primordia in simulation
on the work of artist Clare Gatto
He was holding his face together when I realized I had to clean up the mess. I slowly adorned myself with mask, gloves, rolled up my sleeves, was told to roll them back down, and spread super-absorbent powder as if throwing rice at a wedding. I began to scrub the blood into the woodgrain of the stadium benches. The powder turned everything to red jelly and I felt lightheaded: it was hot and crowded and I was sweating over this newly-coagulated pudding. The trash bags I held were marked “HAZARDOUS WASTE,” and I contemplated the fuss made over one man’s fluid, how I was protected from the vitality of someone else, and how he was protected from the internal-ness of himself. Staring down at the fresh abstraction of blood and bits, I suddenly felt part of my own very separate pod, quarantined by the fear of myself and the fear of others.
How we articulate the body is most often in external terminology, at a glance, and in passing. We refer to it in very certain, abrupt terms. Normatively and stereotypically, we both assess and erase the body. The image and screen-based works of Clare Gatto at first appear to obfuscate boundaries of a normative body. Using 3D scanning software, freckles are transformed into black holes, entire grafts of skin stretch out before the viewer to form a barren landscape, and humanoid globs continuously transmute themselves, forming new shapes and textures. A closer appraisal of the work sends the viewer into pool of comfort and familiarity, as if sliding into a warm bath. What once appeared hostile is now melted candy and flowers, the adornments and excesses of a material culture now made essential to the makeup of this primordial scene.
As consumers, we are steeped in material. The definition of material is slippery to us: in a sense it is all genuine content, and in another, there is a distinct hierarchy. Artificial bouquets at a dollar store are advertized as “flowers” while junk mail is advertised as a letter from a dear friend. “Real” now depends on the intention of the consumer, and judgement of real versus fake is dependent on context. We could be living on the precipice of the post-uncanny; no longer shocked by the realness of the fake or vice-versa. In actuality, we’ve begun to embrace the unknown between the two, and to find solace in it. The real is dwindling. It is almost not mattering. So when facing the work of Clare Gatto, the viewer is alured by the jolting, red textures, but not baffled. Clare has captured the middle place between recognitions----a state in which we as consumer bodies often find ourselves---where we are left to our idle thoughts of obtaining or retaining. Much like Goya urgently painting Saturn Devouring his Son, Clare has created an ouroboral state in which we are both consuming and consumed.
In this comforting, undulating world, fully simulated yet fully uterine, the consumer products begin to obscure and fall away just as soon as they’ve arrived. What we are left with is an abstract yet mountainous landscape of skin. The humanoid globs have grown hair and emerge like driftwood from a muddy pond. We enter the hair. We exit the hair. Momentarily, we question the identity of this body, but are quickly flipped into the next tight spot between crease and stretch. In this space, there is no urgency nor time to identify what or whom. The scene has no certain weight: the globs could be lighter than air, the mountains lighter, or everything could be sinking. The scene provokes feelings of being intimately inside and yet the modeled formations are casually aloof. They exist without our involvement in a space activated not by our exploration but by it’s own momentum. In an act of overwhelming indifference similar to the changing of the tides, the work of Clare Gatto sets us adrift further into this middle place.
The Song Remains The Same: the Cult of Heroism in the Time of the Anti-Hero
on the work of artist Eric Broz
In the newly minted dormroom of a college freshman, hung proudly above the futon he will both piss and receive fellatio upon, taped on three sides with the fourth edge already curling, is a poster of Al Pacino, Tupac, Bruce Lee, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, or the entirety of Led Zeppelin posing casually in front of a plane bearing their name. These are the over-saturated images of college-poster-heroes, dubbed worthy by semi-suburban media conglomerates, reinforced by an unsuspecting demographic. The portrait of the hero is just that and little else, an infinite assignment of impossible meaning onto the metaphorically large shoulders of a champion from a bygone age. It has all the trappings of a content-rich narrative, yet its atoms have been split so many times in the name of mass-appeal that even the mention of this portrait echoes out in mirror-like waves and then collapses into itself again.
The portrait of the hero is completely collapsible because, alas, the hero is dead, and has been for some time. The notion of the mighty hero, solitary and dignified, died years ago potentially unbeknownst to many. Perhaps it’s because we find ourselves distracted by layering our humor in anti-humor, changing flippancy to deadpan seriousness, and disguising our malaise with the faux-earnest check of the compass on our iPhone 7s Plus. To us, both subject and object bleed into one collective consciousness, are then simmered, reproduced, simmered again (this time ironically), then printed out with a tie-dye border for wider consumption everywhere. But what happens when we begin to tear at the edges of the hero-portrait? Poking at these at these pillars of post-adolescence, these icons from a “golden age” when the physical world was as unobserved as the lack of it now, will that deflate the current moment, exposing an interior to what Neil Young once called Sugar Mountain and Josh Tillman most recently referred to as Magic Mountain?
When approaching the work of Eric Broz, the narration begins: “We find our hero…” probably in the midst of some picaresque in which inescapable danger has approached. This trope is perched upon the probability that “our hero” will overcome, but remember, our hero is dead. His ashes have been recycled into newer narratives of ironic nostalgia and aesthetic failure. What’s left is only the portrait, the fanboy-recreation under duress and with limited means: the internet and student loans. The next step in our hero’s journey will always hinge on survival, but survival can take many forms.
The golden age of cult-classics has experienced a sort of rebirth in a time when nearly everything is a cult and nothing is a classic. Star Wars, from its jokey resurgence in the early aughts to its current status as empowering and disney-fied, has existed always in two camps: new and old. Revered more among self-proclaimed aficionados are the “timeless” but aged Episodes IV through VI. This camp falls into a category for purists, but as it has already been observed, nearly everything is a cult. In 2017, everyone is a purist. It is a time when capitalizing on trend is nearly second-nature, and coasting the wave of human fascination is now a survival strategy. So, to assume that a reference to Star Wars is an easy punch for the sake of nostalgia is to fall short of a complete understanding of its entrenchment in whatever shape pop-culture has taken these days. In the spirit of that notion, let us delve head-first into the multiple performances of the artist-as-C3P0. In multiple performances, Broz creates the simulacrum of the autonomous robot-sidekick with materials reminiscent of a semi-homemade halloween costume. If anything, the uniform reads “burgeoning comic-con attendee” more than “startlingly accurate LARPer.” In addition, the body of the costume is an all-encompassing lycra suit, known as a zentai suit, originating as a fetish material, but later repurposed for halloween, cosplay, and green-screen chroma-keying. The mask is an unmistakable caricature of the original C3P0, however the illusion seems purposefully broken when the artist moves his head to reveal the elastic strap. Through a series of trials, the robot-likeness blunders naively, although the slap-stick has been given a sardonic makeover. Trading in the obvious body humor for cynicism, Broz uses the costume as a bait-and-switch, ultimately revealing a bit of elusive truth about the human actor beneath the robot veneer.
Consistently throughout both sculptural and performative works, Broz enunciates the role of the multiple and the dismembered or disfigured body. What results is a feeling of blasé immobility: C3P0 wading through a lake searching for his lost golf-ball or trying to drink Miller High Life even after multiple thwarted attempts, a drawing of Vault Boy (of Fallout 4) halved and quartered, a large grid of movie dogs who “die at the end,” but will ultimately be recycled for the next Air Bud. All this, wrapped inside the container of the screen, the photograph, or collaged with repurposed materials and recycled narratives, results in a flattening of experience. The viewer is eagerly given the reboot but is refused the original trilogy.
notes on: Future Research
from "Future Research (revisited)" by Chris Cox
“I spent as much time as I could alone in our room, trying to empty my mind of every thought, to forget where I was, even who I was….I decided to put on his clothes. This gave me such intense relief...I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again.”1
To focus on even the title: Future Research (revisited) is to be forced into a cyclical story. It is here where the journey begins, or rather, continues. Merely viewing the work is to be in the act of dismemberment, an act of pure fetish. The viewer must contend with the violence of this act or exit the work completely.
My first attempt to identify the male bodies in each photograph left me startled. Are they idealized bodies or are they idealized in their own ambivalence? They are truly striking bodies, whether in the use of a photographic chiaroscuro or the likeness they hold to the Summer 2003 Abercrombie and Fitch of my dreams. In my first viewing, each photo contained its own strange sexualized mystery.2
In terms of gesture, the bodies in question appear overly-earnest, perhaps earnest to the point of abstraction. The gestures are echoes of an unknown origin, perhaps iconographic, perhaps embedded in an art historical context, but ultimately point back to the group of bodies as one unified whole. Once dismembered, the earnest gesture becomes absurd, divorced completely from its original body and context. What remains is a series of clues: a furtive glance, a male nude à la Wolfgang Tillmans, or a hand pointing skyward in the style of Raphael’s School of Athens. What does each movement connote? Who’s fucking who?3
These questions aside, each configuration of images speaks to the act of collection, of a culture of fetish, of objectivity, and maybe, a culture disassociated with or disinterested in the physical body. The tactility of the photographic prints mirrors the acts of touching, grasping, and caressing in each image. It leads me to implicate my own observation as an organ of touch in the face of image, lens, or screen. Is this the new culture of touch? Is to see now to feel? Why am I left feeling incredibly conflicted and cold? The images elicit a sense of deep intimacy but as a viewer, I am continually removed, whether because of repetition in imagery or distance, personified. Somewhere, someone is screaming, “Look at me! Love me!” while someone else, much closer, is whispering, “No.”
The various arrangements of prints within the principle photograph suggest a sense of care, of thought---a workspace in which abstract notions become concrete two-dimensional planes. The studio-as-backdrop serves as yet another layer of workspace that alludes to the incubator or womb: the site of production and reproduction. The layered nature of each photograph suggests the complex nature of human expressions such as desire, intimacy, and sexuality. Within this investigation of human expression lies an active artist---constantly reconfiguring, re-imaging, and revisiting. What he discovers in this rumination can be felt subconsciously, similar to the way one experiences their first inclinations of desire for another.
1Quote for A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I included this text to demonstrate the nature of our artist’s thought process in the creation of the works. It may also serve as a literary touchstone for understanding the relationships between the artist and his group of male models in terms of friendship, tenderness, and the idiosynchronicity of human relationships.
2Mystery, in this context, can refer to either the common definition of mystery as something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain, or, the Catholic convention of a mystery as a meditation on the life and death of Jesus Christ. In terms of viewing the work in either context, one must be cognizant of the way a life can be influenced and therefore repressed by a force as monolithic as western religion.
3A common question posed by our mentor and fearless leader Liz Cohen in her attempt to understand the dynamics of this group of models. Are they friends? Are they lovers? What is the nature of each relationship? She sought definition in order to generate meaning from content, however, I counter her argument. Allowing actions, sexual or otherwise, to creep into abstraction, sans meaning, has generated enough content to satisfy my wildest dreams.