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DiverseWorks offers up engaging Solution


Published 5:30 am, Wednesday, April 15, 200

Michael Waugh’s Decline and Fall (selected readings from volume I, II, III)

I was afraid Solution, a DiverseWorks group show whose stated aim is to “explore the meaning of progress and its implications … and offer theoretical solutions for humankind’s relationship to change and progress,” would turn out to be like Monumental Compost Heap, one of participating artist Christopher K. Ho’s pieces.

Behind DiverseWorks’ parking lot, it’s a perimeter of “recycled wooden pallets in the shape of an Italianate equestrian base,” according to Ho’s Web site. Apparently it’s intended as a collaborative piece since DiverseWorks has been encouraging visitors to bring and deposit garden compost, but as of last week, it looked like Houston collaborators were either slacking off or keeping their compost for their own gardens.

As “solutions” to humans’ self-inflicted problems, most of the works inside aren’t likely to make much more of an impact than Ho’s heap. But there’s enough engaging, often playful work to make a visit worthwhile before the show wraps up Saturday.

Take Michael Waugh’s huge, three-panel ink-on-mylar Decline and Fall (selected readings from volume I, II and III). At first glance it looks like a remarkably convincing landscape drawing composed of Georges Seurat-like scribbles. But the image, which features two bears and a wolf in a burned-out landscape, is actually made up of handwritten text taken fromEdward Gibbon’sDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Waugh’s drawing is conceptually loaded in ways you have to read his statement to get. But it’s also a marvel of draftsmanship in ways you can appreciate even without knowing the political motivation.

Another highlight, though its connection to the progress theme seems slight, is Nina Katchadourian’s A Leak in the Feeling, an installation based on letters exchanged by the artist’s grandparents in 1926. The woman declares her love for the man, who in response writes about how he dealt with a leak in the ceiling that was disturbing his sleep. The installation illustrates his solution, and it’s a nifty, though convoluted trick, much like his efforts to contain his emotions.

Enkidu’s Returnis a 9-by-5.5-foot costume Jeanine Oleson made from recycled furs the artist bought on eBay. A reference to the “wild man” character in the ancient MesopotamianEpic of Gilgamesh, it’s offered as “a way to re-cover oneself with a primordial skin” and to reflect on the duality between humans’ wild and civilized instincts. But mostly it’s hilarious.

“I grew up in Oregon around a strong hippie culture,” Oleson said in 2005. “As much as I grew up with a sense that some of it was ridiculous, there were still strong values in all of it.”

That sums up the overall feeling of Solution, a show that often makes you wonder whether you’re laughing with it or at it.