The Science of Surrealism: Assemblage Sculpture of Steve Brudniak

Ed. by Anjali Gupta. Merrid Zone, May 2013. 197 p. ill. ISBN 9780615753706 (cl.), $50.00.
 
Reviewed July 2014
Nedda H. Ahmed, Arts Librarian, Georgia State University Library, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Steve Brudniak is a contemporary artist living in Austin, Texas. He has achieved a good measure of success in his home state with his technically complex assemblage sculptures. These works frequently feature electrical currents, preserved biomatter, optical technologies, moving parts, and interactive elements.
 
With all of these dynamic components, it is difficult to judge the quality or effectiveness of Brudniak’s works based on the book alone. Photographs in the book are well done, with supplementary materials from the artists’ files; however, still images lack the ability to capture the sensory experience that many of Brudniak’s admirers describe in their reviews of his work. The artist somewhat helpfully includes textual descriptions of how various works operate; for example, on Instrument for the Administration of Penance, he writes, “The viewer’s finger will draw a purple spark from the deity inside upon entering the hole. The subject will suffer a mild shock and acquire a tiny singe, fragrant of cannibal lunch.” Nevertheless, these descriptions seem an ineffective substitute for first-hand experience.
 
The creation of the book appears to have been a group effort, with the artist himself recruiting local friends and critics to assist in the project, from providing funds for publication to writing essays about the work. Published to coincide with a career retrospective at the Avis Frank Gallery (Houston, TX), this book serves as a catalog of Brudniak’s works to date. The artist’s website serves a similar catalog-like function, though some users may find it easier to flip through the book than click around a website.
 
Most of the accompanying texts are descriptive and occasionally entertaining but lack the depth of analysis one typically sees in a museum-quality publication. Brudniak’s own writings often veer toward the procedural or anecdotal; in one essay (“Impersonating a Phlebotomist & The Blood of George W. Bush” p. 127-128) he describes how he obtained some blood for his Blood Reliquary series. Texts written by others are frequently excerpts from reviews of his gallery shows or brief unpublished essays by friends/collectors/acquaintances whose background is not given. In summary, there is little here to recommend the book as a source of serious research, although fans of Brudniak’s work will certainly want a copy of this book for their private collections.
 
© 2014 ARLIS/NA
 


A response from the author -

"Please regard the following amendments and considerations:

Though photographs cannot convey the experience of interactive art like personal observation can, it was something we strove to achieve in this limited format, and consequently why much of my writing is descriptive. The other book-specific essays are more academic.

Contributor backgrounds are in the Acknowledgements. For instance: Guillermo Del Toro, world-renowned film director; Allison Greene, curator for The Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Owen Ames, Texas Monthly editor.

End Notes cite all writer sources; for example: Elizabeth Mcbride, ARTNews and Wendy Paris, Sculpture Magazine.

Lastly, to dispute the reviewer’s assessment that the book is a poor “…source for serious research” : Note the rarity of books documenting assemblage, particularly assemblage as distinct, homologous object/devices. Especially unique is the use of scientific elements, many which had never previously been applied to art: the first Tesla coil ever used as a component, the first use of magnetic fluids, the pioneering use of biological and human blood preservations, gyro mechanics, unique optical, high voltage and laser applications, the first assemblage sculptures exhibited in outer space and even the world’s oldest living organism has been incorporated in the work."