Social distortion

Anthony Alston: Inertia Displaced

Reflection of the artist in his work “Some Mornings are Longer than Others.

Reflection of the artist in his work “Some Mornings are Longer than Others."david robert

It was a midsummer day on McCarran Boulevard. The asphalt was baking as Anthony Alston pedaled his bike home. He came across an injured sparrow on the road. He turned his bike around, stopped beside the bird and tried to care for it. He picked it up in his hand and shaded it. But then, as another passer-by stopped to see if he was hurt, the bird half leapt, half fell from his hand.

Though not necessarily traumatic, the experience was a pivotal one. A series of projects involving eggs, nests and birds—usually dead ones—followed.

“All of these other issues I’d been into prior to that now had a way of being expressed that wasn’t personally linked to me,” says the 24-year-old with the deep voice and unruly beard.

Those multi-layered issues include awkward social interactions, expectations, fragility and futility.

“There’s almost an expectation that we as humans are caregivers, and that we’re responsible,” says Alston. “For all I know, the bird would’ve been better off had I not intervened.”

His current exhibit, Inertia Displaced at Grayspace Gallery, is largely—but not completely—birdless, though the issues birds represent for him are threaded throughout. Alston’s first solo show since earning his bachelor of fine arts from University of Nevada, Reno, the exhibit is presented in three parts, with a new phase every two weeks. While each part is related to inertia, viewers can see an individual section and not feel as though they’ve missed key parts of a puzzle.

The first phase, “Explicative Imperative,” ended Nov. 10. In it, reception-goers plucked hairs from Alston’s overgrown beard, which he’d been cultivating for 9 months. It was a scene of both reluctant and overzealous plucking, uncomfortable laughter, wallflower observers, and those who poked their head in the door and walked out, describes Alston. What may have seemed a bizarre and painful stunt was an example of inertia, or altering the course of something, like growth.

The second phase, “1st Law of Social Dynamics,” shows through Dec.8. It features a roughly 7-foot-tall plywood box covered in gray felt. Each side of the box features a hole at waist level and a peep hole at eye level. Inside are ping-pong balls and paddles. A fun commentary on the way humans fumble through social interactions, viewers try to play ping-pong with someone else while their hands are in one hole and their eyes view the scene through another. It’s a nearly impossible feat of distorted hand-eye coordination. Above the installation, a video camera feeds the game to a television set in the gallery’s main room.

“I was thinking about how people protect themselves and warm up to each other,” says Alston. “And I admit, there’re voyeuristic aspects.”

The birds return in “Manoeuvre Resplendissant,” the final phase, on Dec. 12-21. Alston made bronze replicas of a garden trowel he’s used to bury dead birds. The trowels will be given away.

“The only stipulation is, if you don’t use it, you have to pass it along to someone else,” says Alston, who adds that he doesn’t expect people to bury dead birds with them. “That way, it’s not a relic, but you’re taking it back to a historic use.”

There will also be video footage documenting his onsite bird burials and sculptural bird nests made from shredded paper.

“I’m hoping some kind of cohesion comes through,” says Alston of the exhibit’s three parts. But he doesn’t want to pin down a meaning for the viewer.

“That could atrophy some potential,” he says.

It could displace inertia.