Alex Hubbard has described what happens in several short videos he has made over the past few years as “Buster Keaton on a tabletop.” To make these works, the artist employs an overhead view onto a table to document the assembly, rearrangement, and subsequent destruction of objects—recalling the welter of bodily harm that awaits Keaton whenever he appears on screen. Casting the materiality of art in the leading role as he captures this flurry of activity, Hubbard adeptly rifles through a catalogue of modernist references that extends to the flatbed effects, scatter strategies, and displays of entropy found in the work of artists as diverse as Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Smithson, and Barry Le Va. By adding Foley sound effects appropriated from film, television, and online sources, he arrives at a jarring, slapstick style that repeatedly underscores the disconnect between action and perception while also taking a discomfiting pleasure in the moment when things slip, lag, break down, and fall apart. In other words, Hubbard continually explores and exploits the gap between gesture and effect.
Two new videos widen his target. Weekend Pass, 2008, uses lengthy tracking shots to show a rudimentary pedestal under attack. Formatted for a flat-screen monitor turned on its end, the video shifts from the painterly landscape orientation of his earlier works to take advantage of the associations of upright effigies and monuments. In brief scenes where he is visible on screen, Hubbard reaches into the frame to place a series of objects on the pedestal for subsequent abuse: A bowling ball squeezed inside a tire becomes the site for a rundown of white plaster, slabs of wax catch fire atop a hot plate, a drilled rain boot spouts a white liquid, and a hunk of clay receives the thud of an oversized mallet, while the camera offers occasional glimpses onto clutter in the background.
Screens for Recalling the Blackout, 2009, inverts the circular tracking shot, turning it outward to inspect a larger space—akin to a production set—and prefab building materials parceled, stacked, and leaned up against the walls. Repeatedly on-screen, Hubbard manipulates an abundance of props into view, staying just ahead of the camera (there is even a brief reflected view of the dolly and a Budweiser-swigging cameraman trailing behind). Adopting a time-lapse conceit, Hubbard uses well-chosen cuts to keep the viewer in a perpetual aftermath, never quite catching up to the moment of agency before the sequence is shifted and the materials shuffled. Walls slide into view, cinder blocks stack up only to tumble down, and glossy tile finishes and faux panels pass before the camera—a carousel of rough-hewn building materials and consumer-grade decor paraded before the viewer like so many scenic backdrops. And yet the intimated confrontation of camera with the production of an artwork or even a stage set is infinitely deferred, prompting a few questions: Is the studio artist relegated to nothing beyond their references? Has the intention and immediacy of the performative gesture been exhausted? Are we left to build with ready-made materials that inevitably appear discarded before ever having been used?
Two untitled works from an ongoing series of paintings further situate Hubbard’s apparent reticence. Beginning with silk-screen blowups of photographs of crumpled and creased cardboard, they prompt an optical illusion of depth and evidentiary substrates. Offset against intermediary layers of silk-screened color—one is tinted blue, the other light grey—isolated drips and splotches of brightly hued paint provide a competing surface tension. Printed in slightly misregistered halves onto large-scale canvases, the indexical impressions are made opaque by a striated print-effect reminiscent of the streaking that occurs when a printer is low on toner. As a result, the photographic basis of each painting is reduced to a ghosted impression below the surface, even as the overlaid marks are limited to the most incipient, incidental actions. Refusing both gestural immediacy and analytical remove, Hubbard hesitates in between.