Revalue, Reanimate, And Recirculate: Interview with Cooper Jacoby

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THOMAS DUNCAN: Though your work finds form in a wide variety of ways and continues to evolve, the notion of circulation is evident throughout. More specifically, you allude to systems of circulation and their potential for disruption or blockage: from acupuncture flow charts to drainage systems to bee pollination to the postal system.

COOPER JACOBY: You could say that choke points and clogs are where systems cease to be ambient. The fatigue between input and output, or the waste that escapes its joints, can contour the exchanges, scripts, connections, and scale of apparatuses that typically recede beneath attention. To detect leaks in engine systems—such as a car’s A/C system— manufacturers will inject a liquid dye into the part and then watch for this penetrant to bleed through all the hairline cracks, condense around the pinhole perforations, and pool in blocked valves. I try to approach other systems, other black boxes, in a way like this, looking for the traces of where they strain, what they leak, where they drain.

TD: Your work is dedicated to material as much as it is to concept. Do you set out to find new materials to explore, or do they come to you through your research?

CJ: Most of my focus in materials comes laterally, in non-sequitur ways. It gets redirected by applications, bizarre sub-industries, or histories totally askew of what initially guided my interest. Deliberately or not, a lot of attention is spent tracing how materials categorized as “waste” orbit through after-markets that revalue, reanimate, and recirculate them back as inputs. In following these streams from liquidation back to exchange, a sort of narrative streak becomes intelligible. One material that I’ve incorporated and tracked like this is Fordite—it’s essentially industrial waste made ornamental and wearable. It’s the sedimentary aggregate of layers of excess paint that would encrust on auto assembly lines and equipment when parts were sprayed by hand. After this process became automated and residue-free, many of the people who saved this material (mostly sub-contracted industrial janitors) auctioned it on e-commerce sites, where it’s then shaped into jewelry. Given the rarity of this pseudo-mineral, the speculative price for a limited resource has surged. It finds its way back upstream.

TD: Upcycled.

CJ: Sure. Where an upcycling, cottage industry polishes foul slag into a collector’s item, converting shit into gold.

TD: Further to that notion of materials, do they always harbor particular significations or are they materials that just speak to you? Like the potential toxicity of lead, for example, that you employed in your solo show, Deposit, at High Art in Paris.

CJ: I don’t typically think in those distinctions, but hopefully these two registers—reference and materiality—remain inextricably knotted in the work rather than easily parsed. Materials can be employed as relics, dramatized as raw evidence, somehow more immediate than representation. Or they can be retailed by their technique, like a trade fair demo, where it’s all about an evaporating novelty of, “Look what we can cut, look what we can print!” Often these treatments present objects that are far less potent than their actual counterparts, desaturated by being filtered through art. In the work you mentioned, lead isn’t exemplary as much as it is contradictory. Its total impenetrability against vision, its use as a barrier to the toxic light of radiation, is set against images of total porosity, the deep machinic gaze of X-rays encased within the damaged mailboxes. Consider how its surface slowly leaches a carcinogenic oxide, yet it’s a preventive, medical cladding. In this way, lead upends the polar terms of a “benign” or “toxic” material. These categories for diagnosing the material become even murkier, given the fact that what appears to be the “animate” subject—the living tissue in the dead hardware of the mailboxes—is in fact X-rays of an autopsied mummy.

TD: You mean that the imagery that appeared in those works, of the bones, was actually an x-ray of a mummy?

CJ: Yes. So the figure becomes invested with a sort of vitality as an image, yet it is un-exhumable, fully entombed. When learning that early X-ray technologies were calibrated on plundered mummy bodies, which could essentially be scorched in experiments without impunity, I began to consider how biological life could undergo a sort of reanimating phase change, from historically dead to visibly alive, from tissue to image, and the slippery idea of what’s the “living” substrate here.

TD: I find this relationship between the biological and the man-made a particularly engaging aspect of your work. Can you talk a bit about your more recent work, which is modeled on urban beehives? There’s an intriguing combination of sustainability and control in those works, one that will potentially be further explored and complicated in your upcoming solo show here in L.A.

CJ: Those works stem from an urban beehive prototype that the company Phillips designed as part of a “microbial home,” a luxury domestic ecosystem where the functions of the home are supported by appliances that run on symbiotic “natural processes.” In the original beehives, bees ostensibly fly into a biomorphic glass dome, wherein the apartment inhabitants can watch and eventually harvest the honey that the colony produces. Taking the shape of the optimized honeycomb membrane, I’ve remolded this cavity with scrap materials that have undergone transformations or several states, akin to how pollen is imported, digested, and regurgitated into the architecture of the hive. What’s harvested here is not honey but aluminum. The work composites the hive together as an exquisite corpse of this single material: bonding recycled aluminum foam, casts of hives in impure aluminum, and hexagonal heat sinks. Hopefully, the closed-loop bubble and design fantasy of the Phillips prototype gets somewhat contaminated by substituting the regurgitation of one resource with another.

TD: The systems you explore in your work are ubiquitous (the body, postal networks, doors, electricity). In essence, they offer a nonexclusive entry point into an intellectualized output—anyone seeing your work will already be aware of these systems, even if only superficially, but your work upends them, inverting or subverting them for its own purposes. Specifically, I’m thinking about the disruption of the electrical system in your past show at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and Deposit at High Art, as well as the flooring context in Stagnants at Mathew.

CJ: The world’s hardware tends to obscure the many frictions that are internal to it. Exerting pressure on these interfaces is a way to raise the vein, so to say, on these sheathed, repeated processes. With both of the works you cited, the space’s infrastructure is stressed into visibility by rerouting different forms of circulation within them. In the case of the lights, it’s altering the input of current to the light fixtures so that the waste mercury calcified at the ends of expired fluorescent bulbs is overheated, glowing again like candles. In the case of the grating, it was approaching the exhibition as a sort of sieve over which people traverse, filtering human traffic as a passing material. Both induce a purgatorial state—either a stuttering between function and failure, or a precarious levitation where one is neither quite fully within nor outside.

TD: Moreover, you work from series to series and do not resuscitate bodies of work; you have a discrete working method, which results in a cohesive yet impermanent output. Is this because each exhibition calls for its own conditions that need not be replicated once staged? And further to that, do you feel the steel grate flooring in Stagnants that we were just talking about—which also appeared in your Frieze NY solo presentation—are two parts of the same output?

CJ: I wouldn’t say that I periodize my work with a sharp cut or approach it through the exhibition form alone, but restlessly shed and shift parts of work before they congeal into a modular template. Maybe because much of my focus is oriented towards how certain materials are digested, I often cannibalize my own bodies of work. Both the mailbox and gutter works are structured around how a diagram of a single anatomical figure—the acupuncture meridian system—extends through infrastructures that process remote inflows and outflows. To your other question, the floor that was originally in the Stagnants show was first used to compress an already small, open-sided space into an image, appearing continuous with its outside since the grating extended from the window to the back. When I found out that the foundations of most art fairs are built from the same type of grated steel platforms, I wanted to double this substructure back onto itself, making the suspension of the fair redundant and nude. By total happenstance, the substrate of the works on the wall—a high-performance paper honeycomb used as a filler in vehicles—uncannily resembled the cheap honeycomb cardboard cores of the fair walls.

TD: Right, art fair walls also employ an interior hexagonal structure, like the kind you find in doors.

CJ: Exactly. So the work created a type of skinned twin of the architecture, like a second glove in a pair, pulled inside out.

Cooper Jacoby (1989, Princeton, NJ) lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany. Recent solo shows include Stagnants at Mathew in Berlin (2016), DEPOSIT at High Art in Paris (2015), and White Flag Projects in Saint Louis, MO (2014).

Image: Stagnants (installation view), Mathew Gallery, Berlin (2016)
Courtesy of the artist and Mathew Gallery, Berlin/New York

Originally published by Mousse, April 10, 2017

Chadwick Rantanen at team (bungalow)

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When taking in the work of Chadwick Rantanen, death doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, its currents ripple throughout Alarmer, the artist’s current solo at team (bungalow). Housed within the show are deer and duck decoys as well as fly and rat traps—items designed to facilitate the demise of living beings through attractive, and deceptive, strategies. In reality, though, Rantanen is less concerned with the end of life than in the deceitfulness and potentiality inherent to such objects.

Comprised of just six works that make shrewd use of team’s interior and exterior settings, Alarmer is by turns a continuation and a departure for Rantanen. Works such as Triple Play Motion Doves and Crow Spread (all works 2017) exemplify tactics of intervention and restructuring that have been central to the artist’s practice. These sculptures incorporate bird decoys whose battery components were retrofitted to accept Rantanen-designed adaptors, enabling AAA batteries to operate instead of AAs—an action that frustrates and ultimately deteriorates their intended functionality. To keep them active, the artist’s winged adaptors will need to be replaced by gallery staff and, eventually, their owners—making clear that for Rantanen, his art is not only the interrupted object set adrift, but also the temporal and quasi-site specific activity that it facilitates.

Unlike the artist’s manipulation of mass-produced objects, works such as Hanging Strips (Yellow) and Admitting (Green) are entirely of his own design. A multi-part flytrap and an oversize rat trap, respectively, they offer an abject take on objectified duplicity, even if their hardened glue is incapable of ensnaring vermin. Admitting (Green), the show’s most dissonant and engaging work, commingles allusions to a rat trap and a hospital admitting room, allowing that we are all subjects of deceit as much as we are perpetrators of it. Despite such caustic allusions, moralizing is not the takeaway from Alarmer, but rather it’s that Rantanen’s art renders unseen systems visible, highlighting that potential can be seized even in the most familiar of places.

Image:  Chadwick Rantanen, Alarmer (Installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and team (gallery, inc.).

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 30, 2017

Die Kränken at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

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A form of nostalgia pervades artist collective die Kränken’s multifaceted exhibition Sprayed with Tears, currently on view at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Its accompanying text states die Kränken (“the sick” in German) “strives for new strategies of queer radicality”—yet, their exhibition is surprisingly dedicated to the past. Sprayed with Tears centers mostly on the history of the Blue Max, a Southern California gay motorcycle club, and their fetishistic garb, ritualized performances, and subcultural codes.

Dominating the downstairs portion of the exhibition is a projection of die Kränken’s captivating reinterpretation of Blue Max’s annual performance. Installed opposite is a decorated bar that serves as an approximation of the Black Pipe, a now-defunct leather bar, and subject of frequent LAPD raids. Illuminating archival biker footage and multiple framed prints round out the installation. The second story mezzanine is dedicated to a suite of 16 adroitly designed bandanas that contemporize the hanky code, an antiquated means of signaling to others, precisely what your kink is via colored handkerchiefs.

That these emblems are of a gay male identity that is either bygone or evaporating as a result of homosexual assimilation into heteronormative society is of apparent frustration for die Kränken. However, their reevaluation here seems less an attempt at actual resuscitation than a stopgap measure against total erosion of certain gay lifestyles. As such, Sprayed with Tears functions more as a self-conscious throwback during an era of widespread gay visibility, and suggests that this very visibility will eventually be a corrosive force for queer subcultures. While die Kränken’s retooling of gay motorcycle club activities sheds light on prior homosexual appropriation of a straight counterculture, it doesn’t assertively suggest what such a model should be today—leaving one asking when does fetishized nostalgia end and new queer radicality begin?

Image: Die Kränken, Black Pipe Intervention (Video still) (2016). Image courtesy of the artist and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 15, 2017

Creature at the Broad

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On the surface, museums dedicated to private art collections seem more like glorifications of investment than valorizations of creativity—though what comprises a collection makes clear on which end of that spectrum it truly is. When billionaire philanthropic and art-collecting duo Eli and Edythe Broad—whose surname appears on virtually every cultural edifice in Los Angeles—announced plans to build a museum to house their own art collection, it was more a given than a surprise. Yet the mystery lay less in the couple’s imminent desire to construct a monument to their art holdings and more in how this collection-cum-institution would actually function in an age of global museum expansion and private foundation proliferation.

At the time of the Broad’s inaugural exhibition, the reviews were almost exclusively negative, with many critics pointing out the installation’s safe, art market-approved homogeny. It is true that the collection is overwhelmingly comprised of blue-chip, auction-sanctioned art; however, “markets always distinguish between what’s salable and what’s not, but they can’t calculate quality.”1 Thus the real question is: Can vital, culturally significant exhibitions be mounted purely from such dedication to art’s established markets? If Creature, the current exhibition at the Broad, is any guide, the answer is probably not.

Regardless (or possibly because of) the collection’s oft-cited limitations, Creature’s thesis seems willfully porous. Its introductory wall text states, “We navigate constantly a fluid zone between our instincts and our learned behaviors,” and goes on to posit that “art can reframe—at times even rupture—preconceived or stale notions about what it means to be human.” Certainly, the conflict between our instinctual, desire-driven selves and the body as a physical, mental and social construct makes for an intriguing and fertile exhibition context. Yet such curatorial succinctness was either unattainable or was simply not the goal here, as the wall text goes on to state, “this exhibition examines the wide-ranging terrain of creaturely life, from everyday animals to extraordinary monsters to human beings.”

With these additional obfuscating layers, Creature becomes a nebulous, rambling display that is essentially split into three commingling divisions: tension between subjectivity and societal systems (Baselitz, Golub, Wojnarowicz), corporeal spectacle (Houseago, Koons, Murakami), and zoological allusions (Balkenhol, Basquiat, Vaisman). Unsurprisingly, the latter two’s respective sensationalistic and non-human qualities irreparably compromise the integrity of the former. For instance, Andy Warhol’s The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) (1963), which opens the show, is an appropriated image from the 1931 film Dracula, in which the titular vampire prepares to feast on his female victim. In this context, Warhol’s screenprint sets an unshakable art-as-spectacle tone, one that is echoed by Thomas Houseago’s monstrous Giant Figure (Cyclops) (2011), Tony Oursler’s suspended cloud Dust (2006), and Takashi Murakami’s inexcusably misogynistic sculpture Nurse Ko2 (Original rendering by Nishi-E-Da, modeling by BOME and Genpachi Tokaimura, advised Masahiko Asano, full scale sculpture by Lucky-Wide Co., Ltd.) (2011). The exaggerated and uncanny nature of these and other works injects the physical aspects found in the work of Kiki Smith and Cindy Sherman—to name just two—with a debased, overly theatrical tenor.

This is not to say that Creature does not incorporate exceptional artwork. In addition to excellent pieces by Georg Baselitz, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, and Ellen Gallagher, is David Wojnarowicz’s Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986), perhaps the one work in the show that perfectly ticks all three of Creature’s thematic boxes. It makes sense, then, that it appears both at the beginning and end—due to the show’s circular layout viewers experience this particular work twice. The Broads own at least three of Wojnarowicz’s works and, according to the museum’s website, they were acquired in 1986, a time when the openly gay artist was authoring intensely personal, visceral reactions to the AIDS crisis era in which he lived (he died from the disease in 1992). His work’s inclusion here is an absolute highlight, one that is tinged with the sadness that seemingly very few works of this kind of zeitgeist vitality have found their way into this collection.

Put simply, Creature favors spectacle over substance. As a result, continually urgent issues of race, gender, sexuality, and governmental power that could have been more potently explored are either ignored completely or are dealt with in a sublimated manner indicative of “the synthesis of contemporary art, spectacle and tourism that has already triumphed in much of the world,”2 leaving the show’s potential for examinations of “the body” in any other sense than corporeally largely untapped.

Notes

1 Knight, Christopher, “An early look in the Broad museum reveals a show that doesn’t quite gel,” Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2015.

2 McDonough, Tom, “Complacency in Crisis: On Jeff Koons at Versaille,” Texte Zur Kunst, March 2009.

Image: David Wojnarowicz, Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986). Courtesy of the Broad Art Foundation and the Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 7, February 2017

 

 

Sam Durant at Blum & Poe

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Last fall, Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant built The Meeting House, a temporary structure that served as the framework for several “lyceums” (lectures, performances and poetry readings) on the history of African-American relations to Concord, MA, where the project was staged. Build Therefore Your Own World, the artist’s current solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, largely stems from the activities that took place during the project’s run. The result is a densely layered, demanding installation in which disparate histories and narratives are woven together to form new, synthesized wholes.

Appearing first is Every spirit builds a house, and beyond its house a world…Build therefore your own world (2017), an enormous, four-part installation in the form of a wooden house that is constructed from the floorboards of The Meeting House. Painted on each partition are texts by four African-American poets that were commissioned for the Concord project, setting the literary-minded and racially-conscious tone of the show. These allusions to the inseparability of race from the written word are repeated elsewhere in the exhibition in works such as Erasure, Appearance (Garrison’s Walking Stick, Thoreau’s Pencil) (2016) and Transcendental (Wheatley’s Desk, Emerson’s Chair) (2016), in which items owned by Concord’s transcendentalist writers penetrate those owned by former slaves, astutely suggesting that the freedom of thought enjoyed by writers such as these and the history of black servitude are inextricably linked.

While Durant’s fused histories successfully underscore America’s centuries-spanning intractability with race, the exhibition frequently buckles under the weight of its myriad literary, cultural, social and historical references. Though these multifarious allusions reflect the complexity and uneasiness of the subjects explored here, reading of the checklist’s didactic blurbs and diagrams is a prerequisite for full engagement with them. As a result, navigating the exhibition can at times be more frustrating than rewarding.

Image: Sam Durant, Build Therefore Your Own World (Installation view). Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Joshua White.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, February 1, 2017

 

Paul Sietsema at Matthew Marks

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Los Angeles-based artist Paul Sietsema has long been praised for his film work, though recently the artist’s practice has been mostly dedicated to painting. Accordingly, of the fifteen total works that comprised his recent solo at Matthew Marks’s L.A. outpost, only two were films, both of which had already appeared in the artist’s previous show with gallery, in New York in 2014. The remaining thirteen pieces were exquisitely rendered photorealistic paintings on canvas and paper. To merely describe the impeccable illusionistic qualities of Sietsema’s paintings would do a disservice to the mobilized concepts of temporality, obsolescence, and circulation that determine their production. Regardless of medium, Sietsema’s project can be seen as a self-reflexive analysis of cultural production, specifically the distribution status of art objects—from exhibition to acquisition to their dissemination within the culture industry.

For this exhibition, Sietsema chose the color green as a catalyst. Among the color’s myriad significations are fecundity, inexperience, envy and greed, the final the  show’s most salient. Most works directly address or incorporate money in the form of coins, credit cards, dollar bills and percentages, while others variously allude to age-generated value, museological effects and painterly processes. Sietsema’s chosen color emphasis plays out in the main gallery’s installation in a wittily entropic manner, commencing with the chromatically saturated Green painting (all works 2016), moving towards the lichen hues of 1997 and 1998, and ending with the relatively pallid pairing of Telephone painting and Figure ground study (50/50), both of which employ green only sparingly. This flow from purity to dilution hints at the eventual rupture of artistic, technological, and financial systems. As such, Sietsema’s indefatigably analogue works find themselves becoming increasingly relevant in the face of digital omnipotence. Indeed, his unrelenting reliance upon and allusions to outmoded technologies (as in Telephone painting’s rotary telephone) uncannily address the speed of evolution and the inevitability of obsolescence.

Image: Paul Sietsema Figure ground study (50/50), Ink and enamel on paper in artist’s frame
54 1/2 x 59 3/8 inches (138 x 151 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks, Los Angeles

Originally published in Flash Art, vol. 49, no. 312, (January/February 2017)

Nate Lowman at Maccarone

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Nate Lowman’s New York solo debut in 2005 presciently gave the art world something it dearly wanted: a brash, critically indifferent, and smug handling of subject material deployed by an aspiring artist-persona. Ultimately, what made Lowman so successful was his glib drive to appropriate common vernaculars and parlay them into structurally seductive, highly desirable art commodities while maintaining a socially aware, flippant remove. A decade on, the balance has tipped.

Immediately upon entering Lowman’s current solo at Maccarone’s cavernous Los Angeles outpost, the viewer is confronted with the gigantic Untitled (2013-2015), a 50-part, painted representation of the United States, installed on the gallery’s central wall. The canvas used in each “state” was purportedly birthed from the production of other Lowman paintings—here the artist makes rampant use of the indexicality of dripped paint on drop-cloth, not so much as a means of analyzing the material labor of painting, or even that of its socio-physical constructs, but to further the saleable combination of trite bohemian gestures and attitude-as-product ethos that has always been his trademark.

The nine serially produced paintings hung on the flanking walls manage to recall early Sue Williams and late Julian Schnabel alike, but do little of their own accord. In them, perplexing texts such as “Tae Kwan Do,” or “Ask the Dust” are slathered over images of Earth as seen from the moon. At his very best, Lowman holds a knowing mirror up to American society, exposing its base and illogical desires. Indeed, it’s not hard to draw parallels between the vapid, cocksure grandstanding that held so much sway on November 8th and Lowman’s baroque excursions on view here.

Image: Nate Lowman Untitled, 2013-2015. Mixed media on canvas dropcloth, 168 x 336 inches (426.7 x 853.4 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Maccarone New York and Los Angeles
Photo: Joshua White

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, November 17, 2016