Dan O’neill’s work meditates on the notions of transition and temporality in relation to a political, spatial, or even existential subject. In doing so, O’neill’s work actively plays with boundaries and at times challenges teleologies.
His Flagball, for example, could be understood as an abutting of the means with the target — the vehicle with the destination. While on the other hand, as a decisively unanchored demarcation — a threshold that functions only provisionally — a ruling of land meant to be kicked around by anyone and everyone. An invested viewer may even be prompted to consider it in relation to Foucault’s notion of discontinuity: a boundary, or historical period is merely fashioned by our intuition into a ‘factual’ continuum, but in reality is a sum of disparate events stemming from an array of factors (environmental, geographical, cultural, et al.) With the playful aesthetic, it draws attention to and pokes fun at both our consciously perceived stability of meaning and our political and bodily interactions with space.
In other embodiments of O’neills work, specifically his video projection installations, one finds conceptual explorations dissimilar to, yet still relevant to that of Flagball. Here video projections aim to persuasively conceal the beginnings and ends in a seamless loop; though the projections remain infinite in duration they nevertheless exist in a spatial finitude. While the contents of the projection inhabit a nonspace and fluidly integrate into the support they are projected upon, they are still clearly delineated from this physical wall space by a rectangular frame or window delivered by the projector’s projection area. This border between projection plane and physical environment functions quite differently than with Flagball — limits here could easily be transcended and in effect operated provisionally. This projected border is singular, static, and maneuvers only 2 dimensions. Because of this a viewer experiences a diminished level of integration between the projected space and their own physical space.
One of Dan’s most recent projected installation [I don’t know the title], of which utilizes this nonspace, depicts a tripartite planar division of figural human groups. One group monotonously and mechanistically labors, one strolls the expanse of the picture plane inattentive to the other two surrounding worlds, while the other addresses the viewer (and here it comes closer to dissolving this virtual and actual boundary) with a sort of confrontational gesture and a quirky costume. The identity of each group is left somewhat ambiguous; through there is still a certain indication of a division of labor — as we have manual workers on the right, two groups of non-workers on the left, and a third group (or individual) of mental worker(s) in the audience — and thus a political undertone. A Marxian approach — historical materialism— to understanding, appears to be presented here as if it were an eternally subsisting structure of social organization.
While O’neill’s earlier work, Flagball, seems to be operating from a post-structural stance, the aforementioned video projection appears to emphasize eternal structures that constitute the basis of our historical knowledge.
In his use of self as subject Wilmer Wilson IV problematizes the similitude of personhood and objecthood in both historical narratives and the narratives he creates through his performances. He is a cunning aesthete, and uses this to create scenarios that tempt and invite the audience to engage in his objectification of self. This is almost always done in the context of a performance in dialogue with a historical narrative, and illuminates the intractability of viewer collusion in spectacle.
Despite its glossed veneer the work has an aggressive underbelly that is muffled but undeniable. In a recent piece Wilson engages Goethe’s Faust, a text that seems to poignantly converse with the selling and submission of self that often accompanies aesthetic expression, and specifically performance art. However, Wilson’s meditation on Faust avoids these connections. Although his performance “Faust in the City,” takes steps towards antagonizing the audience it mutes itself by its compliant engagement with Goethe’s text. The introduction of a performative score in “Faust in the City,” becomes a painfully stilted trope in the context of german romanticism. Wilson’s ideas and performance are strong, but these appealing trappings interrupt the true intelligence of the piece.
Wilson dances, and quite elegantly, on the edge of orchestrating the exposures and contributing to his own objectification. Once you get past the element of viewer collusion you begin to question Wilson’s complicity in things he is exposing as public faults. The studio shot self portraits that accompany and act as documentation for many of his pieces work with the idea of a fetishized self. However, we are seduced by these images, ashamed to question them, because to question Wilson’s role would be to acknowledge the full scope of our own role as the viewer.
On the walls of the gallery space in Addams Hall are what looks to be the expected mishmash of individual art pieces from the very diverse artists of Penn’s MFA program. Sculptures next to videos next to drawings and other more surprising media seem to all find a home in the art building if for no other reason than that their creators are also students, encouraged to take risks and carve their own space within the program. However, these already engaging works are mere remnants of last Friday night’s performance art show entitled, “Pay What You Owe Me and Vomit What You Ate”.
The title is a quote from the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s most famous folk-tale novel The Palm Wine Drinkard, and the poster still hanging on the door of Addams Hall advertises that the evening was inspired by Tutuola’s work. I had heard about the event, but I had no way of learning the details of the show before I got there. Even wandering around the noisy gallery, I got the sense that the show was marketed only to people who knew the artists and wouldn’t have needed any wall text or maybe a brochure (considering there was none). That being said, the show certainly was intimate.
My first impression walking in was of a running monologue by artist Lydia Rosenberg standing in front of an alcove. Her clothing and posture were not unusual, and a bottle of water stood at her feet. The monologue was a stream of conscious blur of insecurities and dream-like stories told at a relative monotone. This sound stretched throughout the gallery and created the only soundtrack besides the hissing of opening beer bottles and quiet chatter.
One of the pieces that in its current state might not engage visually as much as the others was the absolute star of the performances. When I walked to the far right wall of the space, the walls were painted up and down with swashes of mud, and a girl (Ava Hassinger) in a white shirt and pants was holding a bowl of dirt. She walked up to the wall, took a deep breath and popped a handful of the dirt in her mouth. She walked the length of the wall spitting the dirt onto the wet mud, using her own breath to spray-paint, in a way. Admittedly, this piece might have touched me the most because it was the most visceral, and it affected a very physical reaction for me. The shock factor alone merited its memorability, and I will let it remain so in its boldness.
In their final states, many of the pieces still highlight the shadow of effort. As a spectator going through the exhibition now, I can see the creation in the static quiet of the works. The stillness stems only from performance, and the action of last Friday screams from the pieces as they now stand. “Pay What You Owe Me and Vomit What You Ate” will be on view until November 15.
Images gain power, recognition, and currency as symbols by circulating and becoming visible in a community. Paradoxically, the more an image-symbol circulates throughout this community, the less homogeneous its mode of delivery becomes. Any notion of fidelity to image quality is desecrated as things are manifested onto posters, the sides of buses, mugs, Tshirts, quilts, collages, laptop screens, and an entire universe of obscure juxtapositions and banal objects. Disconnects happen when the mediated manifestation of the symbol becomes as communicative as the symbol itself. Annie Zverina deals with these faceted intersections, identifying powerful symbols and their vernacular manifestations, and inserting her own self-aware constructions back into the power-symbol economy.
Zverina engages the utter authority and pervasiveness awarded American political symbols by rendering them in modes that commonly connote cheapness, lack, or under-value. Just as important as her constellation of hyper-visible motifs is her vocabulary of fraught, less-than-visible objects and frameworks. Needlepoint has been relegated to the cultural realm of craft, as well as to the gendered realm of domestication; the subsequent connotations of un-skill and un-intellect haunt its history to this day. These realities of meaning antagonize the solemnity of the power symbol. American eagles, flags, and presidents serve as the epitome of intellect, achievement, and timelessness within American cultural ecosystems. The artist thus begins the process of generating a contradiction out of the two frameworks by rendering a power symbol with all the detail and care necessary of a proper needlepoint. More opposition enters the dynamic with the material used to execute the work: finely sliced plastic shopping bags, of the kind so unceremoniously peppered throughout our daily lives that they are considered a nuisance at best, and a grave reminder of our needless waste at worst. The plastic strips are treated as thread and are literally woven into the makeup of the composition. As trash it further contests the power symbol, as well as the tradition of needlepoint itself. Zverina’s utter craft with the material generates additional antagonism as the trash becomes aestheticized to the point of desirability, within the art object.
Herein lies the subtlety of the work: how does the meaning of a symbol change when combined with its mediation, especially a mediation that is semantically antagonistic towards its message? Zverina uses the term “negation” to describe the intended effect. The sign critiques the symbol, throwing the function of both into limbo. Only by placing contradictions in proximity can one gain a clearer view of the nature of the oppositions. The counteractions the artist creates expand and sprawl beyond mere binaries. Yet by focusing on images of the most visible sort, the artist generates the possibility that the most powerful images are the ones that ultimately hold no control over themselves. They permeate so far and wide, and the manifestations shift so subtly, that the essential reading is never quite agreed upon; indeed, they allow for the possibility of negated versions of themselves to exist. Zverina’s work calls this to the forefront of the viewing experience, and brings far-reaching questions about power, meaning, currency, and value together to a critical point of confrontation.
Jason Rhoades–Four Roads, all heavily traveled. (and leading nowhere or somewhere.)
Lydia Rosenberg: I hadn’t had much of an introduction to Jason Rhoades until seeing this show at the ICA. Maybe it is because of being in art school at this time and for this long and seeing many versions of this overwhelmingly chaotic style of installation art that I didn’t feel particularly compelled by certain aspects of the exhibition. There were definitely elements that I felt drawn to, certain isolated moments and objects in the show stood out to me as successful in one way or another. The show is impressive certainly and from a curatorial standpoint, the task of mounting this type of exhibition is commendable for its challenges regarding faithful installation, especially doing so without the ability to consult the artist directly. In this sense it is a very good exhibition, the pacing (considering the sheer mass of the works themselves) feels well plotted, the rooms and halls of the museum become elaborate passageways through the artist’s psyche. Over all, I can’t really wrap my head around it (no pun nintendo) …it reminded me of the first time I went to Costco, I was so overwhelmed by trying to process the sheer quantity of everything, that I couldn’t hone in on anything, maybe that was the point. The visual resting points and larger, more emphatic pieces such as the “ass hole” gave me places to stop and actually think about the works but I couldn’t control my desire to separate them from everything else and wondered if the same point could be made with slightly less of it. The isolated works that I found most interesting could have easily stood up as separate bodies of work.
Annie Zverina: I agree with Lydia that the pacing of the exhibition from a curatorial standpoint was well done. But Rhoades seemed to have little interest in curating or editing himself, and I found myself equally disinterested in attempting to pick out elements of interest for myself. I don’t think Rhodes lacked passion or drive, and I don’t question that he was an exuberant creator, but I did find myself questioning the motives for celebrating him. I understand that for the ICA hosting the first Jason Rhoades American retrospective is in many ways a coup for the institution, one that comes with big names like David Zwirner and Paul Mccarthy, but canonizing Rhoades to such an extent seems questionable. Oh, and the “Pussy” piece, it seemed everyone was too hypnotized by the bright colorful lights to realize its idiocy. Also, neons, Bruce Nauman did that.
Daniel Haun: In Camille Paglia’s Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, she declares that, “Art has allowed itself to be defined in the public eye as an arrogant, insular fraternity with frivolous tastes and debased standards.” I personally find this to be an apt description of the Jason Rhoades, Four Roads exhibition. The modern art world is, in many ways, a selective fraternity or secret society whose inner functionings are concealed from non-members. In Alan Axelrod’s International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders, he defines a secret society as an organization that: is exclusive, claims to own special secrets, and shows a strong inclination to favor its own. I believe this is manifested in such distinctions as insider and outsider art. In the Sarah Boxer article we read, The Rise of Self-Taught Artists, she poses many questions about the term outsider art. “With outsiders so clearly on the inside, you have to wonder whether the concept of outsider art has lost all sense. But if that’s so, then why do some artists still carry the label? Why is there still an Outsider Art Fair (in New York)? An American Visionary Art Museum (in Baltimore)? A curator of art brut and self-taught art (at the American Folk Art Museum)?” These organizational distinctions between insider and outsider reflect the arrogant insularity of gallerists and curators who are canonizing particular art brut figures, and not others. Are you in, or are you out? Are you en vogue, or outmoded? There has been a paradigm shift, from an enchantment with artwork, to an enchantment with the art world. I am disconcerted with the notion that the curatorial process has become the litmus for what is insider and what is outsider, and disconcerted that we define the success of an artwork, not by its individual merit, but by where it was shown, or who has chosen to show it. The notion that the faithful installation of the ephemera and bric-à-brac in Four Roads is more enthralling and fascinating than the work itself, says a great deal about the work’s deficiencies, and the deficiencies of the modern art world.
Natessa Amin: I’m on the same page as Lydia and Annie, but Daniel’s response brings me to a conversation I had with the Drawing I class that I TA for which I wanted to share with you all. Many of the students attended the lecture and went through the exhibition as novices to curatorial lecture and many had never seen an exhibition like Four Roads. As we continued conversation I thought it was interesting that they were comparing the show to the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Are you all familiar with that story? The idea of being convinced to believe that something is important or desirable struck a chord for me, and I was curious about your thoughts. In the end the class concluded that Rhoads is the Keeper and the curators are now his Bees.
Ava Hassinger:Natessa, do you think Rhoades was aware of this? I mean its an obvious controlled environment, where he must consider every last object? I don’t think we’ll ever understand all the decisions he’s making, THERE ARE TOO MANY. Did the ICA drink the cool-aid?
Overall, I think that the show was successful in keeping true to Rhoades’ “vision”. Probably because they had all of those maps and diagrams and videos of every single inch of space, all carefully arranged and calculated. Everything to the T, down to the careful hot gluing of those pins on the towel carpet that I must admit, was tempted in taking. I think this feeling might have something to do with the fact that these objects begin to lack value or meaning (if there was any in the first place) as they are recontextualized within an art institution and it wouldn’t even matter if they were there or not. This might just be a reaction to my frustrations of the action of hot gluing objects to towels can be considered high art. Is it? I agree with Daniel in that the work seems like it comes from a place that is only accessible to people contained in the “art sphere”, like its an inside joke or something, and we weren’t invited to the party. Someone said something about maximalism, and for some reason I can’t get this word out of my head. We are supposed to be overwhelmed by all the ephemera. Maybe this is what the inside of my head looks like? I am attracted to some of the elements in the exhibition. In particular, the “asshole” in Creation Myth and the pornography stick/logs, and the crystals on the towel carpet ( I don’t know if there is an actual name for it). But, there are definitely some missteps here. The chair that you aren’t allowed to sit on, but its ok to sit and walk on the towels. I’m wondering how that relates to neon signs of vagina words, and/or why there are components in his work that require some participation and some not.
In the article Rhoades says: “They’re not for everybody, for sure, I think people should be overwhelmed. I think it should shut you down; it should make you give up something. I think you should come to a work of art and be able to offer it something and be able to stand there with it and just say ‘Yeah, I’m prostrating myself, I’m giving in to you.” The article also lists some artists that follow similar aesthetics and I would like to add some more, because I think it has spurred a kind of movement. Terry said there are like 50,000 babies of Jason Rhoades so I want to see if we can name them all:
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe…
Ashley Khun: My initial response to the exhibition was a sense of being overwhelmed. There was crap everywhere. It had a sense of hoarding about it, which as I have watched too many episodes of “Hoarders” I immediately was interested, appalled, and wanted to see more. Initially the installations can be disorienting, however once you get accustomed to what you are seeing, small pieces of the overall work start coming into focus. Shuffling through the pathways, or roads that create a labyrinth in the ICA, I felt like the individual objects making up the pieces were arbitrarily installed and chosen. I know that Jason Rhoades was more methodical and precise in his process, however I think this is lost by the visual oversaturation of the work. On the other hand, this may be exactly what he intended as he made a commentary of our oversaturated, excessive contemporary consumer culture.
Regarding the “Vagina” piece, as the room was partially closed off from the rest of the ICA, it felt womb-like as I sat under the neon glow of the multiple euphemisms for vagina. Ironically, and maybe purposefully, the long dangling extension cords visually looked like tampon strings to me.
Lydia: Ashley, yes, tampon string and hot glue as semen. But in response to what Ava said about the stools that we were carefully being watched and told not to sit on, I thought that was one of the most interesting things about the piece, a proposition that is denied. I think the work is very much about a kind of denial, denial of the audience, rejection of our expected ways to interact with artwork. I think that the expectation of work like this (Ava mentioned Sara Sze, she talks about this) is that we are being denied the easy way in to looking at art, that we have to dig for it, that when it is all artwork, we have to look harder for the effective moments. HOWEVER…I am not even sure how to talk about how sexuality and perversion operates in Rhoades’ work but it has a lot of signs that tend toward a sexually aggressive and completely misogynistic perspective that made it nearly impossible for me to celebrate his work as a whole. Maybe there is a less obvious reading of this work that can lead us beyond the surface of porn and pussy words, but I have yet to see it…
James Howzell: Ok kids, let’s all hold hands and close our eyes, now click your heels together six and four score of six times. Now open them, we are all in the wonderful world of Rhoades. Rhoades work is reminiscent of a young toddler potting training, look Mommy I have poop on my hands, the floor, my pants, the walls, my balls, the balls, the desk, the garage, a pole, wooden, paper, aluminum etc… Rhoades makes me personally feel like I’ve been pooped on, and not in a “he-he” a rogue seagull got me at the beach type way. I feel like he opened my cranium with a giant pipe cutter and took out my brain, pooped inside filled it with pop rocks, axel grease, and glitter then placed it back then sealed it with wheat paste. Rhoades has made a one-man circle jerk possible, and that is his genius/shtick; he has somehow made everything that is cringe worthy delectable to many in the art world. Love him or hate him, you have to respect his overwhelming control over the owned space and its presentation. Deep down inside I am jealous (nine year old James), he just didn’t convince his parents into not cleaning up after himself, he convinced the whole art world. My eyes were drawn to the video/pictures of Rhoades, more than the actual works. Every image shown of him begat a fatter face, he was not just a collector/molder of objects he had a hankering for tasty consumables also. Therefore, his work is all about partying and not having the worry about whos gonna drive him home after. Nevertheless, being apart of a Rhoades party, ones viewing advantage can only yield from the perspective of the moral outsider. What did the curator say to the wallflower and the geek? What cheese did you bring? We did not know it was that type of party. It seems to me that this particular party has an underbelly/element and I don’t know any of the dances. How does one know when the party has ended for you, when the proprietor indirectly asks you to leave by handing you your hat? Some parties aren’t for everybody, but I’ll be damned if I left without grabbing something from off the cheese table.
Corey Herynk: How does one differentiate good art from the bad? I believe good art happens when both the viewer and the artist are equally invested in the work. If one feels like they are doing more than the other the engagement is quickly ruptured. On one side of this artwork can be too explicit, therefore the artist has done all of the thinking for the viewer by burying the spectator’s imaginative capacity, and on the other side — which I would argue is the side I readily encounter at the Jason Rhodes exhibition — the viewer is doing all the thinking and conceptualizing because they were given, for the most part, an inaccessible heap of stuff.
I didn’t leave the Rhodes exhibition with some new impressive insight. The work appears predominantly autobiographical and the significance behind Rhodes’ decision making, for instance his repeated references to this suburban garage hobbyist auto mechanic identity “Cherry Makita” via repetitive inclusion of Makita power tools, dirty work clothes, etc. isn’t easily understood. Perhaps he is dwelling on what constitutes masculinity? I suppose I am given some sort of representational/diagrammatical effort that materializes the interworking of the masculine mind. In the first room with the engine and “inventions” possibly we have the conscious while immediately adjacent we find the impulsive unconscious: “blowing smoke rings out my ass”, porn, and an absurdly fashioned structure that is hardwired to anatomically labeled buckets. Such visual strategies however feel unrefined and often physically overworked while remaining conceptually underworked. What Rhoades is getting at as far as this I am not entirely sure… and maybe neither is he.
Maybe Rhoades has convinced the art institutions of his importance and is laughing in his grave, and the emperors new clothes paradigm is really in play here. Maybe not… Only time will tell, the un-useful is soon forgotten.