Thin Ice at Ampersand

by Kenneth Baker for the San Francisco Chronicle

Published 4:00 am, Saturday, February 12, 2011

The title "Walking on Thin Ice" sounds themes - emotional, existential, environmental - under which diverse works by a dozen Bay Area artists appear at Ampersand.

The grouping includes a few familiar names - Jennifer Starkweather, Leo Bersamina, Abner Nolan - but among those less familiar, Miguel Arzabe stands out.
In "Ping Pong Sun (Willful Engagements With Invisible Forces)" (2010), Arzabe has produced an unforgettable video of daring simplicity - smart enough to be dumb, as Sol Lewitt liked to say.
Before a fixed camera overlooking a hazy sea horizon under late-day sun, Arzabe forms a small, animated silhouette, entering and dropping from the bottom of the frame as he struggles to keep a pingpong ball aloft against gentle onshore flow.

The futility of the task does not daunt him - not for 6 1/2 minutes, anyway - nor the viewer. The video proves improbably gripping, maybe because of its Sisyphean character: a guy struggling unavailingly to maintain control in the face of elemental forces: air, water, starlight, gravity and time.
With similar confidence, Arzabe has turned in several small paintings, on the cusp of abstraction, that evoke landscapes about to be engulfed by darkness or cold - or human history.