lackluster “Political Correctness” of the affair. The Basel Art Fair seemed the perfect antitheses to the stayed and pedantic happenings up north with its freewheeling and dealing circus atmosphere. As a frequent visitor to Williamsburg, it was with a bit of surprise, not to say pride, that I noted the inclusion of Brooklyn's own Pierogi and their sponsorship of Brian Conley's “Pseudanuran Gigantica” in the “Unlimited” section. This huge hall, located directly next to the commercial areas of the fair, gave selected galleries extra space to present art works with a more experimental, cutting edge nature that didn't fit in the more traditional gallery section.
“Pseudanuran Gigantica”, I'll call it PG for short, was actually commissioned by ArtPace Foundation for Contemporary Art in San Antonio, Texas for the summer of 2001, but Basel turned out to be an appropriate, though not perfect, venue to exhibit PG. The piece consists of a mechanical framework, which is composed of Plexiglas chambers connected by large ventilator tubing and containing motors, fans, and fluted wooden stacks. A large metal megaphone surmounts the whole contraption. The most predominant and illusive feature of PG is the enormous reddish-orange air bag which, when inflated, is 15 feet tall and 20 feet wide. I'd imagine that in a standard gallery space PG would literally, be quite impressive as it pushed against the walls and ceiling. In Basel it was less constrained. PG seemed to cycle through its inflation and deflation about once every 20 minutes. Initially, the bag is a flaccid rumpled disk on the floor in front of the apparatus. As it inflates, it takes on an almost erotic voluptuousness with it's expanding rounded form of taught inflating fabric. Viewers seem drawn to touch and stroke the bag, as well as to decipher the flow patterns of the air as it passes through the various chambers, tubes, and across the reeds in wooden pipes that vibrate like giant whistles, or the organ of a mutant calliope. A slotted, panel which is activated by a mechanical arm, focuses the stream of air on different reeds as it slides back and forth, and repeats a melody of sorts, which the press release states is supposed to mimic the mating call of a frog. There is also a hint of exaggerative humor, with allusions to those '50s Sci-Fi movies about the “Chicken Heart That Ate Philadelphia”, or a giant bagpipe that attacks Kim Novac in the desert. An echo of the Pop sensibility of Oldenberg, as when he enlarges common household objects, like a pocket-knife or a baseball glove, is also present. In this case though, the enlargement isn't just a visual exercise, but in a near scientific way, the function is further increased. During a brief chat with the artist, mention was made of the fact that due to the cacophonous profusion of noise in the “Unlimited” section, which tended to blot out the subtle harmonic tones, he felt PG wasn't shown to its best advantage. Such are the pitfalls of art fairs. Oddly enough, I retained some sort of sexual impact from the piece. Perhaps, as Sigmund Freud theorized, the human brain at its most basic, is just a frog brain with extra layers of neurons on top. Perhaps, somewhere between the huge sensual shape of the inflating pouch and the melodic croak of the mating call, an amplified response was activated somewhere deep within my reptilian mind.

James Kalm
Brooklyn, New York