As far as hard-worn gallery rules are concerned, it is typically frowned upon to handle the art. Yet, the limited edition box-set Pleasure Principle, and its subsequent gallery manifestation of the same name, running at Actual Size LA from August 7 to 30, invites you to do just that. Published by the independent Los Angeles-based Gold Press, Pleasure Principle brings together works by eight artists that tenaciously and inquisitively amble into the conversation surrounding desire, gender, repression and eroticism in 2016.
At its core it is a project about tangibility, the existence and celebration of ‘the thing’. Each artist acts as a contributor of a limited run of identical pieces, to a box-set of art objects. Without any infrastructure, these objects are free to exist within the confines of the opaque box. Their meaning and power are only known, and enhanced, once taken out and gone through.
The box is a pleasing piece in itself —about a foot-and-a-half wide with a sheeny-black finish, the title in silver foil stamp adorns its top: “Pleasure Principle”. Once opened we’re greeted with a soft-to-the-touch, light pink, wooden plane, only interrupted at its center by a smooth-edged hole. As the surface is flush with the walls of the box, there’s only one way to remove the wooden piece; by inserting a finger (two won’t fit) into the small opening. As you remove the object you realize you’re holding the first piece, a sculpture by Nicolas G Miller, aptly titled ‘Orifice’ (2016). Supported by four silver legs, the piece can be enjoyed when held, but is also free-standing and independent.
Beneath Miller’s work lies the remaining contents in a multi-textured pile. The objects resemble the innards of a chest of mementos, waiting to be picked up and thumbed-through. They range from the mid-coital string recreation of a pair of mating damselflies in Tom Trudgeon’s ‘Horny Damsel’ (2016) to the more clinical, but no less tangible, transcribed conversation between artist Hailey Loman and her co-working volunteer’s relationship to family, finances and mortality, whom the piece is named for; ‘Ming Yan Gu – Folder 1’ (2016). Both pieces tackle the themes of the show in their entirely opposite ways —Trudgeon’s is mounted like a trophy and encased in golden packaging, Loman’s is slender and commonplace, like a book ready to be archived.
Ellen Schafer’s ‘Just Do It, Champion!’ (2016) and Gray Wielebinski’s ‘Flat Gestures’ (2016) emote sensuality and eroticism through their amorphous and tactile qualities. Schafer’s piece comes in a small microfiber pouch and is the size of a cupped palm, dingy-gray in color. Made of silicone it imitates the feel of human skin. Weiblenski’s piece features abstract and flesh-toned digital remnants from scanned porno films, printed onto a silk charmeuse scarf, contorted by sewn-in metal hooks.
‘Untitled’ (2016) by Benjamin Reiss evokes both suppression and frustration. Made from multi-colored acrylic pieces it is on the heavier side, it features an organic, candy-orange colored blob within the confines of clear, hard plastic. The piece in whole is abstract, but its physical presence is demanding and reminiscent of the seemingly impossible-to-open clamshell packaging that will either injure you or drive you insane before it gives way.
The more narrative and recognizable pieces are Mark So’s ‘beautiful clear day (reading the Laud Humphreys papers)’ (2015) and Sam Bloch’s ‘Touch My Body’ (2016). A cassette tape and a zine respectively, both utilize their respective formats to further the conversation begun by the other artists involved, and in doing so, further diversify the conversation at hand. ‘beautiful clear day’ features So’s voice monotonously reading aloud the homosexual happenings in various public places, first observed and penned by sociologist Laud Humphreys in 1970. Bloch’s zine takes the form of a descriptive and erotic in no way fan fiction about Mariah Carey.
The surreal and seemingly unassociated pieces in this box find a surprising clarity in their unity. This is on full display in the gallery show, on at Actual Size in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, which itself inhabits a box-like physical space. The intimate single room that houses the various works has them laid out along floating shelves against the walls. In the center of the gallery, piled geometrically into almost a pyramid formation, are the remaining editions of the black boxes. The box at the peak lies open, revealing the pink and inviting brochure bearing the project’s title.
Visitors are encouraged to pick up the pieces and explore the works with more senses than just sight —questioning suppressive gallery etiquette and ultimately making a complementary comment on societal expectations and the desire associated with the tangible world. This organized group of art objects joins the commonplace 21st century conversations surrounding gender and eroticism and approaches them holistically and honestly. Although the themes discussed are historically taboo, Pleasure Principle gives us pause and time to wonder about how much longer that might be the case.**
Exhibition photos, top right.