Given how much art is mindlessly derivative or intellectually vacant, naming an exhibition Thoughtless... is a bold move. The title could be a punk-like appropriation of a derisive appraisal. Then again, it could be the gallery calling it like it is. The show in question, at small A projects, falls somewhere in between those two extremes. Featuring work by Kevin Abell and Alex Felton, two recent Pacific Northwest College of Art graduates, and San Francisco-based artist Mitzi Pederson, Thoughtless... is, at times, stiflingly restrained. The entire front room—including Abell's underwhelming drawings on lined paper and some colorless drawings by Felton—sinks into shrug-inducing monochrome. But both Abell and Felton redeem themselves with much stronger work in the gallery's back room.
The weakest work comes from Pederson, who received the prestigious SECA Art Award earlier this year. Composed of scraps of photocopied paper, her collage-like pieces compel a viewer to scrutinize them for some discernible representation, but, in the end, none emerges.
Dominating the back room is, quite literally, the show's loudest work: Abell's "These Things." It's a mysterious collection of items: a speaker cabinet, a MXR distortion pedal, coiled guitar cables, a pair of leather boots, and a sweatshirt draped over a hook on the wall. Also hanging on the wall is an antiquated wooden soundboard, which Abell has gutted and rewired with altered circuitry from children's toys. When, during the performance, he "plays" it, it creates ear-splitting shrieks and swooping rumbles.
Adjacent to Abell's installation is Felton's two-minute video "Almost a Lot of Things." Using stop-motion animation, Felton's video depicts his minimal, grayscale drawings in various stages. What makes "Almost a Lot of Things" work is that multiple drawings from the video appear in the gallery, like stills extracted from the moving image. In this sense, both Felton's work—like Abell's installation/performance—is interstitially located between an event anchored in time and the physical traces it leaves behßind. These formal explorations question issues of experience, memory, and the physical. Perhaps they are aesthetically lacking, but these young artists prove the show's title must refer to someone else.