Material Soul: Photography and Corporeality in the Work of Josh Tonsfeldt


What does my body know of photography? — Roland Barthes

The opening moment of Quentin, a 2010 video by Josh Tonsfeldt (b. 1979, US; lives in New York), is a ground-angle bucolic scene, replete with leaves, moss, and a tree trunk, swiftly taken over by a close-up of fry bread smothered in pink pudding and dirt. “Get back over there, buddy,” a child’s off-camera voice whispers to the now-inedible treat as he shoves it so close to the camera that it nearly monopolizes the frame. “What about this?” he offers, as the legs of a squirming spider enter from the right, dancing frantically as they are repeatedly mired in and freed from the saccharine mess. “Right there,” he says with studied satisfaction as he continues to manhandle the arachnid’s body, fingering it into the dessert, drowning it in the fleshy goo. Tonsfeldt’s camera remains fixed throughout, its distracted autofocus constantly gliding from one point to another as it struggles to manage its lush surroundings.

Exhausted, the victim remains motionless for a moment, its sunlit exoskeleton rendered a translucent, speckled tan against the sticky backdrop. Nearby conversation is heard. The squeak of a toy. Clicks of a lighter. It seems like a family outing. “Do you think he’s gonna survive?” an older asks the younger. “Yeah… probably so,” says the boy, weighing this against prior experience. “It’s only pudding.” The spider eventually frees itself and scuttles out of view. A twig descends from above, audibly penetrating the dessert. A shadow of the spider — apparently still within the boy’s clutches — appears in raking light on the bark’s tactile ridges. This intimate, even claustrophobic scene continues in this vein for several moments before the camera is moved back, revealing the pastoral setting in full view, and then abruptly cuts off. Filmed in a single five-and-a-half-minute take at a summertime family gathering, Tonsfeldt’s video is at once visceral and seductive.

The themes that comprise Quentin — material truth, capture of quotidian subjects, embrace of the capabilities and limitations of digital apparatuses, engagement with the body’s increasingly inextricable relationship to cameras and screens — are characteristic of Tonsfeldt’s approach to artmaking. With these actions and circumstances in mind, he investigates the manners in which reality can be captured, processed, and consumed. He destabilizes and restructures images through various digital and physical processes, laying bare or thoroughly reworking elements of their construction, or else dismantling and repurposing their means of display. Traversing material strata, Tonsfeldt’s work can be seen as a continual investigation into — and a processing of — the porous border between the photographic and the corporeal.

Tonsfeldt does not primarily identify as a photographer, and yet the sequences and procedural operations inherent to photographic and cinematic activity — interplay between operator and apparatus, image capture, manipulation of the channels through which images travel, printing — inform virtually all aspects of the artist’s output. Importantly, Tonsfeldt, like Vilém Flusser before him, holds that the apparatus of image capture is an extension of the body’s senses, a prosthesis that facilitates an augmented and intensified engagement with the world. The creation of works of art is not, Tonsfeldt claims, of primary importance, but is rather the inevitable product of his engagement with the photographic, which we might define, following Howard Singerman, as “neither a medium nor the instance of a medium. Rather, it is something like the technical condition of photography, its reproducibility, its circulation, and its dumbly indexical, contingent ties to the world.”1

Tonsfeldt’s artworks stem from an intense personal relationship to the devices and materials he employs; as he gets to know them intimately they become not only instruments of capture but also veritable extensions of his own body. His works are imbued with a sensorial aura, a palpable residue of emotional connection between object and author — a material soul. This intimacy with apparatuses and materials can be glimpsed not only when the machines and processes are running smoothly, but in their potential for disruption and failure as well.

These interests were foregrounded in the artist’s 2013 exhibition at New York’s Simon Preston Gallery, a self-illuminated, environmental installation in which the artist presented several wall-based works, many of which were printed on the reverse side of photo paper, a material that, depending on the ink in question, accepts or rejects the printer’s efforts. In Untitled (2013), for instance, the artist printed an image onto the back of a large piece of photo paper and while the ink was still wet he wiped it away, leaving a cerulean palimpsest. On top he printed an image of Bart Simpson broken up into three out-of-order segments, staggering the smaller image over the larger, effaced one. Here Tonsfeldt is frustrating image legibility through the index of the work’s very own creation. Elsewhere in the same exhibition, the artist pushed these indexical notions further by making rectangular plaster casts of the floor and installing them vertically side-by-side in the middle of the gallery, thereby constructing a wholly new, mimetic architecture within the space. These “walls,” like photographic negatives, bore indexical relations to their source; every crevice and crack made a physical protuberance.

As regards the negative, Tonsfeldt’s output is entirely free of it, as he has only ever employed digital cameras. A great deal of twentieth-century discourse on photography emphasizes the primacy of the negative as the gatekeeper of photographic inversion, reproduction, and dissemination. However, as George Baker has observed, “With the shift from analog to digital media in recent decades, few have mourned the fact that this transition has included the loss of the negative from most of the dominant forms of current photographic processes. Whether considered as the matrix of the voyage of the image from camera to print or as the former primary modality of image storage, the negative once embodied the central operations of both photography and film, and yet it has hardly been noted that in recent years the negative has simply been swept away.”2

While digital cameras are of course instruments of indexical faculty, they have nonetheless shifted emphasis from a relationship between author and negative to a fusion of operator and apparatus and the consequent “lens-based aesthetics” of the post-darkroom photographic era. Tonsfeldt’s images go entirely through digitally coded channels; from the point of initial capture up until the point of execution, they exist completely outside the realm of the physical, residing only in the hermetic vacuum of digital circuitry.

If anyone jettisoned the discourse of the negative in favor of a scrutiny of the seamless fusion of user and device it was Flusser, who in 1983 presaged photographic ubiquity as “a new kind of function in which human beings are neither the constant nor the variable but in which human beings and apparatus merge into a unity.”3 Flusser emphasized the non-impartiality of the apparatus, explaining that what it depicts is not “real,” but rather a transformed index of reality that comes about as a result of the apparatus’s ability to record objects, regardless of any presence of the negative.

Seen through this lens, plaster is an instrument capable of photographic mimesis in its own right. Tonsfeldt’s use of the material is not only a means of inverting the contours of three-dimensional objects, it is also a receptacle of two-dimensional image transfer. The artist fused these capacities in “Adrenaline,” a 2015 show, wherein high-resolution photographs were printed onto single and multipart hydrocal casts. Adrenaline Tattoo, for example, is a cast of Tonsfeldt’s studio worktable upon which he superimposed two parts of a single, peeled-apart LCD screen removed from a flat-screen television. Printed onto the surface of the hydrocal cast is an image depicting a man getting a rectangular tattoo on his chest while his arms are otherwise occupied — his left an ad hoc pillow, his right raised and holding an iPhone, presumably to record the process. Surreptitiously shot from the exterior of the tattoo shop, a glass barrier had separated the artist from his subject.

A physical connection between the printed image and how the material accepts it (crisp resolution where the surface is flat, murkiness in its lacunae) makes it so the eye “feels” the image. Meanwhile, the screen appears as a kind of skin, a porous boundary through which sensorial information is synaptically transferred then transmitted. As the image rides over the cast surface there is a dovetailing of affect: the work’s rectangular shape, the casts of the screens, the man’s tattoo, his iPhone, and the glass “screen” separating subject and witness all echo a screen’s form and function: seen together they act as a bridging of the corporeal and the digital.

What could be more emblematic of the dermal exchange between machine and body than a touchscreen? As Laura Glitsos has commented, “Touchscreens imply the relationship between skin on skin — the skin of our body (in particular the hands) against the skin of the screen. It follows that mobile touchscreen devices suggest a degree of sensuality — in the coming together of bodies, fluids, and other organic materials which ‘stick’ to the touchscreen.”4 At what point does this fluidity become transmutable into other realms? As technology progresses and the lines between life and work, screen time and lived time, the real and the virtual, become blurred — and the self increasingly layered and fluid — the body’s engagement with the screen is omnipresent.

Just as the viewfinder marks the commencement of photographic reality, the framed or screened image is the culmination of its sequence. Indeed, life, work, and leisure are all now experienced through a succession of screens. With this hegemony in mind, Tonsfeldt recently embarked upon two interrelated bodies of work that explore the physiological nature of the screen through absence and presence.

The first is a series of disrupted and augmented flat screen televisions. The LCD displays found within, similar to the epidermal and dermal strata of skin, are layers of extremely thin films that can be peeled apart and removed. Without them, the television is just a grid of lights in a plastic vessel. If moving images are to be viewed as intended, their information must first go through these diffusion and prism films, then the LCD screen itself. Surprisingly, when these films are removed, the LCD display still functions, albeit with different results: “white” information is invisible, and the viewer sees nothing but the lighting grid, but “black” and color images can still be read. In Untitled (2016), for example, Tonsfeldt excised the interior films and glued several items to its grid, including dried vegetation and pieces of clothing. Over this backdrop a video of a pulsating flashlight appears within a floating black animation. The viewer’s attention is thrust from the video to the very mechanisms that enable its legibility, to the familiarity of the objects and back again. The work’s effect, almost respiratory, is utterly hypnotic.

The second is a series of cast hydrocal works that are a seamless fusion of frame and receptacle. Their internal compositions are an admixture of fragmented objects and imagery problematized by the application of the extracted television prism films. The films have a polarized lens effect, obscuring what lies behind them when viewing the work frontally, coming into clearer focus when the viewer moves to either side. Despite this connection between viewer and object, the prism film barrier renders the underlying imagery unattainable, perpetually mediating the viewer’s direct engagement with it, culminating in an entanglement of desire and frustration.

In the press release for “Adrenaline” Tonsfeldt states, “Familiarity becomes something slippery in the timespan of making a picture. The tenderness felt toward a loved one can emerge like a program between you and the camera, a machine-body behavior ready to play itself out in situations untethered from its source.” Indeed, Tonsfeldt’s work has the familiar at its core: forever processing it, abstracting it, pulling it apart, and pushing it into other registers, while never letting it go.


1 Howard Singerman, Art History, After Sherrie Levine (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2012), p. 60.

2 George Baker, “The Black Mirror,” October, No. 158 (Fall 2016), p. 35.

3 Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (London: Reaktion, 2000), p. 27.

4 Laura Glitsos, “Screen as Skin: The Somatechnics of Touchscreen Music Media,” Somatechnics, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 142–165.

Vivian Suter and Elizabeth Wild at Karma International


From a distance outside Karma International I could already discern a floating composition of yellow and sanguine red cocooning a cerulean blue. Upon entering the gallery I brushed against the imposing canvas, its lower edges draped unavoidably close to the doorway. Like this painting, the remainder of the works were similarly suspended from the ceiling or otherwise layered over one another on the walls.

Since 1982, Vivian Suter (b. 1949) has lived in Panajachel, Guatemala. The tropical climate and sweeping vistas of her lakeside residence do not so much inform as perform themselves in her work. Suter produces her paintings on stretchers, then un-stretches them. Liberated from constraint they bear the traces of their literally wild plein air creation.

In a comparatively moody composition (all works Untitled, 2017) one can easily make out a horizon split by verdant waters and triangular mountains, while others are monochrome washes that evoke sunsets, tree bark, or avocado flesh. Installed upstairs are four vibrant, adamantly geometric collages by the artist’s mother, Elisabeth Wild (b. 1922), that provide a structural counterbalance to Suter’s gestural methods. Compositionally diametric yet chromatically in synch, the juxtaposition is somehow blunt and subtle, as if to remind the viewer that the artists and artworks are genuinely related.

As I made my way back downstairs I noticed an incoming visitor was holding the front door open for someone. The sudden rush of air made the entire installation flow—canvases undulating, fleetingly lifting their edges to reveal otherwise hidden compositions. The movement of the paintings made tangible the invisible breeze, and with it the tropical flora represented in them. Just then I was there, in Panajachel, if only for an instant.

Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild runs September 15–November 11, 2017 at Karma International (4619 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016).

Image: Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild (2017) (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Karma International, Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane.

A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace at Park View


The varied forces composing A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace dovetail in a refreshing, intimate press release penned by its curator, Paul Soto, owner of Park View. The show’s invisible but omnipresent muse is Miguel Adrover, an ingenious turn-of-the-millennium fashion designer whose professional downfall was due, in part, to his inability – or unwillingness – to properly navigate the “noise” of financial, social, and political interests. In his text Soto relates the adverse effect that similar noise has recently had on his own art and life. He also concedes that art objects simultaneously perform philosophical and commercial roles, and are, as such, conflicted.

Correspondingly, many of the works here merge unrelated or incongruous elements, none more germanely than an untitled jacket by fashion house Gypsy Sport (2017). Casually hung in the gallery’s closet, the work is an amalgam of upcycled black mesh, oxblood nylon and common grey sweatshirt material. Nearby, Victoria Colmegna’s volubly titled wall vitrine* overlaps adroit sketches and an exquisitely rendered graphite and pastel self-portrait. Similarly synthesized are Dena Yago’s site-specific vinyl text works (REGRESSERGNI, INGRESSERGE, and EGRESSERGER, all 2017). Installed atop three of the space’s doorway arches, these word collisions enact a heightened self-awareness while traversing Soto’s apartment-cum-gallery. While additional contributions by Catharine Czudej, Dardan Zhegrova, Paul Heyer, Heji Shin, and Sam Grossinger echo these notions of fused imbalance, the diverging media and varying execution of the remaining works deliberately rattle this continuity.

Comprising 26 works by an array of 16 contributors, A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace often dips into cacophony, burying decipherable resolution within its myriad folds. Ultimately, though, this decidedly discordant operation mirrors the chaos-induced sentiment of Soto’s relatable words, leaving the feeling that an easily consumable and cohesive exhibition was never really the point here. Unlike Adrover’s clothes, Soto’s exhibition achieves a liberated and reflexive dialogue about the collective “noise” we must acknowledge, both within and outside the realm of art.

*Victoria Colmegna, #229. Super Senior Series: Schiller Schuller in Floral Selfhood Valley, 2015; #62: Who´s Who?: Will the real Jessica please stand up?, 1990; #35.Out of Control: Will Aaron Dallas destroy Elizabeth’s and Jeffrey’s happiness?, 1987; #66. Who´s to Blame?: Elizabeth is running away!, 1990; #41.Outcast: Will anyone speak to Molly Hecht again?, 1987; #17.Boys against Girls: Elizabeth and Jessica team up to fight there worse enemy, Boys!, 1988 (2016). Pastel, graphite, and pen on velvet and paper (commissioned portrait and original sketches by Jimmy Mathewuse, illustrator of the “Sweet Valley High book” series book covers); glass, steel, and PVC vitrine with lock-and-key, 26.38 × 35.75 × 3.75 inches.

A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace runs September 2–October 21, 2017 at Park View (836 S Park View St #8, Los Angeles, CA 90057).

Image courtesy of the artist and Park View. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Blackout at Ibid


Blackout, the three person exhibition currently on view at Ibid Gallery, is an exercise in imagistic complication. While these artists—Richard Hamilton, Carlo Mollino, and John Stezaker—have only minor overlaps as cultural and philosophical practitioners, the exhibition tugs at the common, if sometimes tenuous, threads in their work.

The show’s title dually refers to media suppression and memory failure. Though, largely dispensing with these literal definitions of the term, Blackout instead refers to obfuscations at play in each photographically-informed work; every artist can be seen here as a maverick interrupter of image legibility. This conceit is best seen in Stezaker’s collages Double Shadow LV (2015) and Shades (2016). Both consist of an upside-down image onto which a silhouetted photograph has been superimposed—a terse gesture whose use of the figure/ground relationship all but collapses it.

A painted city skyline occupying the gallery walls grafts a notion of architectural facade onto the show but undermines the interiority found in many of the works themselves. Richard Hamilton’s Italian Baroque Interior(1979), for example, is a collage wherein photographic and painterly representations of interior architecture converse and coalesce into a luminous, amber-hued whole. This emphasis of domesticity is echoed by the work of architect Carlo Mollino, whose inclusions, somewhat ironically, are not images of his angular buildings, but rather are portraits of women posing in various states of undress.

Seemingly the show’s outlier, Mollino’s images initially appear as the result of straightforward fashion shoots, yet the relationship between maker and model is anything but easy to parse. Indeed, the inability to easily unpack Mollino’s photographs, along with the associative collages of Stezaker and Hamilton, leaves a residue that is as vague as it is specific, as seductive as it is cerebral. Like desperately trying to recall a memory after a blackout.

Image: John Stezaker, Shades (2016). Collage, 9 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (unframed). Image courtesy the artist and The Approach.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, June 21, 2017

Dianna Molzan at Kristina Kite


Despite their spatial tendencies, the ten contributions in Dianna Molzan’s solo exhibition at Kristina Kite Gallery are securely anchored within the language of painting. While maintaining this medium-specific position, Molzan employs a flirtatious relationship with sculpture as a filter through which she can extract painterly potential, ensuring its dimensional aspects never stray too far beyond the canvas.

Such enterprise is most evident in a trio of totemic, vaguely cruciform works (Untitled, all 2017) installed on the main gallery’s west wall. Each is comprised of a monochromatic vertical substrate on top of which a gesturally painted pillow-like form rests, making for dramatic interplay between two opposing surfaces. Corporeally suggestive, each protruding “face” intently meets the viewer’s gaze.

Bulbousness is an oft-repeated motif in Usurpico, making appearances in all but three of its works. For instance, Untitled (2017), is painting at its most straightforward—oil on canvas—yet here morphs itself into a wooden frame supporting two green and lavender pillows onto which vibrant, magnetizing compositions have been brushed. Balanced, clean, frivolous, awkward, confrontational, and utterly accessible, this work, like its companions, manages tremendous potency with the simplest of materials.

Molzan’s simultaneous dedication to painting and seizure upon external material and conceptual realms makes for open ended resolution. As such, each painting exudes a sense of conflict—a comfortable unease with being at odds with itself. This is not to say that these works suffer from any lack of intellectual framework, skillful execution, or status as discrete objects—quite the opposite. Usurpico commands viewers to engage with its expansions and contractions, imbrications and dualities, and ultimately, with the very activity of painting itself.

Image:  Dianna Molzan, Untitled (2017). Oil on canvas with poplar. 30 x 35 x 7 inches. Image courtesy Kristina Kite Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, May 25, 2017


2016-05-02 20.57.36

2015-12-02 05.29.32

“I no longer considered objects from the point of view of their usual purpose but rather from that of friendly anxiety they offered me.”

– Jean Genet (1)

On March 2, 2017, Snap Inc., parent company of the image-messaging application Snapchat, went public and experienced an unprecedented first day market capitalization of $28.4 billion. (2) While some of the frenzy soon fizzled, Snap’s upshot evaluation serves as a reminder of society’s current obsession with social media. Snapchat stands apart from other apps in that it allows its users to share images and videos that self-delete, providing them with a liberated—and in some cases, delusional—sense that what is being transmitted is impermanent and untraceable after having been consumed. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the reasons for Snapchat’s ascent was its capability of transmitting nude selfies and other explicit material “free” from the policing and supposed permanence of other platforms.

Instagram, unlike its ephemeral competitor, is a supremely visual library, in which every post is catalogued along with its relevant comments and likes. As such, it demands that a fabricated persona surround each user, with each post adding to the patina of his or her particular brand of cyber-personality. More specifically, such a trove of sustained visibility enables artists to navigate Instagram’s decidedly image-centric universe, with certain artists employing the app as a legitimate extension of their studio practice. Indeed, the uses and abuses of lasting social media have been explored by all manner of artists, not least of which by Los Angeles-based artist Richard Hawkins.

Materially and conceptually, Hawkins is a collagist. Though he often ventures into painting and sculpture, his practice is foundationally collage-based: an organization of surfaces via the layering of disparate imagery as a means of creating a synthesized and outlined whole. The driving force behind such activity can be described as the aura of mediation. The spirit that mediated imagery emanates—its inherent pull, its production of desire, the unattainable ideal it often evokes—is perfectly suited to the channel of collage, as the coalescing of such imagery forges “an undeniable experience of syntax.”(3)

Richard Hawkins’s idiosyncratic and direct approach to collage is refreshing in its simplicity: a cleanly trimmed pic of David Bowie taped to a reproduction of Francis Bacon’s Two Seated Figures (1979); an image of a Japanese male model tacked onto an inked abstraction; cut-outs of Greek and Roman sculptures that reside alongside the artist’s Romanesque lettering. Such succinct yet fleshed-out relationships translate seamlessly to Instagram, wherein their imagistic strata can be constructed not only statically but also animatedly via gifs and videos. Beginning in 2015, Hawkins regularly produced Instagram work under the handle @richardhawkins01. On January 3, 2017, after reaching 137,000 followers, his page caught the attention of the app, and was abruptly deleted.(4)

Hawkins had knowingly (if not stridently) been pushing the boundaries of Instagram’s guidelines for indecency, as his posts almost exclusively incorporated images of virile (frequently nude and less often, aroused) young men, many of them self-promoting social media narcissists. A typical @richardhawkins01 contribution employed similar techniques of layering and superimposition evident in Hawkins’s physical collages. For instance, 2016-05-02 20.57.36 (5) features a shirtless man angling for a selfie surrounded by four Nick Jonas gifs with the word “moist” spelled out in rotating green capitals at the bottom (a spilling white liquid also makes a cameo). Though this relatively straightforward composition echoes the artist’s physical collages RRSPS and SJJSS (both 1993), most entries employed a more intense chromatic bravado coupled with a saturated use of web linguistics such as gifs, emojis, and stickers whose animated and obfuscating tendencies maintained the artist’s penchant for giving and withholding at once.

In his catalogue essay contribution to Hawkins’ 2010 traveling retrospective, Third Mind, art historian and critic George Baker states, “The primary act of collage, for Hawkins, is one of occlusion—covering something up, laying something over, the superimposition of parts and pieces onto a readymade ground, indeed, the translation or transposition of one ground, one image, or one surface into another.” (6)

If such obstruction in Hawkins’ studio work is a twinned source of syntactic image generation and desire production, it is doubly so in his Instagram output, in which animation plays a key role. Take 2015-12-02 05.29.32, in which a white rabbit jackhammers its head against the groin of a tattooed dude, whose semi-erect penis is revealed only when the rabbit rocks its head back in preparation for another blow. Similarly executed is 2015-12-01 15.15.51, which makes use of a muscled bro from who is not indecent until the Akita concealing his junk winks and slides out of frame only to reappear a second later. (Similar to how dissecting a joke drains it of humor, detailing these posts belies their rampant LOL hilarity.)

Here Hawkins is disrupting the source imagery’s original erotic intent while retaining their apparent provocative qualities. It seems at times the artist genuinely lusts after these men while in others he overtly ridicules them, making it unclear if he wants to humiliate or fellate them—or both. This mirrors the multivalent effect of mediated desire—a distanced yet spectacularized hybrid of magnetism and frustration. As writer Bruce Hainley posits, “Hawkins has come to refer to this coexistence as ‘syncretism,’ which he defines as ‘an attempt to reconcile disparate and even opposing beliefs and attributes of previously separate gods or practices into one, both existing simultaneously.’” (7) This ambiguity, this performance of two tasks at once is a thread throughout Hawkins’s work. Indeed, the title of his 2007 retrospective at de Appel in Amsterdam was Of two minds, simultaneously.

With all the potentials such technology affords an artist, it’s worth pausing to focus on an aspect of Hawkins’s relationship to Instagram that fundamentally sets him apart from another artist, Richard Prince, whose use of the platform has raised many an eyebrow. Prince, for his part, monetized his account by taking screenshots of other user’s pages and then had them printed on canvas. Despite being squarely within the artist’s signature appropriative methodology, Prince’s social media appropriations were fabricated solely for circulation within the art market as luxury good signifiers of his participation within contemporary culture.

Conversely, Hawkins’s artwork was the medium of Instagram itself, and therefore a reflection upon of the very conditions of its own making—the only manner in which one could “acquire” the work was within the confines of a screen. A Prince-style commodification of social media was apparently never Hawkins’s goal, but rather Instagram served as just one of the many outlets the artist has employed to further his career-spanning investigation of mediation. Whether worked through collage, ceramics, painting, or social media, all mediums are equally privileged within the network that is Hawkins’s art; it is the forum of eventual consumption that dictates in what manner his work should be manifested.

Even after realizing @richardhawkins01 was blocked, I foolishly continued to check Instagram to see if the account had somehow been reinstated. Like bygone Snapchat posts, Hawkins’s catalogue had left the realm of tangible experience to enter into the ether of memory. Though each and every one of his works is stored on some server somewhere in the world, their current inaccessibility suggests the ephemerality of the internet; it is more like a pencil than a pen.

Hawkins recently launched another Instagram handle, @richardhawkins02. Interspersed between new and old erotic collages are quick snapshots of his cats, a couple awkward selfies and suggestive imagery framed with texts on current gay rights abuses. In all, its tenor has some of its predecessor’s flair, though it’s quite clear that the objective is not at all the same. When asked if he ever thought of trying to get the original reinstated, Hawkins simply replied, “Rather than fighting to get it back I’m enjoying the idea that it’s just a used-to-be.” (8)


1 Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (New York: The Grove Press, 1964), p. 127.

2 Caitlin Huston, “Snap IPO: Six things to know about Snapchat parent company as it goes public,”, Mar 3, 2017. Link:

3 Rosalind Krauss, “Rauschenberg and the Materialized Image,” October Files: Robert Rauschenberg (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), p. 40. Originally published in Artforum, December 1974.

4 Richard Hawkins, e-mail message to the author, March 29, 2017

5 Due to the original posts’ lack of proper titles, the author and the artist agreed they would here be referred to here by their file names as kept in the artist’s digital archive.

6 George Baker, “Viva Hate,” Richard Hawkins: Third Mind (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2010), p. 45.

7 Bruce Hainley, “Slowly (2nd Draft),” Of two minds, simultaneously (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König,) 2009, p. 17.

8 Richard Hawkins, e-mail message to the author, January 27, 2017

Top Image: Richard Hawkins/@richardhawkins01 Instagram post dated May 2, 2016. Bottom Image: Richard Hawkins/@richardhawkins01 Instagram post dated December 2, 2015. Images courtesy the artist.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 8 (May 2017)

Olga Balema at Hannah Hoffman


The press release for “On The Brink Of My Sexy Apocalypse”, Olga Balema’s sensuous Los Angeles gallery debut, offers little more than an anecdotal excerpt from Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of The Flowers (1943). While this sliver of the author’s gorgeous prose beguilingly portends the artist’s preoccupation with fluidity, the show’s title is more telling. Given the importance of liminal ruminations to Balema’s practice, it is fitting that notions of porousness and entropy fluctuate throughout her environmental installation.

Central to this trifurcated exhibition is a large room, its flooring covered with pale green linoleum, displaying several low-lying sculptures, including four mattress-like, PVC bags filled with water in which sundry items of steel, fabric, and paper are hermetically sealed. These works set in motion a course of invisible yet inevitable decay. It’s hard not to consider them as bodies; their internalized systems enacting digestion, absorption, and decomposition. Nestled nearby within a larger Day-Glo installation is the uncanny A thing filled with evil streams (2016), an oblong wooden block apparently supporting a partial ribcage replete with vertebrae. A battery-operated cell phone motor vibrates within a niche in the sculpture’s thorax, as if it were on life support.

The accompanying spaces further this current of corporeal allusion through several loose sculptures comprised of fabric, latex, and steel. These skeletal works exude a poetic force more sensual than logical, though not without their own intelligences. Like all the other pieces in this materially thrilling installation, these works don’t so much occupy space as invade it, as a parasite might attach to a host. And what has penetrated a surface must ultimately affect its interior.

Image:  Olga Balema, On The Brink Of My Sexy Apocalypse (Installation view)             Image courtesy of the artist and Hannah Hoffman.

Originally published by Flash Art, Vol. 49, No. 314 (May 2017), pp. 94-95.