Folded sheets of newspaper in which news reports, gossip, and literary texts are juxtaposed with ads can make for a convincing work by Heman Chong. In Endless (Nights), part of his 2016 solo exhibition “Ifs, Ands, or Buts” at Rockbund Art Museum, stacks of blank newsprint cut to the same trim size as the Singaporean daily publication The Straits Times were piled up in an unlit room so that audiences might experience “newspaper,” one of the most widespread forms of media, in its most naked form and texture. If that work could be read as an interactive minimalist sculpture interpreting the notion of “when ideas become form,” then as a sequel, the series of prints shown at Rossi & Rossi play with content stripped from form — a test of “when facts become abstract.”
Spanning 2010 to 2017, covering subject matter that ranges from political struggles in Hong Kong, a new Star Wars movie directed by J.J. Abrams, McDonald’s, and climate change severity in China, the series presents an array of twelve two-meter-tall prints that dissect, restructure and layer various content from The Straits Times. A conceptual collage of text, ideas, and intentions, here the newspaper is interrogated using the same tactics that comprise its own construction. The resulting textile-like patterns blend information, images, and catchy headlines in an abstract, blurry-yet-structural rhythmic image set. “Abstracts from The Straits Times” is reminiscent of three series from the artist’s 2015 exhibition at South London Gallery, “An Arm, A Leg, and Other Stories,” which put together literary book covers (“Cover Versions”), abstract paintings (“Things that Remain Unwritten”), and words from unknown senders (“Emails from Strangers”). Yet the new series tackles a more intricate construct based on a cultural-specific context, bringing fact-based reporting and profit-driven ads into the realm of his signature “quasi-images” that ooze possible associations but are nevertheless fictional.
On the fifth floor of Rubin & Chapelle’s textile warehouse in Chelsea, Atalay Yavuz presents an array of enigmatically approachable recent sculpture. The exhibition, “how to make the perfect creme brulee,” both takes as its subject and actively performs a lineage of mental and emotional states as embodied by the shared presence (or absence) of other mind-bodies. Lighthearted, delicately handled, and casual in tone, the artist’s work follows through on a clearly conceived and illustrated trajectory that unfolds at well-paced increments.
“It’s a special day because I’m sharing with you my favorite dessert on earth. Mmm…Crème Brûlée. It’s even fun to say, even if it is a pain in the neck to type. I’ve loved it for a very, very, very long time.”
Distributed on the walls throughout the warehouse space are nine inkjet-printed transparencies, titled how to make the perfect creme brulee (2018), which contain content taken from a food blog the artist found online. Their text and images detail, in an emphatically enthusiastic voice, how to go about producing the custard-based dessert. A simple yet nuanced process, the offered narrative description comes imbued with a particularly charming spark of charisma and is sprinkled with moments of giddy anecdotal indulgence. The author’s playful diligence seems well aligned with Yavuz’s own sensibility, reflected in a seemingly nonchalant approach to conceiving and executing his curiously deep-seated works.
“I’m getting ready to make Crème Brûlée and I can’t stand not sharing it on my website.”
The appropriated recipe instructions, broken up as serial prints and affixed to the walls unframed, seem to parody didactic institutional wall text. These meander around the space and purport to accompany nearby sculptures as related information. As hilarious as they are instructional, the allure of the excerpted text lends the piece a performative power upon recontextualization. An innocently radiating positivity becomes paramount, and elevates its presence from something perhaps otherwise supplementary to a structurally significant element by way of its role in uniting all else on display as a single, considered installation. Falling out of a clear or strict sequence, this dismissal of accurately reproduced continuity poses no real issue, and the inverted use of wayfinding allows one to take better note of the delineated regions that organize the homogenous groupings of sculpture, somehow working to facilitate a rather smooth navigation amid the sometimes amorphously abstract links and multidirectional pathways the artist seems to be offering.
“I’m actually a lazy oaf, so I’m going to use my electric mixer with the whisk attachment. My arms get too tired when I have to whisk and take photos at the same time.”
A sensitivity, not quite predicated on fear but on second-nature recognition of the potentially plummeting depths as well as sky-high reaches of human emotion, seems to pique Yavuz’s interest and drive the artist’s thinking through such subtle aspects of the human condition — wrapped up in layered moments and circumstances of relational being, but first and foremost in itself. The four pieces comprising his “Die kleine Philharmonie”series, which take their name from the artist’s favorite bar during a period of studying in Berlin, commonly employ suspended sheets of clear vinyl out of which a limited number of incisions demarcate physically engaged bodily fragments and together colonize a central area of the viewing space. In these, thin plastic tubing is haphazardly woven to entangle two or more figures who appear to be intravenously sharing a steady flow of alcohol. Whether it is Campari, Turkish raki, whiskey, or red wine, the overall forms that result from such linkages are loosened and blurred to a degree of near fusion — with a fittingly caricatured effect.
“I almost always have a little foam on the top at this point. So I skim the foam with a little spoon…and scarf it down right there in front of my children, my Basset Hound, and my Maker. I am not ashamed.”
Placed at the far end of a dimly lit aisle created between the large, industrial shelving that permanently exists within the show’s warehouse space, Dinner with Richard (2016), a pair of blue Burts British Hand-Cooked Potato Chip bags, both opened, sit upright on the floor, each lit from the inside with a single battery-powered candle. Like the suspended vinyl works, they face one another and linger in what feels like an anthropomorphized round of conversational catch-up or romantic exchange, almost as if they have escaped from public view — finally at ease in each other’s inanimate company.
What did I bring back from my visit to this exhibition? Most probably the memory of falling asleep three times, and spending four hours in the show while struggling to keep my experience within the realm of the conscious. If this sounds like the most boring exhibition ever, that is quite a mistake.
The lure into the show was a film projection, Maybe this act, this work, this thing (2017),focusing on two dancers who appeared to be improvising on stage, as if developing a choreography as a composition of movements reminiscent of the mechanics of machinery. Occasionally they make sounds: breathing, hissing at each other or whispering conspiratorially, creating a sense of intimacy that is interrupted by the stomping of feet and sudden, swift movements of the body, like in the abrupt drama of tango. The lush costumes and close framing of the camera, mainly on the dancers’ faces, gives the piece a nineteenth-century feel not devoid of eroticism. It’s as if the dancers were trying to get in touch with their innermost workings through a process of physical introspection.
In this sense, the title can be read as “bringing something back” from a journey into the human body, not only as a physical site but also as a reflection and inventory of cultural and biological history. This can be experienced on three meditation platforms on which viewers can rest and listen to three different audio tracks, which develop a kind of suction effect this reviewer found irresistible. The darkened rooms may have contributed, as well as the consistent rattle of the film projectors behind partition walls, which divide the large spaces into more intimate areas. Lying down and putting on a headset, after listening to the introductory prompts — counting backwards or moving through your body from the outer extremities to the core — I fell asleep. Waking up after an intense moment of disorientation, I listened to the whole track again, which maneuvered me through many trap doors until I finally arrived at my very own Department of Abandoned Futures (2015), deep inside my individual imagination, my hopes and fears, thereby echoing the dancers’ attempts at introspection.
The experience, somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious, is intense, puzzling, and deeply personal. The films and meditation tracks are augmented by a beautiful display of additional material, books and objects that form less an illumination but an illustration of the experiences and ideas this show facilitates — a disparate library, where classics like William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch sit next to a salt crystal, a book on Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, and a book by Jakob von Uexküll, who established the scientific research field of biosemiotics, the reading of the world of nature as a system of signs. The problem with von Uexküll is his latent and public anti-Semitism, which stands in stark contrast with his otherwise visionary ideas. It may sound pedantic, but failing to find a way to address this particular aspect in an exhibition that, in its particular way, deals with the human body as a vessel of history is not only inconsistent but seriously problematic, because it connects this particular state of being half awake and easily influenced with the workings of propaganda. And the historic anti-Semitism of the cultural elite is more than a footnote in history — after an intense experience, it left me wondering, wide awake, but with a bitter aftertaste.
Cyprien Gaillard’s latest film, titled Nightlife (2015), is not about wild and glamorous parties. The fifteen-minute-long piece, which took the artist about two years to shoot, is a three-dimensional film shot entirely at night and devoid of any human presence. Slow motion is used throughout, combined with a looped chorus (“I was born a loser”) from an Alton Ellis song. The resulting hypnotic state allows viewers to imagine unpredictable connections between sequences.
The film documents evergreen, ever-waiting symbols and silent witnesses of our cities: a cohort of tropical plants in Los Angeles rave under kaleidoscopic light in slow motion; the Jesse Owens Olympic oak tree outgrows the James Ford Rhodes High School courtyard in Cleveland in a ghostly manner; a deflagrated Rodin Thinker sits in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art and bleeds air; the annual Pyronale fireworks event, shot from a drone, introduces the infamous Berlin Olympiastadion from above. By focusing on natural and cultural public features, Gaillard turns these municipal landmarks into subjects, injecting life into them and activating their narrative in a new way. The nocturnal context dramatizes each object-turned-subject, imbuing it with an ambiance of serene anonymity, vague mystery, arid solitude, unknown intentions, and potential surprise. The probable subtext of the film and the music score is the story of Jesse Owens, the African American athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic games organized by the Nazis and was awarded four oak saplings by Hitler, one of which still lives on today at the James Ford Rhodes High School (featured in the film). Between the Owens oak tree and the Olympiastadion sequences sits the Thinker — damaged, ripped open, a metaphor for mankind’s infinite potential for violence. The symbolism of the sequence suggests that this violence can be defeated, even transformed into celebration. From horror, joy will grow anew, and from humiliation, pride — if we care to look and acknowledge. Gaillard explores the moment when public spaces and political symbols no longer interact with the masses. Do they become meaningless when no one is watching? Or, on the contrary, do they become enduring, absolute, free, irradiating their meaning and hence magnificent? Whether they dance or suffer, these relics keep carrying and claiming the message of our human adventure through trauma and redemption.
“Rosa Aurora Rosa,” Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel’s first exhibition at Clearing, presents massive surrealistic sculptures that convey the aura of forgotten cities. Four huge marble blocks — some weighing more than seven tons — are treated in the manner of the classical non finito, with shapes emerging from the dramatic potential of the material.
Bathroom fixtures, often accompanied by a human hand or leg, are carved into raw pink Portuguese marble. Perfectly sanded and polished washbasins, showerheads, and bidets exude wetness, contrasting with the salty, grainy, irregular surface of the untouched marble surface. The shiny polish suggests traces of water, as if water is running through these sculptures — that they are functional. Even further, this illusory wetness suggests that life runs through their pipes. Alive or not, we see them as hybrid objects: part human, part stone, part fluid, part solid, part trivial, part erotic, part utility, part spiritual device. Through the symbolic circulation of water and bodily fluids these sculptures can be read as an ode to the civilization of cleanliness — or at the very least as an ode to tap water, one of the most underrated inventions of the twentiethcentury. But they also read as enigmatic relics reminiscent of ancient tombstones, or the ruins of Pompeii, where men and women were petrified for eternity by the broiling ash of a sudden volcanic eruption, surprised by death in the midst of less-than-heroic moments. The four sculptures are titled Nudes (III, IV, V and VII), but they don’t all display human features. Rather than featuring nudity per se, these objects refer to a context of nudity, the experiential ritual of personal hygiene. Whereas the bathroom is made functional by forming a closed, intimate space for the subject, here that dimensionality is reversed: we enclose the sculpture by walking around it. We might also appreciate the absurdity of Dewar & Gicquel’s approach, since they’re using one of the most binding techniques (stone carving) and noble materials (pink marble) to depict modern toilets — not exactly a universal motif of pride in any culture. By attributing elements of grandeur to a very intimate and at times potentially shameful ritual, Dewar & Gicquel breach the boundary between our desire for eternity and our humble human condition.
There is a paper-thin — leaf-thin — line separating the stages of a fruit’s lifespan, from its succulent, florid peak, shapely from carrying its maximum sugars, to its hastily intoxicating, heavily fragrant bletting rot. Anyone who has hoarded a single extra avocado on the countertop can tell you the same.
The fickle leathery orbs of green-gold butter fruit are so lusted after that the fields of Michoacán are under relentless threat from both mass deforestation and drug cartels. Like banana republics of past centuries controlling fields in Costa Rica or Honduras, these bloody attempts to maximize profits from such valuable crops stem from America’s insatiable appetite for syrupy, tropical gems, delivered unfailingly, devoured leisurely. Take the single blushing mango in Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker’s Tropical Zincphony (2013), rolling lazily over a plane of overlapping zinc rooftops in Panama City. It bounces along until intersecting with a boxful of mangos on the move, the entire clan racing past. The lone mango’s uncomplicated trajectory makes its journey over Panama’s urban terrain a playful trip manipulated by aggressive commercial farming, which prioritizes bottomless consumerism and foreign political precedence.
The bureaucratic fruit is only one varietal on offer in the second Lulennial — “A Low-Hanging Fruit” — an occasional exhibition this time curated by Lulu’s founder, Chris Sharp, and Los Angeles writer Andrew Berardini. There is also the seductive fruit: Nevine Mahmoud’s Cleave and Spread (2017), a ladylike Italian tabletop saucer of ornamental marble produce come to life in round, womanly proportion and posture; and Luis Miguel Bendaña’s virginal, vermilion Cherry (2015), a florid maraschino whose slithering stem and lonely perch begs to be plucked and swallowed in a single plasticky burst. Amelie von Wulffen’s Ohne Titel (2015) has a couple of melancholy root vegetables lingering with a fellow anthropomorphized lemon, while Adriana Lara’s Installation (Banana Peel) (2008) lays her humble prop on the floor, waiting for a slapstick cartoon slipup, giving us some funny fruit. Yuji Agematsu’s 2017.04, Eldridge St. & Grand St., NYC (2017), a specimen from the artist’s mammoth, fervent collection of articles of trash found on the streets of New York City, presents a black mini CD paired with a blackened, shriveled banana peel. A delight best savored in season.