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Speaking Out about Spoken/Unspoken

Alex Coyle - Spoken/Unspoken, 2002 exteriror in the MAC's Project Room
 

We attended the closing of Alex Coyle's Spoken/Unspoken at The MAC Saturday night after its 4-day run. The place was aswarm with high school kids, since Alex is a senior at St. Mark's School of Texas.

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We tried to experience the work itself — see it, touch it, listen to Coyle's prerecorded questions and his fellow students answers about their fears. But we were rudely herded out of the space to attend Coyle's talk, which was about to begin. At least we got to see the bright box briefly before the director, the teacher and the artist told us what it was all about.

In her introductory remarks, the young gallery director announced that this event was very unusual, because Dallas has had almost no installation art. This prompted JR to laugh out loud, since that's what the New Works Space, where Coyle's piece was, is all about.

Fleeting visions of glass hanging from the ceiling and a grasshopper fiddling from high on a thatched far wall in the New Works Space flitted through his memory. Dallas and The MAC have a long and colorful history of installation, but the director obviously hadn't been informed.

Dallas artist and St. Mark's art instructor Scott Barber introduced Coyle as not only a student but a friend and collaborator. As the artist verbally explored his work, he described many aspects of the project. However, except for answering two questions about the box's construction from a young boy in the audience, he never once mentioned it as visual art.

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Alex Coyle (infrared photo) discusses Spoken/Unspoken
(interior detail, with mirrored photog) in the near darkness at The MAC
 

JR quickly bored of the extended psychobabble about the piece, which he aknowledged as an intellectual construct, and certainly art-worthy. But the box's austere appearance seriously underwhelmed him — until about two days later, when he wished he could go back, sit inside the piece and just listen and see.

Kathy was vastly impressed, because Coyle is still in high school. And she only wants him to be encouraged. Coyle later told her that he hopes to study philosophy, not art, at Cambridge. Which may explain why the work appears more intellectual and psychological than visual.

At any rate, Coyle was more aware and insightful than the MAC director. Kathy has long admired the way Scott Barber teaches Thinking Man's Art at the all-boys school, where, as a St. Mark's parent and substitute art teacher, she has observed Barber first hand.

The piece itself, we remembered as we wrote, was stark, minimalist and windowless, somewhere between a confessional and prison interview booth. Dividing the interior is a one-way mirror, so the interviewee saw the interviewer, but not the other way around.

There's a door, a desk, a microphone and a chair at each end. A red tape cross floats low on the mirror. The exterior flat, white panels, doors and corrugated translucent plastic brightly backlit by fluorescent tubes. The dull, glaring glow filled the small gallery space.

After the lecture, JR watched people interact with spoken/unspoken, noting that only a few would sit in the chairs inside the box, and even those didn't linger more than a few seconds, often giggling nervously. A small crowd gathered quietly around the outside.

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According to the official MAC press release,

The MAC's 4 Days/4 Nights project series continued in the New Works Space October 23-26 with spoken / unspoken by Alex Coyle, which closed with a reception and talk October 26.

The MAC described the multimedia, multidiscipline work as "an installation of objects and sound by St. Mark's School senior Alex Coyle, whose project examines the concept of fear among high school students through interviews and on-site installation. His project seeks to explore the relationship between identity and fear. For the interviews, Coyle constructed a minimal, confessional space where he spoke with his peers and recorded their thoughts and sentiments, which will be incorporated into the space during the exhibition."

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