“Tavares Strachan’s Infinite Games.” In Tavares Strachan, TheDistance Between What We Have and What We Want. New York:Pierogi, Inc., and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.Text © Robert Hobbs.
This play on nationalism is then enlarged toa global stage as the main event of Strachan'sperformance involving the raising ofthe flag. Near the end of the opening,Strachan and a small group of children,who had attended his class at Albury SaylePrimary School, marched to theschool ground's flagpole and raised a flagthat morphed, as mentioned earlier,Peary's person banner with the Bahamianflag. The significance of using a flag asa basis for art has its antecedent in Hammons'swell-known African-American flagfor which the artist has substituted complimentarycolors for the primaries appearingin the U.S. flag. For the flag, Strachanselected colors to accord with those in theBahamian flag: "yellow for the golden sun,black for the will and beauty of theBahamian people, and aquamarine for thesurrounding water." While it mightappear that he was again invoking nationalismthrough this act, the flag actuallyanalogizes both Strachan's banner and hisactions with those of Peary, and symbolicallyextends the boundaries of his pieceand its references to the earth's northernhemisphere, thus providing it with a globalhorizon. Instead of creating a site-specificpiece like the art of the early 1970s,Strachan creates a site-extended work witha global range as its purview.Daytime ice detailShould one be tempted to concludethat Strachan's art is a reprisal of notedearth artist's Robert Smithson's Site/Nonsite dialectic that was so important tohis sculpture beginning in 1968 and athematic running through a great deal ofhis work after this time, one should considerthe ways that Strachan works to shrinkboundaries so that one is forced to interactwith the other. He does this by making the"distance between," i.e. the act of transportingthe 9,000 pound block of ice, an importantcomponent of the art. His installationin Miami contains the actual travel unitbuilt around the block of ice that had beenplaced on skids once it was taken from the river.In the process of being transportedvia Federal Express trucks and planes fromAlaska to Nassau, the ice in this temporarytravel unit was insulated so well withone hundred pounds of dry ice that it onlylost two degrees of temperature whileen route and thus maintained its overallconformation. Although photographs of theinitial site are presented in Miami,Strachan is not concerned with the endlessmirroring of presences and absencesmaking up Smithson's Sites/Nonsites,including his Mirror Trail that links the twoin his Cayuga Salt Mine Project (1969).The possible exception is the "void," therectangle of water documenting the absenceof the block of ice. Instead of playing thegame of underscoring art's impoverishedontology-an activity that absorbs agreat deal of Smithson's attention since heaimed to demonstrate the narrowness ofcritic Michael Fried's emphasis on modernistart's presence-Strachan becomesinvolved in the far different activity ofhomeostatic feedback loops. In fact, this isthe title of a work from 2002 in whichone year of his collected urine was distilledinto drinking water, which he bottled incommercial looking bottles, wryly labeled"precious natural body water" and drylynoted as being "bottled at source." Also ahomeostatic feedback loop, The DistanceBetween ... reenacts a possible solutionfor global warming by harnessing naturalsolar power to keep the planet cold.Smithson's interest in cold temperaturephysics and the ultimate entropic(cooling off) state of planet earth in which,according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics,energy cannot be created ordestroyed even though it can be channeledinto unavailable states, might at first appearto be a source for Strachan's desire totransport ice from the arctic to the subtropics.But unlike Smithson, who focusedon the beauties of pollution and regardedentropy as humanity's inevitable denouementthat might be understood in terms ofhis famous narrative documenting hiswalk through his post-industrial hometownof Passaic, New Jersey, Strachan, as apro-active artist, regards the imaginativepossibilities of game theory as capableof providing a way out of today's environmentalimpasses. He finds ice, a frozenliquid without a distinct molecular structure,as being similar to the glass (also afrozen liquid), which he learned to blowwhile working in the Rhode Island Schoolof Design's rigorous glass workshop.His work suggests that he haslinked the two together in his mind and thathe considers the need to stabilize theplanet's heating up as the inversion of blownglass's cooling off in annealing ovens.This is a momentous and particularlydelicate aspect of making glass when oneworks to level out the internal andexternal temperatures of the glass so it willnot crack in the process.In addition to playing the game ofestablishing homeostatic feedback loops,Strachan tests both himself and the feasibilityof his concepts in an ongoing matchwith himself when he invokes the conceptof hyperextension. He regards hyperextensionprimarily as a physical and psychologicalterm and views it in terms of personaladaptation to increasingly extreme situations.Ultimately it leads to the eliminationof such outworn concepts as regardingartistic creativity to constitute a god-likeactivity-a practice going back to theancient Greeks. He replaces the idea of thedivinely inspired artist with the concept ofthe hyper-extended individual, who iscapable of adapting to ever increasingextreme situations. His Survival Kit (2006),which is a distillation kit for turning one'sown urine into drinking water, can beconsidered a tool for sustaining oneselfthrough a hyper-extensive exercise.Also, his Components for Absolute Symbiosis(2006) can be regarded in this way. In orderto realize this piece, Strachan has createdthe human body's major cardiovascularsystem in blown glass and then submergedit in a Plexiglass tank filled with mineraloil. Both the blown-glass system of arteriesas well as the specific viscosity of themineral oil that renders the glass almostinvisible work together to create a hyperextendedsituation. In consideration of thisapproach, it is not surprising that the attimes life-size and at times imperceptiblefigure in the tank of mineral oil appearsas both a self-portrait as well as an homageto Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. In TheDistance Between ... the game of hyperextensionis apparent in the ways that theartist has challenged himself to "be in twoplaces at the same time, [to address] adesire for hi-locality, presence and absence,and provide a logic for eventual myths."While Strachan is most assuredlyan artist and not a scientist, he recognizesthe importance of creating new metaphorsin order to hopefully catalyze paradigmshifts and to originate the type of imaginativesolutions that often can only begenerated by playing with variables andconsidering situations open-ended. In TheDistance Between What We Have andWhat We Want Strachan repositions globalwarming in terms of the generativemetaphor for rethinking polar opposites byemploying solar generated electricity tokeep the planet cool. The concept will nodoubt be spread in the future by Bahamianchildren, spinning yarns about the giantblock of arctic ice brought to their school,and by others, witnessing the sculpture inits entirety in Miami and elsewhere,who consider the potential symbioticrelationship between sun and ice. Perhaps,theirs' and others' insights will result inproductive, economically valid solutions,involving homeostatic feedback loopsbetween the two. While this is one promisingdevelopment of Strachan's work, itsinvestment in infinite play suggests opportunitiesfor yet other games with otherpotential outcomes, leading to still morefree play. This approach is ultimately anaffirmation of both art and life as dynamicand non-encumbering experiences.Internet connection at the schoolRobert Hobbs is the Rhoda ThalhimerEndowed Chair, Virginia CommonwealthUniversity and Visiting Professor,Yale University.