Repeating contours create patterns in everyday arenas both human and non-human, ecological and technological, ephemeral and solidified in mortar. In his 2013 lecture part of the Image Employment exhibition at MoMA PS1, Michael Bell-Smith details the ‘readymade effect’, occurring when users can easily imitate professional production methods: musical micro-genre nightcore garners attention on SoundCloud just by using pitch-shift, and various apps perform graphic design fundamentals directly from an image in an iOS Camera Roll. Opportunities to exercise an entrepreneurial spirit and claim ownership using these procedures have infiltrated most industries and invoke a perverse labor economy. The stakes surrounding ‘prosumerism‘ and the formulaic production are examined in default at Los Angeles’ Honor Fraser, a group exhibition curated by Eden Phair and running from April 30 to June 11.
As detailed in the press release, the lexicon of the readymade was first employed in 1915. In direct conversation with the historicity of the found object, Mungo Thomson’s series Inclusions displays instructional books on home improvement and special effects cast in lucite, proposing unsettling thought for antiquated media formats. Erin Jane Nelson uses a similar historical narrative but bonds it with nowness. Two quilts stitched with video stills from security camera footage used to monitor her dog at her studio, mixes personal with impersonal and tech-solutionism with classical dexterous labor.
Assembly-line factory labor and the readymade came to exist almost simultaneously in the early 20th century, initiating a timeline where formerly scarce products become widely available. Cheryl Donegan’s printed leggings makes note of exploitative factory labor in creating garments, and serves as the foundation of do-it-yourself websites that applaud its users for transmuting kitschy design ideas into a bespoke product. Adam Parker Smith’s sculpture of now-neglected objects from childhood materials suggests that we’re condemned to participate in a consumer stage of the consumption cycle before developing a sense of object permanence.
As Bell-Smith addresses that the panning and zooming action of the ‘Ken Burns effect’ is easily achievable in iMovie, so too do some works in default indulge the conversation around readymade effects that already exist. Conventional video and photo work from Victoria Fu and Guthrie Lonergan comes across as platitudinal by failing to elaborate on the repercussions of digitally automated features —defaults situated around defaults. Fu’s work ‘Belle Captive II’ places found stock videos in front of hazy, pastel-colored backgrounds. As stock imageries and their malleability have been previously explored, in detail, by artists like Timur Si-Qin, Fu’s contribution to readymade outcomes are only a reiteration. Trisha Baga’s piece ‘Competition/Competition’ provokes a more interesting relationship to found objects, incorporating a speculative realist dialect. The silent, single-channel video projected onto a foam board depicts two indecipherable symbols being drawn and then rotating counter-clockwise. As the video is refracted through a water bottle, the interaction amongst the elements in Baga’s work is something one could stumble upon organically —a serendipitous refraction of light in a home office.
In a discussion oriented around the prefabricated, the most interesting works of default demonstrate how conventional objects and patterns are essential to and operate in realms outside of commodity exchanges. Jesse Stecklow and Morgan Canavan’s work is pronounced because it speaks to a rhizomatic non-human affect stemming from human signals and consumption. Copies of The Financial Times covered in mothballs sit atop two metal dog feeders, creating pillars that facilitate human neglect and privilege. Objects can address the animals for us. As Donna Haraway writes in ‘The Companion Species Manifesto‘, “[m]an took the (free) wolf and made the (servant) dog and so made civilization possible.” It’s possible the ultrasonic dog-whistle used in Stecklow and Canvan’s work acts as an authoritative hyperobject, even as its sound is imperceptible to humans.
Manhole covers, a repeating symbol-object in the coded city, created by Miami-Dutch display humans migrating by foot; opacity from the aegis of the underground facilitates continued existence. Three separate manhole covers are oxidized and weathered, framing the human silhouettes as the crest of what could also operate as a coat of arms of the global citizen. Violent national borders and cultural hegemony fold in on themselves, creating an exterior underground covered by heavy lids, a network for subaltern survival. Adjacently is ‘Knotting the Swallowtail’, a tapestry of worn shoe insoles and laces, varying in size and color, hanging from the ceiling. One of the strongest works in the exhibition, Miami-Dutch posits that these objects function beyond an aesthetic signifier of identity. Shoe soles come in contact with terrain devastated by colonialism, nuclear waste and anthropogenic detriment. If manholes create darkness during underground travel and shrouds an accumulation of dirt and mud, light at the end of the journey will allow for an examination of elapsed time and travel.
default makes legible and expands upon the uncertainties originally postulated in Bell-Smith’s discussion of the readymade effect. The works in tandem create an overall feeling of un-resolve, an important foundation in navigating possible futures created by technocracy. The readymade object is often subject to becoming alien, reterritorialized, forgotten. default’s greatest accomplishment is in highlighting when these objects are emblematic of the most paramount human experiences.**