by Laura Hutson
[Editor's Note: This post contains the entire review printed in this week's Scene, but with photographs of the work and a few contextual annotations. The exhibit is up through Aug. 31 at Zeitgeist Gallery.]
Art is its own kind of alchemy. It puts materials together in hopes that the resulting creation might transcend its form. Put spray paint to a wall and you can reclaim a space as if you were adding props to a set between scenes. Cut a marble slab with a chisel and it's possible you'll find a human body buried somewhere within.
The Medium's Session, the current exhibit hanging at Zeitgeist's new space in the ever-expanding Wedgewood-Houston district, takes this idea and builds a comprehensive, fully realized survey of art forms around it. Curator Patrick DeGuira — himself an artist, although he doesn't exhibit his own work here — called the title a reference to "medium as a material and the medium as a channel," and calls the word "session" a derivative of "séance," another supernatural exploration. But this is not an exhibit that stirs up Holy Mountain-esque imaginings of the occult or even the psychedelic. It's more like an episode of Twin Peaks, where the ordinary — a box fan, a draped piece of cloth, a single tree swaying in the breeze — takes on mystical, otherworldly values.
The gallery entrance is flanked by some of the exhibition's most arresting works. On the floor to the right, it appears that a couple of discarded cardboard boxes have been broken down and stacked haphazardly on top of one another. Almost as quickly as you begin to wonder why the gallery owner hasn't taken out the trash, a detail or two comes into focus. Upon closer inspection, the boxes are pieces of handwoven fabric, which artist Frances Trombly has meticulously crafted with embroidered UPS labels, postal codes, even a few odd scrawls that look like they're written in Sharpie.
Hanging from the ceiling nearby is "Said Something," a sculpture by Ron Lambert that seems both sad and comical, like a Ziggy cartoon come to life. It looks like a round marquee that's been broken apart, but its two missing pieces lying on the floor below are still connected by wires, so each piece still has functioning lights. It's like a visual sad trombone, at once majestic and failing.
Two pieces by Emily Clayton take up the entire gallery wall at the front of the space. "Untitled (Bummer)" is a painted textile that's been pinned against the wall to fall in heavy folds, and "Coupling" is a photograph of the artist straitjacketed into her own canvas — only her legs and feet, which barely skim the floor, are visible. It's a haunting pair of works that might make you consider the manic compulsion of art-making and the presence/absence of the artist, but it's also a lot of fun. Like Lambert's marquee, this wistfulness is lighthearted.
The long corridor that makes up the majority of the gallery space is filled with first-rate piece after first-rate piece, too many to list at once. Reuben Lorch-Miller's pair of collages are mystical in a Xeroxed zine kind of way, like a religious tract Mulder and Scully might discover on The X-Files.
Chris Scarborough's "The Sea" is a digital photograph of an eerie beach scene with a squid corpse resting on its shore. Phillip Andrew Lewis' "Spyridon" is a video piece that tracks a small tree as it fights against strong wind and eventually tumbles. Brent Stewart's "Totem" is a minimal totem pole of graphite, PVC and wood that is stark and powerful, and bookends Lambert's "Said Something" at the front of the space like a quiet doppelganger.
Along with being a layered exploration of the artist as mystic, The Medium's Session is a reminder that great art looks even better surrounded by more great art. Each piece in the exhibit could stand on its own on a gallery wall. But it doesn't have to. The Zeitgeist room is spacious and easily accommodates the nearly 20 works DeGuira has chosen from his 11 artists. The magic in this room comes from the ideas the works invoke in conversation with each other — which is far more effective than any cheap parlor trick could be.