Post-Office was started at the end of 2014 as a critical platform with the mission of prioritizing artist-run activity in Baltimore. This impulse has, since the beginning, operated under the notion that critique is inherently both generous and generative, ideally fueling a conversation that brings about new work, work that is more driven, more critical, and more interrogating than its predecessor. When the broader landscape of art criticism by and large adopts the M.O. of “critique by omission,” critical conversations disappear, and work that engages in more ambivalently held subject-matter and methodologies becomes invisible.
Since those earliest articles, the project shifted and transformed into various shapes for what felt useful in the broader scheme of things. In the meantime, the need for critique in artist-run spaces has not changed, but the context and the role of critique, documentation, and circulation both in Baltimore and outside of it has changed. In that light, today marks the end of Post-Office as an active publication and marks its new role as archive, one that holds the discussions that were being held during its run and which holds documentation of the projects it revolved around.
Looking forward, it’s a fact that running artist-run spaces changed after Oakland’s Ghost Ship Fire, but its also important to note that the agency available to artists for affecting existing institutions has changed as well. Hopefully, this archive might inform future critical impulses in Baltimore and beyond. This shift coincides with the end of some kindred projects (Temporary Art Review, St. Louis) and the transformation of others (Chicago Artist Writers, Chicago) to go beyond the realm of artist-run activity, so perhaps there’s a broader shift that we feel, going forward.
Thank you for your support over the years, cheers.
“Hooked on Phonics” marks the sixth publication as part of These Essays, a series selected by editors-in-residence Suzanne Doogan and E. Saffronia Downing.
thinking of you today.
i am working on some essay right now—it’s not good. it’s bad. i keep spinning the wheel (exhausting), i watch some TV (dangerous), i accidentally end up trying to justify the medium of language as a whole (foolish?). u ever find yourself doing this? they are real questions (i don’t think it is just anxiety): who for? what purpose? do I want to change a mind? self-consciousness in moderation, too: “do I have something to offer?”
a dumb idea: the most significant thoughts throughout history were never formalized into language, no? you’re right, I can’t prove that, but I can imagine ones that stayed shapeless, non-congealed, never weighted by self-serving performance in being spoken or written down. “pre-cognitive,” or something. Or thoughts that were expressed more purely through attitude. or love, or care. there are so many books that should have just been essays, but maybe just as many essays that should have been a brief, fluttering touch, too.
It’s usually that audience question: how can you know who you are trying to reach? really though: is it the audience who already knows what you’re talking about? Or is it the audience that you’ll spend your entire life trying to convince (but at least it’s not a life spent preaching to the choir)? That’s just marketing, probably. Maybe I write only to myself in order to remember some intangible series of thoughts on a later occasion. (Or are you the audience? I’ve always been bad at parties and good on dates.)
References for “the audience you already know”: (1) A painting by Brad Phillips: “Shit! I’m an Artist’s Artist!” (2) That bit by Wittgenstein in his preface to Tractatus Logico Philosophicus:
This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it—or similar thoughts. It is therefore not a text-book. Its object would be attained if there were one person who read it with understanding and to whom it afforded pleasure.
(Do writers generally do this, or do most people work under the guise of novelty? Of offering something new to the world? How many texts have I been in the midst of (semi-) contentedly reading when—suddenly—-the writer is coining an empty neologism? My eyes roll backwards—I wake up dazed. (remember that one essay on hyperallergic trying to coin the term “Like Art” for “bright colored painting?” fuck that guy. he had a lot of other bad writing on there, too.) Sometimes you need a new word; sometimes you’re just lazy.)
Ludwig is pretty transparent with non-novelty in a way that seems sweet. He wrote the notes for that text while fighting as a soldier for the Austrian Army in WWI (after attempting to avoid the position, I should mention) and finished while on leave in 1918. It’s the only book-sized text he ever published. That’s always amazing to me, when someone like that keeps such a hard boil that anything they put out seems indivisible. (tbh I’ve only read bits of it—oops—but I do get the sense that it’s up our alley: language and world, what can be said vs. what can be shown, etc.) I guess it makes sense for that to become a point of reference here when I am trying to figure out how to write, thinking about that translation, thinking about that filter. I wonder how many soldiers he spoke with when writing his notes, what kind of lines he heard uttered into a bowl of stew at evening time.
(did u ever see that movie Restrepo? i watched it while sweating painting my room in the copycat in summer 2013. it’s a documentary on the soldiers of a combat team in korangal valley in afghanistan, a record of the boy-fighters playing xbox while on tour and sleeping and killing. it’s soft and intimate and disturbing. i think about the boys I knew in high school who joined the military and of the times I saw their smirks dissolve in the halls. and the acne they had. i also wonder how much is not said in war.)
This aspect of formalizing the pre-existing that Ludwig gestures towards seems to be what so much useful writing is for: crystallizing some latent synchronicity. There is a looming shadow that is unnamed, unnameable, and perhaps the tools don’t exist to name it; it is your job to do so.
What is that shadow? Some portals: Melanie Gilligan’s text “Affect & Exchange” consolidates a few points of reference. On Spinoza’s binary distinction of ideas and affects, she notes that the work outlines “the idea” as a mode of thought defined by its representational character, while “affect” might be a mode of thought “which doesn’t represent anything.”
Jumping to Brian Massumi, she moves to offer more language by paraphrasing him: “that affects are pre-personal while emotions are social.” Further, that “feelings…can be interpreted to exist somewhere between affect and emotion… as affects that register in the subject’s conscious world of personal signification [my emphasis added].” Feelings and emotions both function here as “recognized affect,” that is, ~ the shadow ~ that finds its name. But since emotions function socially (and are externalized), they become independent from a subject’s interiority. (This is a similar independence that affect performs inversely, being neither recognized nor named, but still experienced.) Feelings, then, “are the only point in this process that can rightfully be considered confined to the individual’s inner world.”
This creates a pipeline of sorts between inside and outside that interfaces with Wittgenstein’s showing/saying nicely. Here is a diagram I made:
pre-personal (interiority) social space
affect ——-> ( feelings ) ——-> emotions
exteriority ( self ) exteriority
The public, in general, mocks affect beyond that which can be harvested for exchange-value. It becomes gendered, racialized, weeded out. Massumi’s language, appropriately, will always feel like the wrong tool for wading through muck, but it illuminates experienced moments in which it seems impossible to verbalize why someone has made me feel embittered, used, useless. Related: Amy Sillman once explained to her student Paul Chan that, “dumb people make great work, too,” but the word dumb remains gravely uninterrogated here.
(How does that shadow become the shape? Perhaps it’s like McLuhan’s analysis of Gutenberg’s influence, where Western thinking becomes an imitation of technological ability, where the development of movable type privileges and develops the visible as much as it privileges linear discourse.
Here is a proposed continuation of that theory of human consciousness: first the inner world either does not exist or mimics the shadowy cloud of affect, then it mimics spoken word, then the page, then the radio, then the television, then the network. Arriving at mind-as-network, you come close to full circle: zoomed-out views of network visualizations look like the shadowy cloud of affect, but zoom in and one encounters a deep architecture built from countless connections.
btw did u see that 2018 olympics opening ceremony? They made that floating cloud with thousands of drones to draw a 3D point cloud of some running man. horrifying)
i feel like these shadows are externalized all the time, though. Writing of Wittgenstein’s kind is what social media has perfected: an orchestration of mass-subjectivity from the ground up by pointing to [something] and saying “This is me” (by typing “dra g mi”). it seems appropriate, since it functions through such a cloudy, soft-edged network, that the image complex of meme production and exchange is so affect-oriented.
it is only the context that changes in memes; the feeling itself stays constant, becomes shared and communal. authors and audience find that they don’t identify with but, rather, embody these depicted avatars in a way that ends up functioning pre-personally. this is seemingly only a semantic shift, but it significantly repositions the subject/object relationship: the audience’s embodiment here is of an object (that feels), and is not identification with a subject that one understands. Because of that, the meme-subject is always actually the meme-object.
The roleplaying aspect of the meme-object finds relationship with BDSM’s positioning of the agencies of the subject/object and the props surrounding them. A Chris Kraus line resonates: “S/m’s a double flip around the immanence of objects in the theater: the objects aren’t blank and waiting to be filled with meaning by the actors. The objects here are meaning-cards, they hold all the information.” She is referencing the gags, the whips, the chains and their implied uses here, but it is the notion of meaning-card as script that draws a strange thread between our meme-object and their access to agency. One proposed meme: a servant is bound in a medieval sex dungeon and cries out when the paddle whistles through the air and lands on exposed, swollen ass cheeks. Labeled over the sobbing face: “me”; labeled over the dungeon-master: “this essay”.
Presenting affect in such an image based platform intuitively privileges the concise—-a word or two is almost too much, but increasing the number of typos allows longer captions. These misspellings become phonetic, moreso serving purity through performative immediacy than strategy. I’m thinking about sadpapsmear69’s and scariest_bug_ever’s femme memecraft now and how they selectively subvert and reinforce all of these dynamics. How much information is actually stored in a blurry photo of a lipstick smeared borzoi rolling on its back, me as my g o o d boi cortical homunculus? A version of my body as I feel it from the inside out? It’s a little unclear if it could be a monograph or a percussive, demonic grunt.
from audre lorde: erotics function as power, where erotics is outlined as a resource deeply within a femme and spiritual plane, a power in an unexpressed, unrecognized space, a space that is publicly both encouraged as a signifier of inferiority and rejected as a contemptible virtue. “A longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered,” she says. “Women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic from most vital areas of our lives other than sex.”
i am imagining a bookstore called Erotics and Erotica. it is full of theory, sci-fi, non-fiction, fiction, and ah, yes, erotica, too. it’s a queer space: the books are always sharing touch with each other, always being held, yielding, opening, bending spines. romantically and platonically, always pouring forth this unrecognized shadow of a space through haptics. i flip through a few selections, letting the book touch my hand, sliding against its yellowing paper and letting its contents dictate my interiority. it’s a small bookstore, very intimate. only a few books, lots of essay collections, a very sweet staff.
lorde’s erotics function as a linchpin for me between these worlds. the intangibly networked somehow functions within and external to the inherently bodied nature of affect, despite that contradiction. maybe text finds a place here after all.
letter writing as the virtual: an effort towards epistolary (if I am bad at parties and good on dates). I drafted a virtual version of you in my head while I write. Actually, I was trying to write this letter in a cafe right now, but tbh you’ve been texting me erotica the whole time trying to get my pants wet. I should write a little longer so I can walk out the door without embarrassing myself. Is that what Lorde was thinking when she said that fear is what relegates erotics to the bedroom when it might just as readily be embodied by the act of painting a fence? Probably not, but I will write another paragraph or two purely for the sake of letting my pants dry off.
A related question: who is bottoming in this letter? The text is a score and you perform it for me. I have you eating from my palm; you follow in the order in which I prescribe, comma by comma, following the text’s turns and dictations, allowing it to lead you wherever I choose.
but I am writing now and watch myself take shape as “the page” and its contents, ossifying the shadow into parts to be distributed, dog-eared, abused, written on, torn up, confined to the shelf for days, then eventually months, years. uploaded, circulated, and then downloaded. you look down on me in your lap and open me up. I feel your gaze and yield my contents to you. your grip is firm.
but maybe this letter should be a brief touch, instead, too, and do away with that question. This letter as touch: something slow, a little less than a graze and a little more than a brush.
These Essays is a periodical mini-series of non-fiction writing curated for the promotion of joy and inquiry by E. Saffronia Downing and Suzanne Doogan. For the duration of the project, one essay will be posted each Sunday here on Post-Office Arts Journal. Writing is not restricted by theme, and ranges from pop culture criticism to personal essay and material analysis. For more information or to contribute an original piece, please contact email@example.com.
GS: The aim was to create a curatorial project that was as close to my art practice as possible. In its initial inception, I thought of Rose Arcade as a sweet and small gesture; that a sincere work can be a radical act.
I’m really inspired by Jacques Tati. In an interview about his 1958 film “Mon Oncle,” a comedy about the human struggles against modernity and consumerism within a cityscape, Tati talks about this moment where Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati) opens a window in his rambling old-world Parisian apartment building to reflect a light on his neighbor’s yellow parakeet, causing it to sing. It’s a fleeting thing, but it’s also a moment that you can internalize and carry with you.
Dogs running around is a theme of nomadism in this movie, which is a point of inspiration for Rose Arcade — this freedom to act. For Tati, the dogs are able to pass through that threshold effortlessly, which is this symbolic and literal barrier between the modern world and the old world; one in which the ultimate stratification brought about by capitalism is beginning to take hold, and one that’s far smoother and more flexibly navigable. Hulot and the dogs succeed in their urban nomadism; Hulot participates in both contexts; at home in the old, and by manipulating the modern with an unwitting disavowal of its laws.
I’m drawn to the consideration for artist, site, and facilitator, that each aspect has real specificity to it. How do you find the weight of each exhibition balances artists’ works and place? Does either end up foregrounding or is the balance equal?
I don’t know that anything is ever balanced, I see it more as a concern of multiplicity, and developing a conversation between the work and the place. The things that are important to the fabric of a cityscape (like heterogeneity, multiplicity, simultaneity) also fold into the considerations of the art and the site.
For the first Rose Arcade show, Clam in the Wild, these ideas came into play. After years of walking past this arcade in my neighborhood it became a concise symbol of the area. It’s now empty, distinct, small storefronts inside a covered walkway. Outside the arcade you find rampant vacancy, crumbling infrastructure, the struggle of being a merchant in Downtown West made physical — all from poorly planned development and disinvestment in the city center. So, how do you find agency, a means to act within a place, when this is the environment you’re faced with? Is it possible to be liberated in this structure, to have a sense of the self as “wild,” while remaining grounded and connected?
I thought of Allie Linn and Margo Malter; two artists who lived in the neighborhood. This was important for the first show; while I didn’t directly articulate it to them, it seemed that both artists could address their immediate surroundings. Allie’s work addresses the relationship between history, materiality, and absence, and Margo’s work touches on the absurdity of the body, consumerism, and textiles.
Can you talk a little bit about the following show, Occhio Pavone, as well? Did that show have a similar development, or did the logistics of bringing the show to Italy change the way you were able to manage the artist pairings?
This process was a little different than Clam In The Wild. For Occhio Pavone, the title, and the writing came at the end like before. This show was still informed by conversations with the artists and considerations for the space, but the work was already made and I had no idea what the space was going to be! Hahaha. I knew I was going to Florence and that I wanted to bring some work over for a show, but I didn’t know where I was staying, what kind of space I would have access to, or even what artists I would meet upon arriving.
So when I got there, I ended up staying in this lady’s tapestry repair shop. There was a tiny, one room apartment in the back and her studio/workshop was in the front. The studio had tons of beautiful, draped threads hanging from the walls and I was immediately drawn to her space as the site. Tying the art to the tapestry repair studio was a challenge but was resolved through the writing. Occhio Pavone translates to “peacock eye” in english, and is also a type of terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo was created in Tuscany centuries ago by laborers salvaging scraps of marble to be formed into a speckled, cost-effective flooring. It’s something I see all over Baltimore as special and beautiful and it fit right into the show’s theme. Everyone gave me small works that were ideas in progress, or editions, things that were perhaps less precious to them. In the context of this tapestry repair studio, the show became about how we observe and connect things, how things become worked, finished, repaired, and abandoned. Also, the ways in which we are or are not able to see, “A beautiful unseeing eye living only to be observed.”
There were two works in the show of masked figures, one by James Bouché and one by Luigi Presicce and two works of nude women of color, made by women of color, gazing away from the viewer. In bringing over work by Theresa Chromati and June Culp, I wondered how often nude paintings, sexualized paintings, by women of color had been shown in Florence.
María Tinaut who is from Valencia, Spain often makes work using an archive of her grandfather’s family photos. For Occhio Pavone she showed a piece comprised of six black and white photos that read like stills from a film. They show her grandfather diving into the sea, or more precisely toward the sea; and in the images he is suspended in his dive, never reaching the water. There was also one of Alexander Iezzi’s “ROSE” wax bricks in the show. For Alex, the bricks function as a funeral effigy of a New York brick manufacturing company. They’re made to be donated as “A rose for ____”; a city or a person, a memory, a time. So at the end of the show, Alex and María’s works were brought to the Arno, Alex’s brick installed in the river’s bank and María’s diver finally making it into the water.
The show sounds amazing, I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures. Are there any threads that tie the two shows together so far?
I think so: an investment in beauty, loss, and empathy. I think, beauty and death could beconsidered closely related because of the inherent deindividuation that both participate in. Empathy is created in giving part of oneself up, even in a small way, and this is an act of beauty.
I’m curious how your role as Artistic Director at the much larger nomadic institution, The Contemporary, colors your experience in this project. I guess I’m wondering, do you operate with the same sort of mantras (“Audience is Everywhere, Artist’s Matter, Collaboration is Key”) that that institution does?
For The Contemporary, there’s a lot more for me to manage beyond finding a site and conversations with artists; it’s so much more than curating. There’s a large budget that has to be meticulously tracked and managed, a lot of historical research, fundraising, partnerships, managing crews, material orders, housing. It’s a really big production every time we do a project with a lot of people and countless moving parts. I’ve found that there are so many sites I’m interested in that don’t really fit for The Contemporary because they’re too small or can’t be utilized for more than a few hours, and I love curating so I felt this need to keep going.
What projects are you hoping to facilitate in the future with Rose Arcade?
The next Rose Arcade show is a work by Malcolm Peacock at Druid Hill Park called Let The Sun Set On You. It’s an action that will take place at Memorial Pool and the neighboring tennis courts. Memorial Pool, originally called “Pool No. 2,” was the first municipal pool for Black folks in the United States. Pool No. 2 opened in 1921 and closed in 1956. In 1953, Thomas Cummings a 13 year old boy drowned in the Patapsco. Pool No. 2 was too crowded and he couldn’t access Pool No. 1, the whites only pool. His deathled to the integration of the pools and eventually Pool No. 2 was memorialized by artist Joyce J. Scott in 1999 as “Memorial Pool”, though it remains unknown to many residents of the city.
The neighboring tennis courts were the site of the 1948 integrated tennis match protest that led to arrests and a greater push for racial equality. The courts were also the home of the first American Tennis Association national championships, where both Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe played. Unfortunately, this historically Black area of Druid Hill Park remains without lighting at night, forcing attendees to end their evenings early. This piece is rooted in creating a space for empathy. Malcolm is looking at what this space has meant historically, what it means in our current climate, and what it could come to mean for individuals in Baltimore.
As a curator, for this project specifically, I’m interested in the ways Malcolm makes work that doesn’t aestheticize history, work that includes a public but is not performative or theatrical. I wonder can (art) actions push policy change, bring signage and markers to historical sites, and needed public facilities? These are the questions I’m curious about and I’m hopeful that Malcolm’s work can bring us towards some answers.
Without giving much more away about what the action will be, I can share this quote that resonates with Malcolm by Ava DeVernay, “I wonder if by slowing the narrative down, and making it so that every second doesn’t have something to react to, could it illicit a different collective reaction? I just want to get across the whole idea of people sinking into this. That’s the only way it’s going to work is if you stop, take a moment and watch it and sink into it.”
Let The Sun Set On You will take place on Monday, October 3rd at 6pm in Druid Hill Park (starting at the junction of Swann Drive and Beechwood Drive). Top photo in the article shows work by Margo Malter and Allie Linn.
The Group Show features new paintings by Sarah Hai Edwards operating under the guise of three personas, each of which maintains independent studio practices. The work is displayed mostly on the floor and other surfaces of Rope, leaned against an arrangement of chairs with varying amounts of room for viewing. The arrangement is casual and awkward, and I imagine a Free School setting up for a workshop with a similar level of care.
Edwards’ personas cover three semi-distinct fields of work: Nooks Sez operates in the language of traditionalist abstract-expressionist mark making, Sarah Edwards works in a casual “Sunday painter” observational landscape style, and Sarah Hai mainly works in anime-style cartooning. This information was received verbally in a friendly setting — at the opening, the gallery directors maintained a continuous conversation over casual air, according to co-director Seán Boylan, “speaking about the show and Edwards’ work to people who attended and wanted to engage in discussion.” According to Boylan, the gallery originally received submission from one of Edwards’ personas, and later discovered another persona independently. After connecting all three projects, the directors proposed the opportunity of showing each body of work together in one show.
It’s a strange and exciting arrangement of work, but there are two aspects to this show that I want to address specifically because of those aspects’ failure to reconcile with each other: the show’s efforts as an exhibition of deskilled painting and the show’s efforts to showcase a conceptual curatorial project.
In the former, the topic of deskilled art practice has been worked to death. When reading about the aspect of Manet and Courbet being “castigated for what was taken to be their formal inchoateness, and lack of technique or facilite,” there’s a haunted aura in the air; we can point to where these histories take us, who is remembered, etc. 1 The topic in contemporary art 1970—> has primarily covered post-studio, hands-off, and appropriation based practices, but more recently has returned to the topic of casual-handedness.
I mention this because the paintings are bad and are similar to work I see produced in high school art programs: frantic, ambitious, direct, angsty. Deskilled in every sense, though not so much in the way I identify other hands-on provisionalist, folk, or outsider practices, where value might be found in material integrity, rawness of form, discipline of labor/conviction, or innovative use of obvious/accessible materials. Studio work that might be considered more elegantly handled in comparison brings to mind Judith Bernstein, Trevor Shimizu, Basquiat, Quintessa Matranga [who has contributed to this journal], and Rafael Delacruz — explicitly non-virtuosic line work but, rather, hard-headed practices that manage to evoke a sense of resolution.
Historically, a push towards deskilling (and valuing the deskilled) came paired with political implications, as it pushed the artist’s identification with the laborer by demoting the artist’s perceived agency and by including the laborer in the artist’s methods. 2 This is worth noting at a time when the field seems to have twisted that ideal of deskilling by developing a combination of hands-off deskilled practice, outsourced (skilled) labor, and, somehow, the promoted agency of the artist. In the field of practices in the above mentioned artists, both canonized and contemporary work might find potency in the development of the non-professionalized object, something that seems integral at time when deskilling seems to have lost much of its embedded politics. I do, however, want to acknowledge that those mentioned hard-headed practices appear to contain complexities within them that are absent in Sarah Edwards’ practice. The line between deskilled practice and amateur practice is almost too blurry to mention, but it seems to play a role here.
The impulse to make medium-specific pieces with heavy hand and clumsy representation is at odds with the solutions some post-studio or post-net practices settle on: the hands-off fabrication of fetishized value object. 3This method seems to be employed, at times, in order to subsidize a more complex, immaterial practice. At other times, it appears to be for the sake of trend research and accumulating various forms of capital. And while a hands-on deskilling impulse might combat issues that arise in both of those production schemes, it could reveal something else entirely: who is able to leverage a half-assed practice into gallery space, critical coverage, and audience? Perhaps the practice becomes the hustle and the social circle in that scenario. I’m reminded of one myth for the name origins of “Dada:” a simple Romanian translation from “yes, yes.” That would be reciprocal positive feedback loops within an avant garde social circle, but I’m curious: who is saying “yes, yes,” now? This brings us back to that question of deskilled vs. amateur practice: deskilled artists have agency to select context, while amateur artists have to rely on the grace of curatorial interest.
The quality of work in these paintings is an important starting point before discussing the curatorial aspect simply because of its nature as a foundation to the show. Within the curation, the audience is presented a group show between three constructed personas that each umbrella a separate body of work. This functions so that the audience is presented with a balance between bad, sincere painting and a conceptual curatorial project about split identities. The solution of displaying work and chairs in the gallery feels satisfying, but the agendas conflict, each operating at odds with the other in a way that denies coexistence.
Placing the malleability of identity at the forefront of a practice has a long history — Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, Stephen Kaltenbach as Clyde Dillon, Adrian Piper as Mythic Being, Amalia Ulman as Amalia Ulman — and I can’t overstate the important potential of this tactic in understanding “self” as the contemporary subject and its conditions shift. Here, however, it feels forced and partially flattened through the immediate display of such personas as pinned down butterflies to observe. The curators place the burden of that content onto an artist who is, possibly, using personas as trial and error to unearth a practice she can believe in. That weight hedges the bets placed on both ideas; the paintings feel like placeholders for ideas, and the curation feels like an afterthought.
This may partially be due to the utilitarian function of the split identity and the relationship between the curators and those personas (or selves?) being displayed as “art objects.” In Boris Groys’ “Curator as Iconoclast,” he describes the historical relationship between curators and religious artifacts in early museums at the turn of the 19th century, “All kinds of ‘beautiful’ functional objects, which had previously been employed for various religious rituals, dressing the rooms of power, or manifesting private wealth were collected and put on display as works of art—that is, as defunctionalized, autonomous objects of pure contemplation. The curators administering these museums ‘created’ art through iconoclastic acts directed against traditional icons of religion or power, by reducing these icons to mere artworks. Art was originally ‘just’ art.” 4
Groys goes on to claim that the difference between the artist and the curator is that the artist doesn’t devalue sacred objects as the curator might, but rather promotes mass-produced objects. “Sacred objects were once devalued [by curators] to produce art; today, in contrast, profane objects are valorized [by artists] to become art.” 5
How do Edwards’ split personas operate within this proposal? Are the practices reflecting “self” or “persona” here? As identities, those two facets might function with a relationship similar to the one shared between religious objects and profane, manufactured objects as Groys describes, where religious/functional objects (that is, utilitarian and iconographic instances of communion and ornamentation) are defunctionalized for contemplation, demoted to “just art” by curators, and profane objects (that is, non-spiritual, manufactured commodities) are promoted to the level of “Art” by artists. By presenting the personas as identity brands, the curators might be promoting the profane to the level of “Art” and, in turn, playing the role of the artist. On the other hand, if the personas act for Edwards as personal tools for self-realization (or, operating in religious terms, “communion” with self), the curators perform the iconoclastic act of demoting the once-charged object. There is conflict in both scenarios.
A malleable/split identity practice holds water, perhaps paradoxically, when it is still functioning and maintaining ambiguity. By placing the works into a single show that relies on “the reveal,” the project is flattened just in time for the audience to see it. Because of this situation, the question of whether or not the paintings are “good” seems besides the point; they could operate within a history of avant-garde deskilling or within a history of “selected” amateur work, and are placed in a situation where they can’t fully vie for either position.
With McLuhan as the de facto point of reference when talking about the current shift in dominant medium, it is easy to forget that much of his work specifically hinges on analyses of print, rather than film and television. His book The Gutenberg Galaxy was the 1962 goldmine of technological determinism and medium dissection that framed modern society as a product of the cold objectivity and linear qualities of the printed word.
Even at the time of writing, the rise of more participatory media signaled a shift from that once central form – so how is it that 50 years on even the worst forms of puff-periodical still manage to hold on? Despite a stumbling gallery text, Jeremy Cimafonte’s current installation at First Continent manages to point towards a frustration with this long announced “death of print.”
“Print is a dead man walking, perpetually revived by the institutions in need of it most. Pragmatic and necessary at its advent, the path towards its irrelevance would not be seen without the extensive development of entire industries around itself.”
First Continent’s mirrored, fluorescent and gold space reflects four aluminum mounted prints, “slightly larger than life” reproductions of magazine periodical spreads. Each employs a casual use of magnets and paper clips to attach small, digitally rendered prints of empty (though not barren) landscapes to its surface. Adjacent to the gallery’s central mirror column stands a steadily spinning, tripod-mounted mechanism introduced as LIDAR (simple enough: “light radar”).
The LIDAR functions to gather an array of simple data points; the machine measures the distance of its laser from the first object its light hits, so while the laser spins and makes dozens of measurements per second, a monitor is able to display a primitive visualization of the space that it is in. Sort of a wobbly 2D drawing of a room.
My experience with interactive objects in galleries is pretty consistent; their attempts to grab my attention usually backfire – it is the passive objects that end up pulling me in. That said, the very presence of the machine goes beyond the role of gallery plaything by referencing a tradition of work by Harun Farocki (arguably the most important politically driven artist/filmmaker leading into the 21st century), Hito Steyerl (in her work such as How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File), and the high stakes conversation surrounding non-human observation.
That work reliably orbits the real questions in ethics of the military industrial complex. Here, there’s something perhaps less sincerely concerned, i.e. less a sense that the subject has something at stake. The LIDAR’s presence gestures towards a self-proliferating industry, one that doesn’t actually require the support, the gaze, or even the presence of a human audience. Perhaps the only sensitive reading of this arrangement is the LIDAR’s placement next to a mirror, revealing its inability to properly “see” itself in reflective objects. That said, this reading seems anthropocentrically defensive – a position that I’m not sure Cimafonte believes in.
The magazine spreads depict the most exploitative and manipulative methods of image production in advertisement, so it is easy there to follow his critique. An ad for Skecher’s shoes announces its new moisture wicking technology by cutely proclaiming “CLIMATE CHANGE” while a GMC ad shows military jet planes frozen in the midst of a flashy flight maneuver with the text “PRECISION MATTERS,” playfully sidestepping the destructive purposes for these machines. However, perhaps the real depth to Cimafonte’s arrangement of reproduced objects is that the formal language of these images is uniform. Any difference between the image selling jets (“advertisement”) and the image of a single man hiking through the woods akin to Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer (“content”) is purely situational.
The cover of nihilism that shrouds this work is similar to an attitude of apathetic critique that is easily recognizable these days, one that seems to stem from a feeling of disillusioned disempowerment. Because of that, any simple satisfaction from this display mimics the feeling of opening a new, untouched product: sweet but short-lived. Ultimately, the presence of the LIDAR is what brings this work into value by opening a conversation around complicity and finally brings up the question, “What actually perpetuates such a zombie industry?” – before (hopefully) recognizing the patterns and paradigms that obviously don’t end on the printed page.
Jeremy Cimafonte is currently on view at First Continent in Baltimore until February 20, 2016. Images courtesy of First Continent.
Freddy Gallery was a curatorial project located on Franklin Street in the West Downtown neighborhood. Curator/Painter/Blogger Josh Abelow sat down to talk about the project in October.
Every interview you’ve done so far has been under the Freddy moniker, right?
Yeah, everything I’ve said about Freddy in an online platform has been through the “voice” of freddy, but I also think by now most folks know it’s my thing. Well, I dunno, maybe there are plenty of people who have no idea? Anyway, I think it’s fine to say you’re interviewing Josh Abelow about it.
So, we’ve talked about this a little bit personally: what the aspect of anonymity offered that curatorial project. And what nuance levels there are to that? Because there’s a difference in maintaining a full cloak of obscurity so that maybe no one would know you and you wouldn’t show up at all.
I mean, as an idea, I really like the concept of complete anonymity.
What’s the name of the artist… God, I’m forgetting… Anyway, I’ll come back to it. Oh, Vern Blosum! So, the story is that there’s this AbEx guy who, in 1961, decided to make (invent?) Pop Art paintings under a false name as a kind of joke. The paintings look a lot like early John Baldessari (before Baldessari did them).
Blosum was represented by Leo Castelli and I think MoMA bought one of the paintings and collectors were buying the work and what not. Basically, somebody got suspicious because there was no biographical information about Blosum and called the whole thing into question like, “This is fucking bullshit.” And after this artist going up and up and up, he just disappeared and all the works went into storage for 50 years. Maxwell Graham of Essex Street Gallery organized a show of these early works in 2013 and that was the first time I had ever heard the name Vern Blosum. In today’s world, where everyone knows everything about everyone because of social media, the concept of anonymity is especially attractive and interesting because it’s so rare.
All that being said, that level of commitment to anonymity was impossible for Freddy and it wasn’t really an objective—I was more interested in the idea of information about the gallery traveling around in the form of rumor—it was kind of inevitable that the cat would come out of the bag.
Right. Just the nature of gossip in smaller places.
It’s funny with that Blosum story. They’re all insincere works… is that the case?
I guess so. They’re satirical works, I would say.
Do you think that those works were valued for their attempts to fake it?
Well, I think they were valued because nobody had any idea that they were, essentially, joke paintings. To me, it seems like whoever made the paintings wanted to mess with the establishment through an act of infiltration.
—And now, I think people are interested in the work and the idea of a fabricated identity because it relates to our relationship to the Internet and how we use Facebook or whatever to craft personas. There are so many artists who have careers based on playing pranks and that kind of thing. You know, Richard Prince’s joke paintings or Maurizio Cattelan hanging his entire Guggenheim show from the ceiling; I mean, there are so many examples. So, I think it’s an early example of that “pranking the art world as art” idea, which is very Dada.
Do you picture the Freddy character as the prankster then?
Yeah, I do.
When I got to grad school in 2006, I was so frustrated with this idea of the painter with a capital “P”—this person, alone in the studio, working on masterpieces with his or her big canvases and brushes. You know, like the romanticized idea of what it means to be painter.
So, I was fed up with this idea and I was trying to come up with different ways of staying committed to painting but, at the same time, I wanted to undermine it, critique or, to the best of my abilities, get out from underneath a purely narcissistic kind of practice.
I began to overproduce paintings as a form of defiance; Instead of focusing all my time on one large work, I would make like 60 or 70 or 80 small paintings and then I’d line them up in rows or grids like an assembly line. I was interested in a read of the work that would take into account this hyper-obsessive activity. All this led to an interest in doing my art blog, which, for me, was the antithesis of the lone painter in the studio.
Freddy was sort of a segue into finding a middle ground between this Internet activity and getting back into having an actual space, talking to people, and dealing with objects. I was hoping that my blog viewership would bleed over into the Freddy audience, which I think it did.
With Peter Eide being the first Baltimore based artist that you showed, did that show have a difference in the way it came together than the shows that had happened previously?
I was excited to show Peter’s work because he was the first Baltimore artist. I had seen Peter’s work on Facebook probably a year before Freddy opened and I remember thinking, “This stuff is nuts, I really like this.” And I sort of put it on a shelf in the back of my mind and just let it be. When I got down to Baltimore, Jordan and I were talking and I was like, “Who should I go visit?”
He said I should go check out Peter Eide—and when I looked at his work on his website, I said, “Oh, this is the guy! I love this stuff.“ Jordan said, “Oh, you met him last night at the opening!” and I was like, “Oh shit, really?”
So, I went to Peter’s studio which is in a small town (New Windsor)—it’s actually the town where Clyfford Still used to live and work at the end of his career. It’s outside of the city, maybe like 45 minutes, kind of in the middle of nowhere next to a corn field.
I was intrigued by the whole thing because it was just fun to “discover” an artist working in relative obscurity in an old house, you know. He’s painting in his living room; there’s no proper studio. It all seemed very authentic.
And I was excited because Peter had never had a solo show in Baltimore despite the fact that he went to school here. So that was cool—to introduce the work to the local audience and also to a bigger audience via the Internet.
In the way that you talk about your own work (pushing against the solo artist myth, the painter alone in the studio), does it feel funny to lock on so much to Peter’s work when it is so framed in that myth? Like the way you just described it: “In the Clyfford Still town!”
Yeah! Yeah, totally. Curating allows me to fully embrace certain parts of my thinking that I wouldn’t do otherwise. To fully embrace Peter’s “Painter’s Painter” thing is so gratifying to me. And on the flip side, to work with Kenneth Goldsmith, who doesn’t make objects, is also extremely gratifying. Because that’s another side of my interests.
Yeah, I think so. When I came down here, I knew that there were four or five shows that I wanted to present. I wanted to work with Kenny Goldsmith, the Ross Bleckner dick show, William Crawford, I knew I wanted to do the Albert Mertz show. There were some very specific things I wanted to present in this context, but that wasn’t to say that I wasn’t interested in showing people who lived here; it’s just that up until 16 months ago, I wasn’t living in Maryland and my access to the scene was extremely limited. I knew a couple people in the community like Jordan, Steven Riddle, Seth and Alex. I had a kind of peripheral interest in Baltimore for quite a while but, also, I was an outsider. I didn’t know people well. So my intentions were to get down here, get the ball rolling, get to know people, and see what would come out of that. But, when Freddy started getting all that criticism pretty quickly, I made a conscious decision to speed up that process.
One of the questions I wanted to ask was just to touch on the gallery backing stuff, since there was gossip about backing from James Fuentes. How did that play out? What was the story with it, etc.
Well, first of all, talking about money is always weird, but—
—I only bring it up because, when I look at the art scene in Baltimore, so much of it depends on, “Where’s the space?” We just talked about the request for proposals on howard street, and how if something like that went through for any project around here, because of Baltimore’s size, possibly the entire trajectory for what people in town are making is altered. So it’s funny to see the way that real estate and money actually affect our creative output. So I don’t know—
—It’s something I think about.
Yeah. In terms of the practical side of how the project came about, I had been following sophiajacob, specifically. They had invited me to participate in one of the lecture series events and I wasn’t able to do it, but I liked that they had reached out. I was following their program and I was posting their stuff on my blog. And at one point, near the end of their run, I was given an opportunity to co-curate a show in New York and I was interested in the possibility of including work by an artist from Baltimore. Which sort of goes back the fact that I’m from Maryland and I feel a connection to this city.
Also another part of it—I feel like, in New York, curators think they’re being adventurous if they show an artist who’s in NY, but didn’t go to Yale. Like if you don’t have an MFA from Yale, you’re a self-taught wacko or something. Like, “Whoa, you’re really thinking outside the box…” Anyway, I thought (and still think) that there’s talent in other pockets waiting to be discovered. And I thought (and still think) that Baltimore has a lot of creative energy. There are a lot of people making things that deserve attention.
So, I did a couple studio visits down here. I met with Jordan and Steven and talked with them a good bit about all these kinds of thoughts. I didn’t end up including a Baltimore artist in the New York show for various reasons but, during that visit Jordan mentioned that the sophiajacob project would be ending soon. I said, “Whoa, really? What’s happening with the space? What is the rent?” Jordan said, “The rent is $300 and it’s gonna be available.” This price would never be possible in New York and, honestly, I was shocked. I’d struggled with the high cost of living in New York since I moved there in 1999. I find it extremely stressful and, in many ways, the antithesis of making art. Money is like a virus there; it just infects everything.
So, I sort of just made the decision to make this Freddy idea happen no matter what. I’m struggling to pay my rent, I don’t even have a proper studio, but I have to seize this moment. So I called my gallery in New York and said, “Hey, this is what’s up, are you interested? Would you want to partner with me or help me fund this and I’ll pay you back?” And at first he said yes and then he said no. Then he said yes again and we made it happen.
And the amazing thing I’ve learned is that, even though there’s cheap rent, the cost of doing this project is actually really expensive, and there’s no way we would’ve survived without the auction I organized with Paddle8—Freddy would’ve ended like 8 months ago. It was never about making money and it didn’t make money, but when all’s said and done I will hopefully break even. It was really just something I wanted to do and I figured out a way to do it.
Cool, that’s good to understand a clear picture of that.
Well, I think there’s an assumption that New Yorkers are rich—how else could they afford to live there? “That gallery or that artist must be making lots of money because they are in New York.” And having lived in New York for a long time, having practiced art for 20 years, having worked with more than one commercial gallery for more than five years, I can tell you that most artists and galleries (even the ones that are very visible) are not putting away stacks of cash. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the art world.
If anything, I have this new level of respect for Lower East Side galleries that, you know, take risks. But even this last trip to New York, I noticed a lot of the spaces on the LES showing work that looked kind of safe, kind of salable, and what that signifies to me is exactly what I’m talking about. In order to stay afloat, these galleries are forced to show what the market wants. They do fluff shows so they can afford to stay in business. Then, hopefully, they can do a show with an artist who’s making more exciting, more interesting work who is maybe not so commercially viable.
How do you reflect on the project now that it’s done?
The project has been super refreshing in a lot of ways.
The fact that Freddy generated conversation, that it got a community of local artists (and maybe elsewhere) thinking and talking about these ideas is a good thing in my opinion. To be down here, to be part of a smaller scene, and also, sort of on a personal level, to see the tightness of the community has been inspiring. And it’s been great to be a part of it. Working with Jordan has been amazing, discovering June Culp’s work has been amazing. Peter, Stephen Booth—there’s so many interesting artists.
I have a young artist friend I was talking with the other day about how she’s so nervous about this show she has coming up in New York because, “if it bombs,” her career’s gonna be fucked and she’s not gonna be able to sell anything for the next five years and that kind of thing. And on one hand, there’s a side of me that’s like, “Ah God, don’t think like that. That’s horrible.” And then there’s another side of me that’s like, “God, you’re kind of right. It’s fucking very cut throat.” It’s a weird time to be a young artist, specifically in New York. I think it’s a bad time.
It’s very strange in New York—a particular artist might get some visibility in the scene and suddenly that person Has All These “New Friends.” It feels very disingenuous. In Baltimore, a lot of the artist friend groups and support seem to come from a more genuine place. And I have found that to be—I think that’s what I was looking for, that’s why I left. It’s kind of exceeded my expectations actually.
When you say, “Won’t be able to sell work for the next 5 years,” I think, “How can that not affect your output?”
Yeah. I think it’s crazy. I think it’s not a good place. I hate to sound like the Patti Smith lecture, like “Artists should leave New York! New York sucks!” but I feel very similarly to her. Have you ever watched that movie Downtown 81 with Jean-Michel Basquiat?
He goes down to the East Village and he goes to the Mudd Club and the LES looks raw and dangerous and fucked up. It was such a different scene and artists and musicians and creative minded people were all going there because it was fucking bombed out and it was cheap and there was an openness in terms of what was possible. It wasn’t about selling; no one imagined that they would be making money. Now, New York is just so sanitized; you can’t even walk down the street without seeing Citi Bikes everywhere. People could argue, “Well you know, that’s Manhattan but you still have the other four boroughs to explore.” But even that’s changing—I just read a big article in the Times about how Ridgewood, Queens (where I was living) is the new hip spot.
I sublet my apartment for a year and went back to move my things out when I decided I didn’t want to live there anymore and there was a new hip coffee shop right there on the corner next to my apartment. And it makes me depressed because there are generations of families that have lived in these neighborhoods that are gonna get pushed out. The rents are gonna go up and it’s just what it is.
PHILIP HINGE, BRAD PHILLIPS, AARON CARPENTER
There’s just something great about being down here where there’re still warehouses that artists live in and weird noise shows at someone’s house. And people are doing it because they wanna do it and they believe in it and they’re doing it for their friends. And that’s the kind of stuff that made me want to be an artist.
Right, but I think people see the Ceremony Coffee shop pop up in Baltimore and everyone’s like, “Shit.” I feel that everyone here is super, super sensitive to any changes in that direction, because they’re like, “Well, this is it. Here it comes.”
Yeah, and I think, speaking to that, I can understand why people were freaked out about Freddy at first. Like does a New York based artist doing a project in Baltimore signify that the underground scene in Baltimore is gonna get fucked up?
I think that is part of the aspect in the question about the money— about people getting backed, various ways of “Testing Market Waters,” and seeing the Ceremony Coffee pop up, because, to an extent, that gossip stuff is real. I mean, I have some friends that, when they moved into their house a few years ago, went to the lease signing and the landlord said something like, “By the way, you’re going to be paying $50 more per month.”
They’re like, “What? You spring this on us after we’ve already agreed and are signing the lease?” And he just pulls out a flyer and says, “If these guys in Mt. Vernon are charging this much for a one bedroom, why can’t I?” Everyone is working on the same amount of information, it’s a weird social space to be in.
I’m also curious on your thoughts regarding the music scene as it relates to the art scene—like, in the last 10 years or so, there have been a number of bands coming out of Baltimore who have received national and international attention—I’m thinking of Beach House, Dan Deacon, and more recently Future Islands (among others). But it seems like with music, maybe if you’re in a cool band in Baltimore that the world doesn’t know about yet—do you think that folks want to blow up? Do they want the world’s attention? And, likewise, do you think young artists want to be engaged in a larger, more global dialogue—showing nationally and/or internationally?
Well, I think picking up on the different sects in Baltimore is super important, like you were saying, because you could point to anyone and the answer would be different.
I guess I mean the scene you’re involved in.
Yeah. The importance of the cultural scene here for me has, to an extent, hinged on its autonomy, or its self sufficiency as a wildly dynamic space, as being able to function almost entirely without having to pull from other spaces or communities (like waiting for A Big Band to come to one of the more legit venues). The style has been that other communities would suck in Baltimore stuff, you know, pay $40 a ticket for a Baltimore act and then, here—
—Go to their house.
—Yeah, see them play a $5 whatever show. I mean especially with music, I would see so much of it get sucked into New York or other cultural centers. I feel like the questions that I bring up in [the art] conversation—it seems that because it’s all on the East coast, everything above a certain point has to pass through New York and below a certain point, Miami. But, compare it to the way things have progressed in Europe: maybe it is biennial culture that has made smaller cities there much more apt for being able to support their own art historical lineages.
When I graduated from college, I didn’t have a computer and the Internet was not developed like it is now. People were using AOL dial up to get online…
—Live journal just invented, right.
I remember there was just this tremendous push, like, if you want to be an artist, you gotta go to New York—otherwise you don’t fucking exist.
And, of course, there are always gonna be people that don’t buy into that, like “Fuck that, I’m gonna stay in Providence.” I was more interested in what New York might have to offer. Iwanted to see my work in a white cube. That, to me, was interesting. I’d only seen my shitty paintings in shitty rooms. So living in New York at that time, my knowledge of the art world was pretty much extremely New York centric. I didn’t know what was happening in Europe or Los Angeles or wherever else—I was in the dark.
In 2006, I met a guy who had been living in LA and he knew all these artists and galleries out there that I had never heard of and it was like somebody lifted up a curtain. In 2008, I moved to Berlin for a period of about nine months. That was an extremely stimulating situation because I was exposed to a whole other world of contemporary arts spaces, like in Germany and even doing a little bit of traveling and seeing interesting spaces in Prague and elsewhere. You know there were all these spaces in out of the way places in little nooks and crannies throughout Europe—that doesn’t really exist in America. If you want to see contemporary art, you basically go to the LES or Chelsea and you walk a couple of blocks and that’s where all the shit is. It’s like spoon feeding you the stuff.
So the point I’m trying to get at—I’m pretty sure it was 2008 when Contemporary Art Daily came on to the Internet scene and that was (and still is) highly influential. And one of the things that I like about it a lot is that it’s not New York centric. So I can visit that website pretty much any day of the week and see an artist I’ve never heard of in a gallery I’ve never heard of in a city I’ve never heard of. That’s amazing. I think that becoming more aware of various artists and galleries in many parts of the world helps keep it interesting.
I would think that it’s going to have an impact on… I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I think way before Freddy got here, I saw artists in Baltimore and other cities like Philadelphia extending their dialogue out to New York. Nudashank in particular, really generated a good amount of visibility for Baltimore and some of its artists. I was impressed to see Springsteen becoming a member of NADA—A small gallery in Baltimore, MD doing NADA with galleries from Zurich and Prague and the world—right on, I thought that was so cool.
So there was that desire (at least in a certain portion of the art scene here) in wanting to engage in a broader conversation. And that was also part of my thinking—I was like, “Cool, I want to be a part of that.” I was curious to see how a smaller community of artists would respond to the work I planned to exhibit.
But, it always comes back to money doesn’t it. People are afraid that rent’s gonna go up and you might have to move to a different neighborhood and, as a result of that, I think people are kind of fearful and opposed to what might come in from the outside. So I think it’s a really strange thing for you to have to navigate, for you guys, as young artists working here. How do you, if you want to engage with a bigger conversation, allow yourself to be open to that, but at the same time, to some extent, protect what you have.
There is that push and pull. Part of me is always urging against globalism because I have all these negative connotations with homogenized culture (which is the way of the world, I guess), but the aspect of seeing the way that Europe is able to have all these non-central centers that are just killing it—
—That they are able to exchange as equals, and that they are just [different] “cultures,” that is very interesting to me.
And maybe that is simply from the historical [and imperial/colonial] power of Western Europe from the past 500 years, where the art scenes had overbearing histories behind them because they were directly supported by a lot of money and resources. You know, patrons commissioning “This or that scenery of our estate and it’s beautiful and we’re painted into it and it shows how rich we are.” Maybe because there is art historical reference within their own cities, they might not have the same need for validation from another place.
There was an interview with the late Mike Kelley that I was watching recently, he was saying how American culture is vehemently anti-intellectual. Which I think is true. And having spent some time in Europe, it’s truly not the case over there.
I think that’s part of it, too.
Photos courtesy of Freddy Gallery. Freddy was a curatorial project that ran from June 2014 through September 2015 at 510 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
Colin Foster and Torey Thornton show collaborative work as well as individual work in the current exhibition at Freddy Gallery, Rigor Raging Rigger. On entering, the compact space is crowded by a large floor pedestal that supports a sci-fi acrylic and wood table. On the table, a variety of objects sample one substance for this, another substance for that, forming an array of shapes that seem to have neither history nor future. To the left, a large red transparent vinyl covers the front window.
A few wall pieces by Thornton experiment with the context of OLD WOOD (which, in the context of particle board and depicted gum in one piece, I can’t help but think of as a sign increasingly owned by yuppie food establishments). A blue, “+” shaped cardboard collage is forgettable/unnervingly tidy in the mad (material) scientist atmosphere that everything else works to establish. Foster’s pieces each seem to embed some sort of overwhelmingly human narrative within their otherwise industrial/analog electronic Hobby Hell aesthetic.
The link between these practices seems to stem from a material dissonance — an ambivalence towards just how comfortable both might be with the found and manipulated material vernacular available. I see a sort of flattened timeline of cutting edge and antique materials, of natural and unnatural qualities forced to interact outside of their themes. Where Thornton’s work remains relatively sober, Foster’s work feels erratic and difficult to parse.
Though Top Ribbon (Disturbed Mono) by Thornton and Selling Shoes on the Beach by Foster are both non-collaborative, they mark where the artists most closely brush shoulders in practice. They seem to be the strongest pieces in the show in their ability to point to that link (a squished material timeline) and employ the separate strengths of each artist’s practice.
That the gallery text and title offer a roll of possible labels that function more as phonetic textures (pick your poison: beatnik poetic, summer camp icebreaker, dada, hashtag list?) than as specific descriptors is a nice coupling for work that relies so heavily on the physicality of objects.
As a collaboration, Rigor Raging Riggeris a treat to explore even with the few pieces that seem engaged in a different conversation. Thornton’s blue “+” still seems unfitting here, but the formal effort to match it (or to be matched by?) Foster’s large red vinyl window highlights the conscious efforts of the two to commit to the sort of material choreography that ultimately holds the show together. Perhaps a second collaboration is the stage for further grace in that dance—I’d be curious to see it.
The trouble with talking about decentralized cultures is semi-obvious; the moment you point to any one aspect of the network, the network becomes immaterial. It’s the source of their power. In that inevitable failure, the first thing to be revealed is the myth of objective observation, of the invisible eye. That is moot to anyone invested in identity politics, but while viewing the Wickerham/Lomax Baltimore reboot of Girth Proof (Dem Passwords, Los Angeles, 2015), I find the constant reminder of both notes comforting.
A dense, winding installation inaugurates Springsteen Gallery’s new space, a storefront located across town from their former location in the Copycat Building. Installations in 502 W. Franklin Street’s three connected rooms are multiplied by a labyrinth of four large, mesh covered billboard printouts of CGI male odalisque imagery, dark illuminations of club culture pre and post. The imagery-turned-architecture fragments the gallery into a variety of encounters between TV screens displaying slowly rotating CGI ass purses, framed club paraphernalia references, and a series of Craigslist casted portraits. I navigated the space clumsily while trying to keep track of what I had seen and what I glimpsed around corners.
The accompanying gallery text points to exterior components of the show, including BOY’Dega, the entity that Wickerham and Lomax gave birth to as gay dads (using their own description); clues about the sprawling narrative between depicted scenes; and cooperation with the LED Art Billboard towering over North Charles and Lanvale in an eight day display series of the CGI portraits.
Only in researching these supplements later do I truly feel enveloped by the referenced narrative as name drops lead to dead ends. The embossed name plates of unlabeled phone numbers tease (and remind me of a note found in my backyard: “PUSSY EATER: 410-[XXX]-[XXXX]”) and searches for “non-supplemental” content of BOY’Dega prove to be fruitless. The large body of interviews the duo have participated in seems to outnumber critical discussions around the seemingly endless web they have manufactured. Why criticize when you’re not sure you can even point to anything? It does follow that all you can do is ask more questions.
The work is intimidatingly seductive in the way that decentralized cultures often are to those that, out of necessity, carve out cultural spaces as havens from the still standing, but wavering, monoliths of “mainstream culture.” The references towards club culture and web featurettes point to the shift in methods of both cultural organization and media production, using Craigslist as a signifier for the myth of the unregulated forum.
While considering the depiction here, I’m compelled by a note from Terry Smith’s book “Thinking Contemporary Curating” (2012); “The task facing art critics and art historians is to unmask uncritical, unhistorical, art market ideas such as ‘the contemporary’ and ‘Contemporary Art’ and replace them with ideas that speak from our actual contemporaneity” (246). Even with the buzzword-style abuse of that word “contemporary,” the passage holds real usefulness in its emphasis on avoiding reductionist tendencies in art production. Girth Proof Vol. II’s embodiment of, rather than illustration of, the sort of “world creation” that Wickerham and Lomax point to here is where the show exhibits great value. In doing so, it avoids the traps of riding on net aesthetics to vaguely gesture towards a kind of contemporary analysis, and instead creates a relationship between physical space, digital space, and implied narrative that forces that analysis.
I am perhaps most interested when the insistence on having a conversation about the pervasive, decentralized characteristics of digital networks and entities returns to the history of networking IRL – where analog methods of organization in club culture, in handkerchief code, and in ride hacking act as only a small selection of examples of cultural organization in decentralized models. In this conversation, as well as in the many conversations that orbit the BOY’Dega narrative, the combination of elements helps to get past a simple reference to the presence of the screen and into the more complex question of how people use that screen.
Images courtesy of Wickerham and Lomax/Springsteen Gallery.
–Right, fixing the space for a little bit. I don’t know. Twelve? Fifteen? Including performances and, you know. [Actually 22 shows in 7-8 months -Ed. note]
[AMELIA, BUDDY, ELENA, AND STEVE]
Some months it’s two things, and some months it’s three things. Have you been to a bunch of them?
I haven’t been to even half. Or, maybe I’ve been to half. I’ve seen a good number, but not every one.
Do you have a strong intention that you’re working with when you’re going through each show, curating, finding artists, or do things just happen and then you work with them?
There’s a little bit of both. I mean, you try to work with your friends, you know? And work a little bit outside that realm, but mostly, it’s my friends. So in that way I kind of know what I’m getting personality wise, but I don’t know what I’m getting content wise, maybe. Things will show up and i’m like, “OK, where do we put that one?” But yeah, so I guess it’s a little bit of both.
Do you strictly draw from a pool of Baltimore artists? That seems to go hand in hand with working with your friends, I guess, but, has that stayed consistent in the project?
It isn’t a strict rule, but you’re right, most artists in the program are currently living in Baltimore. The most recent show with Nick Mayer is an exception, he’s from New York at the moment. He used to live in Baltimore though!
I think that going to those shows you can get the sense– I guess its funny because the crowd is always very similar and so it feels like there’s a community that revolves around it, but they’re always casual enough that it almost feels like a studio visit made formal–
Oh, OK, yeah.
–that is just a platform with which to have a community meeting around.
Yeah, so maybe you’ve picked up that it’s a little bit less rigid than our sophiajacob project right where it was like, “This is the opening, Saturday night, this time,” or whatever, and that’s awesome, but this was kind of like, “Loosen up a little bit.” Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on the– hopefully its not too cliquey or anything– but I do want it to be a positive space for people. Not too stand off-ish or something.
Yeah, I think it always has a sense of openness (rather than exclusiveness), but I guess something that goes along with that is– well I guess, first, do you promote any of those shows online?
There’s a mailing list and a website, so if you’re signed up to the mailing list (and anybody can sign up) then you get the emails, and if you check the website, I try to update every week, but I don’t do any social media.
Yeah. So, that’s like “the thing.”
It was actually the one thing that when you asked me about this interview that I was like– because Post-Office is like a Tumblr format, right?
And I was like, it’s a social media thing.
But you’re my friend and I thought it would be a fun conversation.
Do you use social media in your personal life or does that come from a specific view towards social media in the arts? Or is it just not something you’re interested in?
Not in my personal life.
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The way I was leading into that, I was thinking that those shows are probably some of the most well promoted shows, physically, in a way. I mean you always have the screen printing set up very– like, there’s never a show that goes non-promoted physically, and it’s probably the most substantial flyering around baltimore [at this point].
Oh, cool. Yeah, I’m trying to do that. I mean, “posters” has been my thing for a while, you know with the sophiajacob lectures. It took a couple shows to figure out that format, and once I figured it out, I was like “Okay.” I mean it’s a fun way to keep my hand in the art work.
And it is nice to have something so consistent, I mean I was trying to figure out– “Jordan must spend a lot of time–”
–-Not that they’re super involved; Obviously, it’s a simple and meditative task.
Yeah, like the color stencil, that’s always there. And it’s just mixing, finding the right color to go with the show.
That’s nice. I guess going from that, it is funny to me that the crowd does feel consistent, or that something does feel communal, that the same people keep coming back even though it does have a strong promotional thing.
It’s like, on paper, “Well, he hit this many intersections…” and then its still the same people coming out. Maybe it’s the graphic design or something, maybe there’s a [visual] language in the public sphere that has a certain graphic design that lends itself to certain audiences.
It could be. I mean I try to make it open–I put my phone number on them, there’s the website, the email– I do try to make it as open as possible, but you’re right, we still have this consistent base that shows up at every show. I would like to, of course, if anybody’s curious, it would be cool to have them come out. Or send an email for an appointment.
What I’m saying is, I hope the design isn’t too stand-offish or something.
Yeah. I mean it’s hard to know, I feel like I go to the shows and that I’m welcome, so I don’t know if someone who was not an artist or something would just be like, “Times New Roman?” “There’s no flash?” or, you know? You look like at “On Purpose: Women” [pointing to a magazine stand across the room] and it has to go through a certain number of hoops to fit into that demographic of graphic design. I dunno, we don’t need to harp on this for too long, it’s just something I’m curious about: how these languages get set up and how you might determine–and this is going separate at this point, but–how stores can kind of choose their demographic by choosing graphic design. So, you can tell when a store is going to be a “Hipster Cafe” or something, because they do the circular, very clean, nostalgic looking font vs. 99¢ SALE ALL ITEMS READY TO GO etc. etc.
[Jordan later explained that his particular design is actually lifted from a Netherlandish Beach Boys album release]
Working as a curator who has played the curatorial role pretty extensively at this point–
–For a couple years.
–For a few years, you know, but, pretty actively.
That’s good to– yeah, haha, hopefully.
I don’t know if you designate a specific painting practice or if you hold an all encompassing practice (or if you feel like there’s any overlap), but – the basic question being, do you feel like [your painting and curatorial practices are] separate, and if they affect each other in a certain way?
They definitely affect each other, especially time-wise. There are definitely times when you don’t have any time to get into the studio. So, there’s that effect, of course. But I do try to incorporate them. Maybe the collaborative paintings might be the best analogy in a visual art or a painting way, because the collaborations between Caitlin or Steve or John Bohl–that’s how I see putting together the shows at Franklin Street, you just collaborate with somebody. Whether it is the poster or the actual design of the show. As much designed as they can be. Hopefully they work together, I mean, there’s times when I don’t see them fit as well as they could, but I don’t know. So maybe it’s for other people to decide, I don’t know. But, I do try to maintain a consistent studio thing going on.
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How do you feel like Baltimore as a community, or a space, lends to your practice, if that’s a driving force?
It’s hard, because I don’t know what it’s like to work in other cities that much. I know Portland because I lived there for a little bit, but then I moved back here because of the availability of space. And yeah I do like the community. It is good.
It is good.
I mean nothing’s perfect. Haha. But like the landscape for artists in the past 10 years has – it’s so much better.
Definitely. When I think about the projects that were going on when I was in undergrad, that was like– it was cool, there was excitement. But now it’s opened up for people a lot, and I think it’s just way better now.
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about Baltimore a lot recently, trying to figure out which thoughts are valid, which ones are naïve because i’m young and trying to be idealistic, and which ones are because I just don’t have enough information since I’ve only been here for five years. But one of the things, to hear you say that it’s way better now than it was, is super interesting because I’m frequently thinking similar things.
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As far as working here– I mean its the same thing as everyone says. You have a warehouse with space, you know, it’s not that expensive. But really it’s like: my friends live here. That’s the way it is.
Build a community, then you know it.
I think every city has its spot, not because there are warehouses but because that’s where your friends live. I would like to think that that is the reason why.
I grew up outside of Cleveland, OH, and I was there until I was 15–my family moved to New Jersey after so I was there during high school–and then came here, but I was immediately drawing connections between Cleveland and Baltimore just because what the ports [and mills] were for Baltimore, steel was for Cleveland. And being in such a similar position, growing up and reading news articles talking about the decreasing city populations, and now beginning to hear Cleveland listed along with Baltimore and Detroit and other rising –
“Up and coming,” you know–
–Yeah, cities. And they’re so quick to make those claims in the papers… Prospecting, I guess?
In a direct kind of code language for developers that is like, “Now’s the time to start thinking about real estate!”
And that’s why I say there’s good and bad. I feel like at the H&H, every couple months you hear word about development plans and it’s definitely– I don’t know if scary is the right word, but it’s definitely uncomfortable to hear that stuff. And anytime things change, it makes you feel a little uncomfortable. And that’s just the way it is.
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Oh yeah, I have to get this–
Franklin street is not really a gallery in some ways as much as like– the way things move along, I don’t want people, at least the people that go to the shows, to have that idea that, “This is a gallery, and this is the way the lighting is and it’s up for this long and it’s on this cycle that’s predetermined.” Or something. Hopefully the project (and it will end at the end of April) will help break that down a little bit. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t make any difference. Maybe people see them as like really straightforward shows.