AMOA show delves into history, innovation
Eric Zimmerman, like so many artists of this generation, is searching for authenticity in a world where history is sucked into the digital cloud.
The young artist's solo show, "We Chose to Go to the Moon" at the Austin Museum of Art, considers a pastiche of events like the atomic bomb tests and setting the land-speed record; and the American characters who create them, from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Oppenheimer.
The little room recalls a museum, dense with objects and sounds.
There's an audio work overhead, nearby a stack of newspapers. There's a glass case, covering geometric shapes, postcards, old cassettes and a looped recording. There's a vintage-looking futuristic table that holds two bound books and a compendium audio presentation. Large drawings dominate the walls.
There is so much information, in fact, the viewer shadows Zimmerman on his investigation, sifting through the space age's imagery, untold mysteries and consequences. This is the artist as curator: identifying, processing and re-creating a personalized history of American exploration and innovation.
The anchor of his study is the famous JFK speech launching the space race, at Rice University. Zimmerman has reprinted it in a 100-run newspaper called "So Long to the Good Old Moon."
The handsome paper, with a black and white moon above the fold, is a tactile link that's full of references: portraits of the moon, an essay from the artist, a letter from Jefferson and a diagram connecting the exhibition's characters.
Each of these sources, and those in the audio works and companion books, is meticulously cataloged in footnotes — emphasizing that each one comes from something concrete.
Zimmerman makes and gathers materials for months, and even years, until they solidify into some sort of meaning. "Putting that time back in seemed important," he says.
Standing in front of the room's dominant drawing, the lanky artist explains that he was recently asked why he didn't use pictures instead of drawing the large work that, he told a gasping crowd, took 7 months. "I feel like photographs have this really specific sense of time. And drawing removes that sense."
The three wall-sized works are eye-catching, photo-realistic drawings that pair images with a statement that provokes multiple meanings. The most arresting panel reproduces Clint Eastwood, with two guns cocked, next to the Tower of Babel and a stylish, blocky black swoosh that's interrupted by Zimmerman's recollected vision of fireflies. It evokes the stars.
The boastful words "THERE I WAS" are centered above in stoic all-caps.
The machismo that branded these achievements is striking. A deep voice from the Goodyear Tire commercial begins the audio piece "Velocity at the End." It starts dramatically, "This is a jet. With wings." It then gives way to an eerie layering of Holst's "The Planets" over the recording of JFK's speech.
Zimmerman also revels in resurrecting neglected texts. Two are especially heart-wrenching: the reproduced suicide note of Kodak founder George Eastman and the transcription of the first (actual) words spoken on the moon.
Eastman's note says only "To my friends/My work is done/why wait?" suggesting the complexity of these characters and their visions. And the Apollo transcript, paired with the nearby sounds of the land-speed record, reveals a moment of shock that the mission had actually been achieved.
Zimmerman is trying to bring that sense of history closer to his everyday life. Since his recent move from Austin to upstate New York, he describes the effect of stumbling upon ancient stone walls that serve as a testament to living history, one that you can touch with your own hands. In the northeast, "history is just palpable in a way that I never got here," he says.
The lasting impression of the exhibit is one of immersion. Intrigued with the difficulty of knowing an era, Zimmerman painstakingly dove through letters, speeches, broadcasts, sounds and images. He's filtered all of his discoveries for us to uncover. The question is: How will we remember them?
‘Eric Zimmerman: We Chose To Go To The Moon'
When: through Feb. 13
Where:Austin Museum of Art, 823 Congress Ave.