Steve Roden in between: a 20 year survey, curated and with a catalogue essay by Howard N. Fox / Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, California, September 12, 2010-January 9, 2011
The wonderful new show of the works of California artist Steve Roden was organized and the catalogue written by my companion, Howard Fox. Accordingly, I have not attempted a “review” of this show, but have tried to write a piece that might accompany the viewer in his or her appreciation of the art.
Resolution, determinacy, transparency, reasonable certitude…are supplanted
in Roden’s art by the poetics of incertitude and indeterminacy.
In another work, fallen/spoken, again Roden started with a text of Lagerkvist's, this time a poem, and, with no knowledge of Swedish, translated the words into English-language homonyms, words sounding more or less like the Swedish words might. "Hon knäpper sina händer hop," for example, became in Roden's transformation, "hovering sine waves hop from clapping hands."
His 1996 painting, i am sitting in a room, moreover, was based on a sound composition by American composer Alvin Lucier, who spoke a text into a tape record, retapeing the words onto another recorder, and another, and so on until the tones and sounds became "completely abstracted"; "...the skeleton was still intact but the surface totally unrecognizable," notes Roden.
Nearly all of Roden's art, indeed, parallels, in one way or another, this approach to art. Like John Cage, Alfred Jensen and others Roden generally begins with complex systems that he uses not so much as a frame, but a starting point, an impetus that allows for the creation of the final work.
Some of these systems are so complex that even Roden has forgotten them. And in that fact, as Fox reiterates, these systems and methodologies represent what might be called the shadows of the complete pieces. Even if we sense that ghostly system in the "completed"—or, perhaps, since Roden often returns to pieces years later, working on them anew, we should describe them as "temporarily complete"—it does not serve, however, as a tabla rosa or even a lens through which we can read or see the art. Most of Roden's paintings, sculptures, musical performances, and other artifacts remain, in the end, something close to the abstractions which at the start he appeared to eschew.
New York, November 11, 2010