The multi-disciplinary show is placed within the “conditions of white supremacy” and will include a large-scale painting among performance, film and figures made of wax. The press release notes that his work A Unified Theory of Love will be central to the presentation and looks into the mechanics of “objectification and dehumanization”.
Buckley is a Black British artist of caribbean and Irish extraction who now lives in New York. A 2015 graduate from the Yale MFA program, he also recently completed the NY Community Trust Van Lier Residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Programme (ISCP) where he presented solo exhibition The Demon Of Regret (2016).
Buckley makes work by taking influence from daily life, societal horrors and mainstream media, and is heavily influenced by theories on post-colonialism and narratives from the Science Fiction genre.
For The Demon of Regret the Leeds-born, New York-based artist and curator, who is currently in residence at ISCP, has made an immersive installation with a bright red floor comprised of large drawings, a video and some wall-mounted relief sculptures called My Clone Sons depicting curators and auctioneers based on characters created in Buckley’s previous work.
You could be forgiven for not noticing where the art begins. A strange and wonderful effect of the Wet Eyes exhibit at Meyohas, running November 20, 2015, to January 10, 2016, —an apartment gallery on the Upper East Side—strikes me on my second walk through the pieces. The works and space bleed into each other, jostling in a friendly way to determine the context for all the other art. The result is multiple and simultaneous contexts, a tapestry of meaning that shifts with the eyes’ movements. I start on the carpet past the kitchen, and notice how dirty it is. Shapes are scrawled into it. I find myself peering down, discovering my immersion in ‘rosie path; magic carpet’(2015)by Daniel Klaas Beckwith, a carpet dirtied and scrawled with symbols. The overall impression is of hieroglyphs chalked into a rug. A number of the images clearly represent objects –there is a sword and saw, for example –while others are more ambiguous. A crozier and cross shaped patch suggests traditional insignia of a bishop’s authority, a fascinating evocation of hierarchy and authority which lies only a few feet from another ambiguous image, one that looks a lot like the Zen enso, the incomplete circle representing totality, emptiness and infinity. After a few minutes of peering at the carpet I’m struck by my physical posture: crouched, bent, unconsciously remolded to decipher the world beneath my feet.
When I raise my eyes to the wall on my left, I see a small black frame holding a glossy black square, with small white letters at the bottom. They read: “If you’re reading this, you’ve been in a coma for just over six years now. we’re trying a new technique to reach you. we don’t know where this message will end up in your dream but we hope we’re getting through. please wake up! we miss you very much.” This is ‘pervert’s lament’ (2015)by Joseph Buckley. Oddly titled but entrancing, this piece plays counterpoint to Beckwith’s ‘rosie path…’. Where that one leads to a subtle deepening of my sense of embodiment through the search for meaning, ‘pervert’s lament’absorbs me by causing a moment of hyper-awareness and reflexivity about the divisibility of consciousness and physical reality. Looking up from the words’ invitation to dream in a coma, I see a disembodied faceless head, and realize it’s my head, its features obscured in the blank black surface. By peering at the words in the frame I become part of the art, absorbed literally in its frame, figural and literal, a kind of allegory of a mind lost, enacting the text itself. I step back into the world around me as if stumbling from a trance.
Crossing the carpet with ‘pervert’s lament’I see Buckley’s second piece, ‘Pervert’s Lament’ (2015), an equally oddly titled installation, capitalised this time. The windows of the gallery have been covered with a matte black material. All exterior light is blocked and only the artificial glare of the ceiling lamp is reflected back into the room. The effect on the windows of Meyohas is almost medieval, like a diabolical corruption of stained glass. Enframing the entire living area its effect is subtle, altering the environment in which the other works are experienced.
Walking across the bare wood floor to peer at the blackened windows I nearly stumble over Beckwith’s second piece, ‘Spelt’ (2015). What appears to be a pile of Lucky Charms half spilled from a plastic bag lie on the floor, as if a hungry and lazy toddler had given up its snack in boredom. Amused and curious, I once again find myself looking at the ground, this time to discover that the pieces are each handmade and don’t conform exactly to said cereal’s pattern, although the marshmallows look tasty. There are symbols I don’t recognize. Like the carpet, they suggest meanings but stop short of saying anything definite. My amusement mingles with fascination and admiration, for upon closer investigation I discover two things at the same time. First, I’m crouched almost on my knees, my body once again suborned in the task of decipherment, and second, the pieces of cereal, while still amusing, begin to suggest a syllabary of a language I didn’t know. Part nonsense, part child’s play, yet interpretation all the way down.
The penultimate piece that greets me as I continue my walk is a video by Zak Arctander, ‘Taconic’ (2015). The first moments of the film are scenes of the construction of the exhibit itself, and close-ups of artist and curator Sarah Meyohas, owner of the eponymous gallery, which then morphs into a juxtaposition of slow-motion walks through Manhattan and shots from a car on the highway. Many of the shots come from Arctander’s commute into the city, but the rapid cuts between shots and the film score produce a highly eerie effect, as if something is about to happen. The blend of sudden changes in music across a variety of styles along with images of pedestrians in New York creates a sense of mundane enchantment and strangeness. It’s a dense four minutes of visual meaning that invites interpretation yet resists description.
By this point an overarching effect of the Wet Eyes exhibition is sinking through me. I feel as if there is a conspiracy among the pieces to evoke the sacred in the mundane, to highlight the semantic possibilities of everyday objects and spaces as charged and unstable carriers of significance and interest. If only one looked at the world askew, took time to bend one’s knees or reflect on the light bouncing off the windows, eyes closed in a sun defying sleep, mirroring the world in a room back to me.
Whether by the alchemy of happy chance or Meyohas’ curatorial skills, the last piece I visit seems to contain in microcosm these nudges towards transcendence in the world, not beyond it. A porcelain-tiled booth protruding from the kitchen wall is covered with a velvet curtain hanging on a shower rod. I step through it and enter Jonathan Mildenberg’s ‘Conversations’ (2015), which looks like a bathroom. It could be a shower or toilet stall, except the actual toilet and shower are missing. The tiles are on the outside, like an exoskeleton. The interior is painted a boring color, the kind you might expect if you bred a strip mall with the average commercial bathroom. A metal bar on the back wall greets my eyes, which then see a white towel folded up on the floor, a foot from a mirror on the right wall. The mirror’s size and position means I can only see the middle of my legs. Curious. I’m about to bend down when a puff and then mechanical noise startles me. I looked up to see – and smell – an automatic air freshener dispenser high on the left wall. I turn down to the towel, this time struck by its positioning and the shape of the room, which could as easily have been a prayer closet for a hyper-sanitary suburban monk. To see one’s face in the mirror requires that I kneel down onto the towel. Because it’s an artwork in a gallery, I do so gingerly, already amused, intrigued, and slightly disorientated by the room and its purpose. Only when I am fully in view of myself do I experience a strange sense of wonder. Here I am, kneeling reverently in this ironic room of bodily cleansing, sheltered from the rest of the gallery by the dark velvet curtain; for the third time bent over, halfway towards prostration. This time, though, I’m comfortably settled on the towel beneath me, my knees firmly on the ground towards which Beckwith’s pieces have already pulled me twice.
Exiting ‘Conversations’I feel the softness of the curtain even as I leave Meyohas and drive back to Brooklyn. Absurdity and childish play is somehow seamlessly woven into a search for meaning; silliness and sacredness merged in mundane objects and images. Transcendence and prayer in a shower stall, accompanied by puffs of air freshener. A metaphor, an allegory, perhaps, of modern America’s tangled relationship with bodies and meaning –sacred and secular? **
Situated inside a soon-to-be swanky building, already demolished and built up again, the exhibition press release hints to a certain impermeability within the evolving world: “Years from now, it will still be here, as it looks now, when we see it from above on Google Maps, or look in the front gates on Street View.”
Accompanying the exhibition’s opening is a series of performances by three contributing artists: Joseph Buckley‘s at 19:45, Jack Jubb‘s at 20:45 and Liv Wynter‘s at 21:30.
Partners, a group exhibition of work by Darja Bajagić, Patrick Groth, Michael Handley, James Miller and Hans Jacob Schmidt at London’s Lima Zulu, is about a lot of things. It’s the name of a pub in New Haven, Connecticut, for one, immediately contextualising the content of the show and demanding meditation on its curation by Joseph Buckley. Conversation with the IJV co-founder, ex-director and now Yale School of Art colleague to the artists featured was challenging and to some degree, so was the exhibition. An air of familiarity required a prior knowledge of what was going on, and deciphering artistic practices within these relationships took time.
The friendship between the Partners artists (they came to know each other at a bar in New Haven, Connecticut of the same name) was certainly part of the curatorial process, and although its title stood as a constructed red herring, it was actually very apt. Rather than distracting the participant from the relevant themes within the show, it provided a familiar suggestion of the context, not only in which the show and works were created, but also in which we all exist. This might sound quite abstract –and in many ways, the main ideas behind the show were. The paradox of logistically putting together an exhibition in which the themes investigated stand without structure is a challenge that many curators are faced with, and Buckley certainly seemed to explore this.
It was partly about the process of putting together a show, and this issue of practicality grew from existing as a very modest concept into standing as a very important one. The organisation involved a lot of communication, and in this way the exhibition stands as a medium for conversation. As in any curated exhibition, the pieces themselves also communicated with each other. Upon entry, Hans Jacob Schmidt’s ‘Structural Ornament’ conspicuously dressed the show space floor with vinyl lettering, while the pressed and folded coins of Michael Handley’s ‘Daniel Predicted It?’ also took up the physical floor space that would usually be taken by a gallery visitor. On the wall of the single-room gallery, a small sculpture by Darja Bajagic, ‘ForScan Plasters (Fraud)’, facing two other paintings: ‘Book Cover #2’ by Patrick Groth, and ‘Untitled’, by James Miller. The space was smaller than expected, but provided an ideal platform for visitor and works to interact, and for such spatial conversation to develop. This process of moving through the latter as a way of getting to the former was especially striking, and certainly helps create the form of the exhibition.
Engaging in a shared conversation –a general conversation about any of the separate concepts operating in each work -puts artist and curator in the same creative framework, and the anonymity of both roles within this infrastructure was mentioned by Buckley as a point of interest. The ambiguity, and the disclosure of certain things, allowed for specifics to be recognised –and for a particular time and place to be highlighted within the relationships held by those involved. It’s no coincidence that you become friends with those you work with. The curator noted that he was mostly surprised by how much of himself he found in the art pieces; by what chimed within him throughout the curation of the show. Such elements of the work exist anyway and without being arranged, and for Buckley, much of his practice centred around allowing for these personal affiliations. By choosing not to control the work, he binds them together, highlighting the shared attitude that the pieces illustrate.
It is evident that Partners is more than a group exhibition in that it is a social position held by those involved. Although it might best enjoyed by those occupying said position, it maintained a bold and curious manner that has clearly been thoroughly worked through. It illustrates the pragmatics of Partners as a context, explicitly investigating curator-artist collaboration and process.