Andrea Büttner’s Three New Works flows in the vein of conceptual art, integrating various materials that infer certain values when referencing psychoanalysis. Working with photography, sculpture, sound recordings, and found objects, she invites participation from the audience to generate ideas and themes.
Büttner’s Artpace gallery contains a series of seemingly dissonant objects. An uncut brown diamond rests on the seat of a white, plastic Monobloc chair, commonly found in many homes. A color photograph depicts an automated teller machine (ATM) with earth-colored material smeared on its keypad. Completing the exhibition are two mound-shaped, unfired clay fountains gently oozing water, coupled with a recording of ambient sound made at a Quaker meeting.
The dominant colors within the works-white and brown-represent a dialogue between the symbolisms that each color bears. Conventionally, white is the symbol of purity, whereas brown can be construed as dirty. Materials also hold symbolic meanings for viewers: plastic and clay are conventional items; diamonds tend to be more precious. While the viewer’s initial approach may be to interpret the work through this dichotomy of colors and materials, the meanings of the objects in this exhibition are not so clearly laid out, according to Büttner. Brown is also the color of chocolate, coffee, soil, and the habit of the Franciscan monks-each of these items claiming a different level of value in societies. The same is true of white, the standard color of diamonds and plastic chairs. Through these different lenses, the viewer subconsciously ascribes value to color depending on which context he or she subscribes.
The color brown also relates to Büttner’s continued interest in shame. When a child defecates and presents her parents with this new “gift,” the parents praise the child, but train her to flush the waste away, to get rid of or hide it. Cyclical production and exhibition mirror an artist’s dilemma: should the artist feel shame in the display of her work? Should she feel shame when she surpasses or does not meet the audience’s expectations?
Büttner utilizes Sigmund Freud’s analysis of excrement and money, where the former symbolizes the latter in dream sequences. To see waste in a dream is to make the dreamer feel as if there are aspects of the self that are dirty, undesirable, or repulsive; feces also can symbolize money or anxieties about money. She references Freud’s scatological interpretations in her photography as well as her other pieces: the smeared ATM evokes repulsion, although many people need to use this machine daily. The uncut brown diamond is very valuable, yet may resemble something more biological. Disgust and desire create a complex situation in which one questions the nature of value as well as how one obtains an item of value.
The sound piece, recorded at the Live Oaks Friends Meeting House in Houston, Texas, envelopes the exhibition. The silence is typical of a Quaker meeting, which consists of a gathering of Friends who sit quietly in order to “hear God’s voice.” The stillness resonates, punctuated by the chirping of birds that can be heard in the distance through a skylight created by James Turrell. The two unfired clay fountains drip water down their sides, emitting another familiar sound. The resonance of silence and trickling water heightens awareness of the lack of voices.
Through a unique assembly of objects with multiple connotations, Büttner’s exhibition highlights the complex nature of how individuals from different cultures assign meaning and value to materials, colors, and sound. Additionally, the exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on the emotion of shame and whether or not it informs the process of creation and exhibition.