CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco
September 11 - 29th, 2018
Unlike the typical, somewhat portentous activation of the white cube by way of performative dance, which has so intervened into more conventional exhibition programming over the past five years, Adam Linder’s “Full Service” at the Wattis posits the space itself as a paying client — gallery-goers are merely witnesses to the fruits of predetermined transactions.
Purporting to simultaneously thwart the taboo of the spectacle and reclaim the lure of individualistic virtuosity from the still-popular Judson/Rainer-esque utilitarianism that has permeated much of contemporary dance, Linder applies his consignable conception of choreography to the problematics of the service economy. Here, as is often the case, dance becomes intrinsically linguistic, framing a battery of questions: What precisely it is that the body does, or is doing? What does it remember? How does the body use its own specific experiences and conditions to turn its movements, learned or otherwise, into code or inscription? And — most relevant to the economic context within which Linder couches the political aspect to his work — how are such bodies compensated?
With a strict schedule of certain performances taking place on certain days, the show begins with a work perfectly emblematic of Linder’s nod to questions surrounding conditions of labor. Some Cleaning (2015), true to form, involves a single dancer making her way all around the perimeter of the gallery while signifying the washing of walls, sweeping of floors, and shining of surfaces with pantomime sincerity. In the gallery behind, a more complex artistic commentary titled Some Proximity (2014) unfolds. With three male dancers, hunkered in separate corners of the room with their own folding chairs and towels for their requisite breaks, the performance introduces language to movement through recitation and written text. Each dancer, over the course of the extended duration of the performance, takes turns taping large sheets of chicken-scratched notes onto the gallery walls, listing aloud the seemingly arbitrary observations scrawled therein. This activity is set to a deep, ambient soundtrack. Unbeknownst to viewers, the text is culled from a local art critic’s impressions on current exhibitions around town. While hanging papers on walls and reading the critic’s notes that reference “Andy’s piss paintings,” for example, the performer’s bodies twist and contort as they loop the paper around themselves, straining their necks in order to read their script. Though the energy is somewhat frenetic, the movements themselves remain smooth and gliding, and the performer’s pristine white tennis shoes rarely lose contact with the concrete floor as they moonwalk in no particular direction, as though there were some invisible wire around which their bodies unfailingly teeter.
The looming politics of the disconnect between labor and value to which these works allude is a conundrum that, depending on which end of the professional spectrum you fall, affects many within the creative industries writ large, but pervades broader swathes of the art world specifically. Few other commercial or cultural enterprises rely so heavily on the physical and intellectual work of often unpaid — and almost always underpaid — individuals. Like Linder’s unconventional roster of dancers and performers, whom he chooses not necessarily or solely for their formal technique, but for their character, cerebral work, and skill, the artist is utilized and exploited within both the art market and academic discourse not for an ability to work effectively as an administrator, but to have a compelling personality, specialized knowledge, and direct access to as vast as possible a network of advantageous players. With “Full Service,” much as the title implies, Linder emphatically focuses the exhibition on its very operations, even going so far as to invite Berlin/Los Angeles based Shahryar Nashat to create a sort of artistic time card for his dancers to symbolically punch. With that in mind, Nashat devised a wall piece that consists of five pink bulletin-board-like panels that feature copies of Linder’s contracts with the Wattis, detailing rates of pay, hours worked, and terms of service for each of the five performances that the institution bought. Each service commences with one of the dancers taking a large, sculptural, rope-textured frame off of a hook on the wall and haranguing the contract pertaining to whichever of the performances they are about to carry out. By so dogmatically highlighting the professional and industrial reality of the dancer’s work, Linder adjudicates the financial and hierarchical inequalities that plague contemporary art.
Whether or not the service economy, of which Linder conceptually refers, is most pertinent to the current conditions of the intersection between trade and value is somewhat questionable. Most economists trace the initial shift of the American economy from an industrially-centric to significantly service-based entity to the early 1990s, obviously long before the internet was introduced into our daily lives. Around 2005, though services remained in high demand, the attention economy became prevalent, as online traffic increased. Today, approximately a decade into life with iPhones, Twitter, Instagram and the rest, while both services and attention remain crucial forces that drive virtual marketing, the economy is geared instead toward efficacy, centering on the manipulation of AI, machine-learning, and big data. The services that both individuals and companies provide for customers are based not on interpersonal encounters but more often on routine and delivery, simulating the sensation of something custom-made through a series of algorithmically ranked personality traits that you provide through all of the choices and preferences you convey through digital behavior. In that context, Full Service seems, in fact, to make the case for the specialization of dance as opposed to the regulation of other monetized forms of labor — though nonetheless understood as a job done and paid for.
Come & Go
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
July 2 – August 22, 2015
To view twenty years of someone’s life stitched together through countless photographs is to simultaneously construct and dissect a web of stories, timelines, relationships and characters. The snapshots that make up A.L. Steiner’s exhibition at Blum & Poe depict moments from the past two decades, during which she has worked independently and collaboratively as an artist and community-building activist, some seemingly pivotal, but most—as is so often the case with snapshots—clearly prosaic. The central installation, Selexxx: 1995-2025 (2015) consists of a wooden construction—a hybrid of desk, benches, and a card catalogue-like cabinet, which serves as the archive for almost 19,000 4x6-inch prints. Both functional sculpture and interactive installation, Selexxx can also be understood as a performative work in progress, which affords visitors the opportunity to find their own routes through the possible narratives therein.
At the desk, an archivist retrieves photos requested from the archive. Viewers select from an index of 160 collections, organized by headers such as “babies,” “bathrooms,” or “Paris 1999,” among the many other places, events, names and dates. Collections range in size from five to more than a hundred photos, each presented to the viewer in a brass tray.
Selexxx stands squarely and authoritatively in the center of the gallery surrounded by large prints and even larger photo collages hung on three of the four walls. The fourth wall presents a licensed, projected live feed from the website Worldometers, which displays up-to-the-second statistics in various categories having to do with global economics, public health, and resource and energy consumption. Steiner’s projection draws specifically from key environmental stats—rates of deforestation, soil erosion, CO2 emissions, desertification and toxic chemical emissions. These ever-increasing numbers reveal a frightening macro-perspective that poignantly frames the intimate narratives within Selexxx’s time capsule-like microcosm, thus creating both social and personal parallels on the discrepancies between universal, impending catastrophe and individual, continually shifting timelines.
CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco
January 21 – April 18, 2015
In their first solo show in the U.S., the Belgian duo, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys fill San Francisco’s Wattis Institute with varying tones of blankness. In the main gallery, upon entering, one is oddly “greeted” by a plethora of tall, stark white paperdoll-like figurative, steel sculptures titled, The White Elements (2012). Each is thus topped with a scribbly pencil drawn portrait of an indiscriminate face. This sculptural installation is complemented by Untitled (Public Transport) (2013), an equally, and clearly purposely rendered, unmemorable set of drawings of, as the exhibition’s title claims, trams, buses and their plebeian passengers. These are the kinds of faces we pass by each day on the street, in the subways, at the supermarket, the kinds that one ignores and does not get caught up in, so as to go about their business without having to face – pun intended – the difficulties and complexities that are the lives of others, while at the same time continuing to sink ones own soul deeper into the screen in hand, the task ahead, their own day’s impending end.
It is this feeling, this type of knee jerk reaction to lower the lids of one’s eyes rather than confront strangers, that it seems Gruyter and Thys at once bring to the fore, and yet at the same time allow us to further indulge ourselves in. These sculptures are there and yet the space feels empty. It is not a particularly fun show to look at, but rather perhaps to reflect upon a week or so later. Strangely, in the adjoining large space, filled with boring, white, folding chairs, a large projection of a video titled, Die aap van Bloemfontein [The Ape from Bloemfontein] (2014), plays that, to the contrary, is both colorful, historical and somewhat narrative. Here ancient and weathered looking busts gradually morph into real people, whom still appear as random and indistinct as those in Gruyter and Thys’ drawings while a voice-over of a dialog between two pieces of fruit drags, meaninglessly, on and on.
Curated by Olivian Cha and Eli Diner
Aran Cravey, Los Angeles
May 17 – June 28, 2014
With this group exhibition, guest curators Cha and Diner consider the Decorative Arts and their separation from much of ‘serious’ contemporary art. The seven artists thus apply decor, design and pattern-making to their processes, commenting on the divisions drawn between the two genres. Though we often think of Decorative Art as pertaining solely to domesticity, the context of the home is also found at the root of many important works of contemporary art, (think Mike Kelley’s epic Mobile Homestead parked determinedly in front of L.A.’s MOCA for the next few months).
The front gallery is swathed with Joshua Nathanson’s grey-tone, pictorial wallpaper, Dirty Beach (2014), creating a quaint 1950’s atmosphere reminiscent of powder rooms long forgotten. In the foreground stands Pyllis Green’s steel sculpture, L12 (Duchamp Party) (2001), which seemingly combines the structures of an old dress form and a tea sandwich pedestal. Two similarly cup-oriented, ceramic works by Joan Bankemper are perched on a wooden shelf. Each has repurposed the familiarity of the classic coffee mug into miniature totems that resemble other abstracted serving devices.
Patrizio Di Massimo’s work evokes the core of comfort – the bedroom, and more specifically, the bed itself. His plush, pink sculpture made of stacked puffy round cushions, Cushion no 3 (Portrait of Eliza) (2013), also stands in front of Nathanson’s wallpaper, reacalling the kinds of little girl’s bedrooms that most of our mother’s probably had. Around a corner one is lead into an intimate, carpeted hallway, titled, The Lustful Turk (Souvenir) (2012) that includes a singular cushion on the floor with a gold tassel whose long rope winds along the carpet and up the wall where its then dangles downward, calling attention to a small oil painting. Most importantly, this show proves that these artists are unafraid to transmit the detailed and at times messy qualities of the most private sector, the home, into the white cube, where they admittedly feel at once cozy and yet a bit over-exposed.
Ratio 3, San Francisco
February 21 – March 29, 2014
Buck Ellison’s self titled, first solo exhibition at Ratio 3, humorously and slyly takes the affluent, American upper crust as its abstracted subject. Bright and sharp, Ellison’s photos catch snippets of the quintessential country club air. Rolex Jump, CHIO Aachen, Design Frank Rothenberger, Cardinali-Rothenberger GmbH (2012), a crisp, press worthy shot of a classic green and yellow, freshly manicured equestrian riding field complete with Rolex sponsored jumping mounts, is juxtaposed with haphazard studies of mundane objects such as trash bags and fennel stalks. In each of these two compositions, In a weak moment, and Only the horse knows how the saddle fits, (both 2013), the backgrounds are made of forms and test sheets filled in with scrawled handwriting and pages from magazines featuring home décor and young entrepreneurs. Others like Zahnarztsöhne (2013), both celebrate and probe the simplicity of understated luxury staples by honing in on just the middle section of a polo shirt, so enlarged as to pronounce its textured grain, teased threads and its familiar striped precision.
Ellison is traditional in that he produces straight-forward meditations on specific objects, including range rovers, fresh octopus on ice and shingled country homes. However, his images also possess a composed, premeditative quality akin to the flattening effects of advertising. It is almost as if while meandering from image to image within the gallery one were casually flipping the pages of some glossy catalog. Through this ultimating perspective, common scenes like those so simply captured by Ellison’s camera, take on a representational character in which a husky becomes the husky, a country home becomes the country home.
Ellison not only presents a colorful slice of stereotypical Americana, he also takes landscape and portraiture to their reflexive -- even absurd – limits. The show congeals around a deeply felt tone of restraint. Like the high-brow world Ellison pieces together, with each image distinctly placed apart from one another on the gallery walls, a unique blend of branding and conservatism is crafted.