I did not witness Peat Duggins' "Hickory Ridge" installation at the former Fresh Up Club. I did check out Mr. Duggins' work in the 22 to Watch show at AMOA and I flipped through his sketchbooks from Testsite via his website. Going into this show, I was fully aware of his reputation and his style of laying out everything that he is thinking about for the audience to sift through.
Entering the gallery there are two podiums facing each other. The first one had a video camera pointed at a small screen so that an infinite loop is presented on the larger monitor located on the front. The other podium had a microphone pointed at a small speaker creating audio feedback on the large speaker on the frontside. Throughout the space, the objects have faux shadows extending onto the floor and walls.
In the side galleries there are colorful illustrations of a world populated by anthropomorphic VW Bugs. There appeared to be a narrative about the alienation of a black Bug, the death of a group of Bugs, the division of this world by a fence/ highway and the political debate according to the podiums. The images were rendered in a tight illustrative style. The mark-making was comic book/ graffiti influenced but had a very clean presentation, like that of 80's cartoons.
Out in the back yard, another sculptural aspect was constructed. Underneath the overpass, a swarm of Bugs are parked watching a projection of an animated video loop of the podiums debating. The Bugs look like vacuum-form plastic while the overpass looks like illuminated corrugated plastic stretching from the gallery to the storage structure in the back. The video is identical in style to the drawings inside.
Back inside, on the coffee table there are four books. Three are sketchbooks with snippets of elements that inform the show. The fourth is the catalogue/ graphic novel accompanying the show and available for purchase. This is the key to the whole show. The gallery was converted into a bookstand holding the giant, epic comic book (graphic novel) that Mr. Duggins' has presented. The drawings on the wall are nothing more than the original pages of the printed catalogue. The installations are three-dimensional realizations of two of the key images illustrated on the wall.
The art is nothing more than illustration, 2D or 3D. Are they didactic? Yes. But I think the essence of the art is found not in the drawings, but more in the narrative that they serve. The construction of this narrative to reference worldly issues such as discrimination of all kinds, the Israeli border and the Berlin wall, but at the same time the divisive existence of IH-35 in Austin is intelligent. And it does so with a very subtle and contextual voice. Others have mentioned the sophisticated levels that "The Moment" operates on, but I for one, am not fooled. This exhibit was an entertainment event and a ripoff of another epic prequel!
Studying the drawings, I could almost hear that black Bug complaining, "Obi-Wan is just jealous! He's always holding me back!" The Bug menacingly spreads open his doors and the next thing you know, there are are some colorful Bugs spirited into the afterlife. Kinda like all the little padawans that were massacred. The highway fencing separates two contrasting Bugs, just like the celibate life of a Jedi kept Anakin from getting frisky with Padme. And then there are the podiums. Senator Palpatine out-maneuvers Chancellor Valorum to become Emperor, just like the Orator debates the Visionary in circles to become… wait for it, the Architect.
Arturo Palacios had invited Eric Gibbons to show some paintings using the characters of the original Star Wars trilogy, Episodes 3-6. For the following show, Mr. Palacios invites Peat Duggins to present his "prequel" to Hickory Ridge. And just by coincidence, this prequel has striking similarities to the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Methinks, Mr. Palacios is a closet Warsie. So if the next Art Palace show includes any reference to Ben Skywalker or Anakin Solo, feel free to give Mr. Palacios a well deserved wedgie!
On a more serious note, the narrative was a bit obstructed by its presentation. Being well-versed in the sequential arts (comics, cartoons, movies, and a little bit of video games) I had no trouble meandering through the story. I recognized the gaps between the frames, but was still able to follow the story from the main gallery to the side gallery, to the kitchen and hallway, and subsequently out to the yard. The moment that changed my life within the story was that random act of violence perpetrated by the black bug. Looking alienated and frustrated, the following destruction made sense that it was then used as the justification for separating the warm colors from the cool colors. But the roles of the podiums was not apparent until I thumbed through the catalogue. Then the defeat of the Visionary is understood as the rise to power by the Orator. And it is he that does away with all forms of color and advances the story to the more immediate and monochromatic story of Hickory Ridge.
On the flipside though, this exploded view of the story puts Peat Duggins in the same camp as Trenton Doyle Hancock. With comic books as an introduction into art, Mr. Hancock uses narration and character development as the tools to further his formal investigations. Like I said, Mr. Duggins has presented a large comic book for the audience to experience. It is rare for me to find someone that is as knowledgeable about comic books, and the X-Men mythos in particular, as I believe myself to be. I think Mr. Duggins is more of an Iron-Man/ Avengers guy to my Nightcrawler/ X-Men, but I can see he understands the nuance of juggling multiple characters and moving sub-plots in parallel to the main narration.
This show was too fun not to be GREAT.
I'll tell you 'bout what I sees.