Ellen Schafer

Picking through Gold Press’ Pleasure Principle

25 August 2016

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.

Nicolas G Miller ‘Orifice’ (2016). Courtesy the artist, Gold Press + Actual Size, Los Angeles.
Pleasure Principle (2016). Detail of contents w Nicolas G Miller, ‘Orifice’. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy Gold Press + Actual Size, Los Angeles.

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.

Pleasure Principle (2016). Courtesy Gold Press + Actual Size, Los Angeles.
Pleasure Principle (2016). Detail of contents. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy Gold Press + Actual Size, Los Angeles.

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.

The Pleasure Principle group exhibition was on at Los Angeles’ Actual Size LA, running August 7 to 30, 2016.

Header image: Pleasure Principle (2016). Limited Edition Box. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy Gold Press + Actual Size, Los Angeles.

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[We] once became a [cloud]… @ Actual Size LA, Mar 31 – Apr 28

31 March 2016

The [We] once became a [cloud], which became [clouds] that drove each and every one of [my clouds] outside, then played group show is on at Actual Size Los Angeles, opening March 31 and running to April 28.

It comes with a short text that describes what seems to be the nature of the show ahead: artists that work and think like “conversations beginning on the edge of a glut, debt glut, student glut, a laugh from the gallows. Then evaporating. Not adding to monuments but stealing away from the buffet, and taking a bite.”

Julie Beaufils, Sid M. DueñasEdie FakeLauren Davis FisherLee RelvasEllen Schafer and George Egerton-Warburton, the show’s participating artists, famously last year declared their leave in an exit letter to USC Roski School of Art and Design’s MFA program, noting that they were “dropping out of school and dropping back into the community at large”.

Far from quitting art, the group have continued to practice and speak to life outside: practical concerns of money and space, relationships, individual views, and the weight of last year’s conversations.

See the FB event for further details.**

George Egerton Warbuton, The Temple and the Parlor (2015), install shot. Courtesy the artist and Favourite Goods.
George Egerton Warbuton, The Temple and the Parlor (2015), install shot. Courtesy the artist and Favourite Goods.




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Being With People @ Shanaynay, Aug 13 – Sep 10

13 August 2015

The Being With People group exhibition opens at Shanaynay gallery in Paris today and runs until September 10.

The show is introduced only with a series of phrases —”entry sequence and reorder and entry”, “I can only predict where the middle of this body will be”, “thirsty for could” and “I can see you, slipping from sweet to sleep”.

The participating artists—seven in total, all of whom dropped out of the  University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design MFA programme this year in an act of protest —include Julie Beaufils, Sid M. Dueñas, George Egerton-­Warburton, Edie FakeLauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas and Ellen Schafer.

See the exhibition page for details. **

Drawing by Lauren Davis Fisher. Courtesy the artist.
Drawing by Lauren Davis Fisher. Courtesy the artist.

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USC 1st year MFA class drops out

15 May 2015

First year students Julie Beaufils, Sid Duenas, George Egerton-­Warburton, Edie Fake, Lauren Davis Fisher, Lee Relvas and Ellen Schafer have left the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design MFA programme in protest amid allegations of a retroactively dismantled funding model and drastic changes to the existing faculty structure and curriculum.

Here’s their statement:

“We are a group of seven artists who made the decision to attend USC Roski School of Art and
Design’s MFA program based on the faculty, curriculum, program structure and funding
packages. We are a group of seven artists who have been forced by the School’s actions
dismantling each of these elements to dissolve our MFA candidacies. In short, due to the
University’s unethical treatment of its students, we, the entire incoming class of 2014, are
dropping out of school and dropping back into our expanded communities at large.

The Roski MFA Program that attracted us was intimate and exceptionally well-­funded; all
students graduated with two years of teaching experience and very little to no debt. We were
fully aware of the scarcity of, and the paucity of compensation for, most teaching jobs, so this
program seemed exemplary in creating a structure that acknowledged these economic and
pedagogical realities. However, a different funding model was presented to us upon acceptance
to the Program by the Roski administration: we would receive a scholarship for some of our
first-­year tuition, and would have a Teaching Assistantship with fully-­funded tuition, a stipend,
and benefits for the entirety of our second year upon completion of our first-­year coursework.
We, the incoming class of 2014, were the first students since 2011 to take on debt to attend, and
the first students since 2006 to gain no teaching experience during our first-­year in the program.
Moreover, when we arrived in August 2014, we soon discovered that the Dean of the Roski
School was attempting to retroactively dismantle the already-­diminished funding model that was
promised to us, as well as make drastic changes to our existing faculty structure and curriculum.

The Dean of the Roski School of Art and Design was appointed by the University in May 2013,
despite having no experience in the visual arts field. She, along with Roski’s various Vice and
Assistant Deans, made it clear to our class that they did not value the Program’s faculty structure,
pedagogy or standing in the arts community, the very same elements that had attracted us as
potential students. The effects of the administration’s denigration of our program arrived almost
immediately. In December 2014, Roski’s MFA Program Director stepped down from her
position, and was not replaced with another director; in short succession that month, the program
lost a prominent artist, mentor, and tenured Roski professor, her pedagogical energies and input
devalued by the administration. By the end of the Fall 2014 semester, we quickly came to
understand that the MFA program we believed we would be attending was being pulled out from
under our feet. In January 2015, we felt it necessary to go to the source of these issues, the Dean
of the Roski School.

In a slew of unproductive, confounding and contradictory meetings with the Dean and other
assorted members of the Roski administration in early 2015, we were told that we would now
have to apply for, and compete with a larger pool of students for the same TAships promised to
us during recruitment. We were presented with a different curriculum, one in which entire
semesters would occur without studio visits, a bizarre choice for a studio-­art MFA. Shocked by
these bewildering and last-­minute changes, we reached out to the University’s upper
administration. We were then told by the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs that the
communication we received during recruitment clearly stating our funding packages was an
“unfortunate mistake,” and that if the Program wasn’t right for us, we “should leave.”
Throughout this grueling process of attempting to reason with the institution, the Roski School
and University administration used manipulative tactics of delaying decisions, blaming others,
contradicting each other’s stated policies, and attempting to force a wedge of silence between
faculty and students. At every single turn, the Dean and every other administrator we interacted
with tried to de-­legitimize and belittle our real concerns, repeatedly framing us as “demanding”
simply for advocating for those things the School had already promised us.

As of 5pm on May 10, 2015, after four months, seven meetings that we held in good faith with
the administration, and countless emails later, we have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be
working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that
it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by
administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate
with twice†the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with.

Since February 2015, we have communicated in writing to the Provost of the University, the
Vice Provost for Graduate Programs, The Dean of the Roski School, and other USC
administrators that we could not continue in the Program if the funding and curricular promises
made during recruitment were not honored; thus, the University is not blindsided by our
decision, nor has it been denied ample time and opportunity to remedy these issues with us.
Perhaps the University imagined that we would suffer any amount of lies, manipulations, and
mistreatment for those shiny degrees.

Let’s not forget about the larger system of inequity that we paid into to try to get our degrees.
USC tuition has increased an astounding 92% since 2001 (1†), compensation  for USC’s top 8
executives has more than tripled since 2001 (2†), and Department of Education data shows that
“administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and
2009” (3†). Adjunct faculty, the jobs that freshly-­minted MFAs usually get-­ if they’re lucky-­ are
paid at a rate that often does not even reach the federal minimum wage (4†) while paying off tens of
thousands of dollars of student-­loan debt. USC follows this trend of supporting a bloated
administration with whom students have minimal contact to the diminishment of everyone else.

Despite having ultimate power over the program structure and curriculum, our experience has
shown that the administration has minimal concern for their students. Meanwhile, faculty voices
are silenced and adjunct (5†) faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate for students.
We seven students lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait-­and-­switch, and the larger
community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these
economic disparities. What we experienced is the true “disruption” of this accelerating trend.
We each made life-­changing decisions to leave jobs and homes in other parts of the country and
the world to work with inspiring faculty and, most of all, have the time and space to grow as
artists. We trusted the institution to follow through on its promises. Instead, we became
devalued pawns in the University’s administrative games. We feel betrayed, exhausted,
disrespected and cheated by USC of our time, focus and investment. Whatever artistic work we
created this spring semester was achieved in spite of, not because of, the institution. Because the
University refused to honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree-­less and

A group of seven students is only a tiny part of the larger issues of the corporatization of higher
education, the scandal of the economic precarity of adjunct faculty positions, and the looming
student-­debt bubble. However, the MFA Program we entered in August 2014 did one great
thing: it threw us all together, when we might not have crossed paths on our own. We will
continue to hold crits ourselves and be involved in each other’s work. We will be staging a series
of readings, talks, shows and events at multiple sites throughout the next year, and will follow
with seven weeks of “thesis” shows beginning in April of 2016. Our collective and
interdependent force is energizing as we progress toward supportive and malleable spaces
conducive to criticality and encouragement. These sites are more important than ever in the
current state of economic precarity that reaches far beyond the fates of seven art students. We
invite everyone to reach out to us with proposals, invitations and strategies of their own, dreams
not of creating a “better” institution, but devising new spaces for collective weirdness and joy.”


1†“Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System”, Final Release Data,National Center for Education
Statistics, accessed January 2, 2015.
2†IRS 990 Forms FY 2001-­2007, Part 2, Item 25, and Schedule III and IRS 990 Forms FY 2008-­2012, Part
IX, Line 5
3†“The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much”, Campos, Paul F. The New York Times, April 4th 2015.
5†75% of USC faculty is contigent

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