When asked about the triangles that populate his work, Halsey Rodman mentions, among other inspirations, the light beam of a flashlight in a cartoon—Inspector Clouseau projecting yellow triangles across flat blackness. Ah, I say, anticipating to be presented next with the sought-for object in a yellow circle. But in Rodman’s work, things are intriguingly more complicated, and I come to realize that Clouseau here is performed by Jacques Lacan. This inspector inverts the flashlight’s beam, and with it the triangle of Cartesian optical geometry, to capture himself as a subject constituted by visual relations—one who is implicated in the world and never just a spectator, especially when it comes to acts of looking.
For his upcoming project, Gradually / We Became Aware / Of a Hum in the Room, an installation in the Joshua Tree desert this summer, Rodman takes the triangle to an architectural scale: The floor plan shows this form trisected by a letter Y, the foundation for a sandwich-shaped pavilion containing three rooms of exactly the same form and size. Provoking the breakdown of language’s descriptive power, Rodman plans to verbally give identical color instructions to three artists invited to paint one room each. In the resulting structure, both repetition and change will be evident as viewers spiral from one room to the next. I imagine being driven by curiosity and compulsion as I compare one to the next, the third room remaining a ghost possibility, unsettling and promising, empty and full, more desired than feared. Rodman’s proposal is further complicated by the fact that the triangle’s corners function as hinges rather than endings: After six months in the desert, the walls of Gradually / We Became Aware / Of a Hum in the Room will be installed at Art in General in New York. However, the structure will be turned inside out like a glove, resulting in a central court-like space, enclosed by the three walls that originally faced the vastness of the desert, while the three rooms will be attached on the outside like alcoves. The reversed finger of a glove, once directed out into the world is pointing back at me. Considering the axis where the self folds into the world and I into the other, Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes, “There is no need of a spectator who would be on each side. It suffices that from one side I see the wrong side of the glove that is applied to the right side, that I touch the one through the other.”
Trying to preview this piece, I become acutely aware of the impossibility of triangulating self and body on a purely conceptual level. But this is exactly the point: Rodman unmoors both subject and object and denaturalizes perceived space; he stresses the complex topologies at work in acts of reception. These topologies constitute the work in relation to its conditions, and the embodied self in relation to the work. It seems to me that Rodman actually recasts the third dimension, which, according to the physiology of depth perception, is nothing but guesswork, as a larger cognitive instability. Rodman’s third dimension extends into that which structurally escapes us. It can induce a sense of dread and mental disquiet, while simultaneously holding out the revolutionary potential of a third term. Once it’s built, I expect to approach Gradually / We Became Aware / Of a Hum in the Room like Inspector Clouseau caught in the spotlight, squinting and investigative.
— Ulrike Müller is a New York–based artist, born in Austria, whose practice investigates form as a mode of critical engagement.