The title of the show is TXT: artists investigating language. The lowercase seems important to preserve here since this is a show about text, so presumably lowercase means something. As for TXT, you say "text" ("Did you see the text show at James Harris Gallery?"), but really both TXT and "text" operate as abbreviations. Anything you're trying to read could be considered a text, whether it's a note dropped on the ground with somebody else's writing on it or the network of sidewalks you're standing on as you bend over. Somebody complained that a show called TXT should be more digital, while this one is quite analog (works on paper, photographs, paintings, sculptures—not even any video). But another way to look at it is that TXT is not a reference to technology but to a process of shortening that's already taking place, implying that text always shrinks what it seeks to describe. And in some ways it does. Every single fork in the world is more complicated, requires more mental space, than the word "fork"; when you get into works of art, the discrepancy between the object and its descriptors is even more exaggerated. The most common response to any work of art is "What does it mean?" But the search for clarity can be a mistake. Just monkeying around in semantic operations is sometimes the greatest thing you can do.
In this monkeying-around way, TXT is a really nice show. Unlike the usually spare installations at James Harris, this grouping of art is a vibrant din. Lots of voices, not a lot of white space. And the voices go in all sorts of directions; they lean toward the academic and the political on their surface, but this show is also quite a lot about color. Bright, saturated, startling color is the subTXT. The questions arise: How many elements can the mind hold at once? When it comes to the verbal versus the visual, which wins? When you look at Brad Adkins's Black Boyfriend, do you notice right away that the neon sign is in white, or does it take you a moment? What do you see first in Walter Robinson's sparkly, fruity-tinted versions of rearview-mirror scent trees on the wall—the colors, or the word "Napalm" in the center of each tree, or the overall tree-shaped configuration of the group of them on the wall? Or do you long to smell—long for the most abstract of the senses, the sense underdog? And what about hearing? Joel Ross's 2007 drawings spell out pronunciations of the names of Arab leaders, asking you to form the words in your own mouth, to learn the relevant current events well enough to speak them.
Summer group shows are often toss-offs of what's lying around, but this one introduces artists who haven't been seen here before, like South African Lawrence Lemaoana, whose hanging textiles are refashioned front pages from major South African papers: The Mail & Guardian becomes the Male & Guardian, bearing a demonstration of how to be a man. The Sun is now the Son, in wordplay that's also graphic-play. Perfect Storm is Ray Beldner's cracking-mud monument to Katrina, the word "perfect" cast in that material, and the word "storm" dropping off next to it, as if it were about to fall to the floor. Matthew Buckingham's Narrative of vinyl letters spelled out calmly on the wall tells a dramatic story of tension and release. And Alejandro Cesarco treats the gallery wall like a book page that might be explained at the bottom. In the middle of the wall is the number 7; the footnote numbered 7 is beneath it: "It is a voice that often interrupts me to confuse me."
Familiar local and national artists using text appear: Seattle artist Lauren Grossman's bird whose body is made of sculpted words plays with Christianity's embodied, sacred texts. In Jenny Holzer's enlarged prints of Bush-era redacted documents, you can't read a damned thing but the document throbs, like a black-and-white expressionist painting. When do we use vagueness for good, and when for ill?
Two pieces represent the emotional ends of the show's spectrum. Dana Frankfort has scrawled the word "YES" in white paint on slightly less-white canvas, and it hangs very high on the wall, as if in reference to the (apocryphal?) story of Yoko Ono and John Lennon (he climbed a ladder to read her tiny word "Yes" on a gallery ceiling and instantly fell in love). Down low at foot level on an adjacent wall is Steve Davis's dark photograph of a gravestone set in the ground that reads "BABY FOUND IN RIVER," and, eerily, "Davis Service," equating the artist with the grave makers, implying the death inherent in every photograph—the moment set down, turned into a monument. But text, like images, involves a translation that never ends. For practical purposes, we need to think of words as static, but the truth is that they always bounce.