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WHEN THE PLACE IS THE POINT

WHAT: "Alternator"

WHEN:Through Oct. 27

WHERE: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Tri-Main Building, 2495 Main St.

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: 835-7362

The idea of site-specific sculpture may not be uppermost in the minds of sculptors working today. But with architects - as the current Hallwalls exhibition of architect/sculptors indicates - it's a different story.

There was a time some 30 years ago when it looked like sculpture - sculpture in the old sense of the term as a more or less portable object formed in the round - was as likely to be resurrected as Venus de Milo's long-lost arms.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, that great splitter of houses Gordon Matta-Clark, and many others made the site of the sculpture the point of the work. Morris' arranged rocks, Nauman's disconcerting corridors, Judd's undifferentiated boxes, Lewitt's florescent tubes, Matta-Clark's buildings - all these fabulous projects from a fabulous time now seem, as they literally are, ideas from another century.

The resurgence of figurative sculpture in the 1980s and '90s appeared to be the final blow to a grand idea. The sculpted body was back in the game. The arms of Venus had been restored, so to speak.

Even the current flood of installation artists, many who claim to do site-specific work, are object-makers or object-assemblers whose artful heaps can adapt themselves to all places. With architects, however, site is a prime consideration. Buildings are not only in a place, they are a place. A building is on a site that is always, calculated or not, transformed by the structure's presence. Hallwalls' "Alternator," guest-curated by Jean LaMarche of the University at Buffalo, reveals that architects are thinking hard about site and implications of site. It could be argued - although Allen Wexler is tough to put under any single umbrella - that all the artists involved take off from where Morris and Nauman began so many years ago and go on to find new ways to think about walls, floors, light, enclosure, furniture, building materials and the whole construction/deconstruction process.

The ever-inventive Mehrdad Hadighi is the most ruthlessly site-specific. He rips out portions of walls, cuts through separate spaces and "cauterizes" these architectural violations with a long wall of vertically suspended fluorescent tubes so bright that it requires sunglasses to take it in directly.

This blazing wall runs from floor to ceiling, seemingly hanging dangerously from its own wiring. Significantly, it marks remnants of old arches and a crack in the floor where the old section of the building meets the new. Hadighi's wall of light replaces what was once a wall of windows.

Like so much of Hadighi's work, it is a hyperdramatic piece, one that almost seems to have fallen into a rage about the physical limits of architecture. As you walk along this immense sheet of light you can hardly think of walls as mere dividers of space or partitions that allow privacy or separate function. Instead, there is the sensation that energy - in the form of this excessive, overbearing, blinding light - is on a collision course with gravity-encumbered matter as represented by the hacked-through masonry. This is a fantastic, wildly metaphoric view of architecture .

By contrast, the team of James Cathcart, Frank Fantauzzi and Terence Van Elslander seem almost fastidiously scientific in their approach to their two latex installations. The artists first coated the floors in two gallery spaces with multiple coats of liquid latex. This layering was eventually built up to the point where the sheets could be stretched into forms by two distinct means. In "Push," inflation valves were inserted and the latex inflated until it formed a self-supporting, swollen form much like a small, ultra-smooth version of a pneumatic sports arena.

"Pull," the other piece, was elevated by a steel I-beam set on the floor before the painting on of latex. With the coats completed the beam was hoisted upward on a pulley system, creating a taut, tentlike form.

By these simple but labor-intensive means, the team erected pseudo-architectural structures of singular beauty. To be accurate, they are not precisely site-specific: they could be done anywhere. And yet, once these "self-forming" structures are up they seem to be irrefutably integral to the cement floor and, indeed, an extension of the whole room. They are surprising works because, although they offer nothing that hasn't been explored before, they have an irresistible quality of delight about them. The pleasure, once again as in Hadighi, may be in the metaphor - this time a quiet, calm and distant metaphor for buoyant flesh.

Wexler, in other settings, has done works that could be called site-specific, if sometimes a little bizarre in their realization. In 1994, for example, he designed a fold-up functional kitchen for Parsons School of Design that fit inside a box the size of a small shower unit. At Hallwalls, though, the work is strongly meditative in the context of his fellow architect/artists. Among the stranger works is a quasisurreal table with a table cloth that morps into four oxford shirts that stretch downward to attach themselves to the floor. A fastidiously constructed model of a chair at first seems to represent the trendy idea of deconstruction but on closer inspection seems to be doing a kind of striptease, as though a chair might desire to intentionally reveal its secret hidden underlayers.

This imagining of human influence spreading into objects showed itself most idiosyncratically the night of the opening of the exhibit a week ago. In "Four People Wearing a Table," four people did just that: Strapped to the shoulders of each person and hanging on the belly like a triangular appendage was one unit of a Wexler table design. To make the table complete - to make useless triangles into even a marginally functioning rectangular table - required a planned joining of the four people. Table design and social function became inseparable. It gave new meaning to the phrase, "Meet us for dinner."

e-mail: rhuntington@buffnews.com

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