The Binarians (Review)

Andrew Au delves into pluses and minuses at Clay Street Press

Dec 10, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Critic's Pick

Andrew Au is a fellow of infinite jest who takes infinite pains to commit his jests to paper. His show, the binarians, at Clay Street Press through Jan. 17, takes on a controversy that's been in local news as recently as last week when the Cincinnati Zoo, a scientific institution, caught heat for a joint tourism effort with Northern Kentucky’s Creation Museum, which denies evolution.

For his text accompanying this show, Au has adopted an antique style, reflective of biblical pronouncements but also handy in sending up scientific jargon. He has so much fun with it that senses reel. This written accompaniment, he says in an introduction, is “a tongue-in-cheek expression of the Creationist claim that Evolution is itself a religion.” The introduction also explains his use of “binarians” — a concept of opposing ideas — and sheds light on the positive and negative signs (“ ” and “-”) that appear on all the works.

To reduce Creation Museum-like anti-science to a point of absurdity, Au creates marvelous etchings and, for the fun of it, throws in a set of meticulously fashioned light-boxes and four laser-etched glass vessels containing what he calls “Digital Scrolls.” The religious-like “scrolls” are in fact the brightly colored wires of a USB drive containing images, bibliography, Web links and so forth relating to this show itself.

It is Au’s conceit that his etchings, looking like something an artist/engineer or highly talented biologist might turn out, illustrate the weird text he wrote to accompany them. The right side of each figure is the mirror image of the left, all in the mode of a scientific rendering.

Subjects appear to be creatures — creatures that one thinks must be insectlike. But on closer look they begin to bear some resemblance to an airplane. But then again, maybe not. In “U.747- IRp,” a wing of what might be a Boeing 747 is attached to an exposed engine-like section that could be a creature’s body. Protruding mechanical extensions look startlingly like grasshopper legs.

To know more about “U.747- IRp,” pursue the show’s accompanying text for this explanation: “The problem (is) that a complex creation requires a more complex creator, the creator being an ultimate Boeing 747 infinite regress problem (U747-IRp).” Are you with Au here? Perhaps not, as his superb command of detail in making art falters in the written word.

Au brings to printmaking the kind of marvelous facility also seen in Illusion and Reality: Prints by Jiri Anderle now at the Cincinnati Art Museum (see review here). In fact, that show influenced at least two of Au’s works. Discovering that Anderle had punched holes in the printing plate for some of his effects, Au shot pellets into two of his works in progress, given numbers nine and 11 in the exhibition.

Au uses any technique he cares to in order to get the effects he wants. The prints are etchings enhanced by silkscreen, engraving, dry point or whatever else — shotgun pellet holes included — he thinks will add to the result. The show also includes a couple of earlier works with equally inside-joke names (“Memeplex A.S C.E.”) that are the precursors of his current line of thought. Parsing out that thought is as useful as you want it to be. I personally am content to look at the work.

“The devil shalt surely be blamed for this obscurantism,” writes Au in another context, thereby deftly sidestepping blame himself. Obscurantism aside, the binarians is a beautifully executed series of works.

THE BINARIANS continues at Clay Street Press through Jan. 17. Get gallery details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.