Tension is generated in music by approaching, but not arriving at, a tonal release; in narrative film rising action employed toward a climactic hook. It can be as understated as John Cage or as excessive as Richard Wagner; as intense as the final scene of Citizen Kane, or as subtle as the moment when the cigarette is lit in Andy Warhol’s film “Haircut” – a moment that inspired “tumultuous joy and release” for Dave Hickey. The physics of the natural world rhyme with those in the emotional; the more potential energy stored in a rock at the top of a cliff, the more kinetic energy will be released when it is pushed off. In art, when employed effectively, this relationship activates the viewing experience the same way a piston activates an automobile or a love scene activates one’s emotions. The artists in the Tension/Release exhibition harness this unsprung potential with work that appears stable for the moment, but threatens to collapse into disorder, either literally or metaphorically.
Hanging precariously above viewers’ heads, Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s bowling balls and Atsushi Tameda’s “Pinnochio” provoke uneasiness in different ways. Pereda’s work implicitly threatens the viewer, while the subject of Tameda’s piece threatens only its desperate subject. Ron Baron’s tower of stacked mundane objects hovers disquietingly, while, closer to the ground, Miguel Angel Rios’s spinning tops feed on tension, both literally and representationally. Stephen Reynolds’s sculptures simultaneously conjure the safety of a pillow and the implicit danger in an irregular stack of unsecured concrete objects. Nathan Redwood and Billy Malone generate tension through exquisitely rendered drawings of teetering constructions that seem poised to fall, as Javier Piñón’s cowboy tempts fate as he squirms atop a stack of wobbly chairs.
Some work in Tension/Release utilizes the notion obliquely and conceptually. Roland Flexner’s subdued “bubble” drawings illustrate the fragile life of an inky soap bubble in three stages, while Michael Womack’s mechanical televisions explore the dialectical relationship between bursts of new technology, their obsolescence and subsequent rebirth in later technologies. Taking the form of printed documents, Brian Clifton explores the latent tension housed in a variety of ill-conceived human interventions intended to ameliorate a problem that they ended up exacerbating. Dannielle Tegeder’s sculpture investigates how individuals negotiate social spaces in relation to architecture, in turn, reflecting the dynamics and tension of the surrounding urban landscape. William Lamson’s video “Duel” contrasts an idyllic, snow-covered setting against a jarring display of black balloons being shot with a handgun. Like Warhol with “Haircut,” Lamson uses the subtlety of his introduction to intensify the climax.
Other works in Tension/Release address the issue more psychologically, through implied narratives that initially appear stable, but are ultimately destined to deteriorate. Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s “John Mark Karr” (the man who confessed to killing JonBenet Ramsey), stares into a mirror, sending the viewer guessing about what deviant scheme is hidden behind his stoic demeanor. Likewise, the cast dung “disaster” series of John Stoney and the eerie futurescapes of Michael Schall bring viewers into the middle of unsettling scenarios that walk a narrow line between comedy and tragedy.