Apr 1, 2013

Joe Smith, David Petersen

With gesture to Curtis.

This work is not after viscera, but viscera as a signifier, held at the distance of interpretation, behind glass, as if for want of study.

Cinema, an object that denotes its construction allowing the construction of the narrative of its making.
As an instance:
Smith hefted the beams, which are heavy and unwieldy and have not an uncertain violence and “inserted” them into the bucket.*
This is narrative, the work presents this, it is hard not to imagine this, we imagine this. The buckets with strange othery blue, drawn up through capillaries, exuded and dried and crust.  Salts crust and form, on the lips of the bucket, on the shaft of the pillar. The pillar erect, exerts itself both on-top-of and into the hole that is the bucket filled with inky blue, the blue of urinal cakes, heavy detergent, the nightmare black of subconscious chemical toilets, bleaching an erect shaft.  The beam presses and dwarfs the bucket, and despite its referential stability, if tips, is going to be a salty fucking mess. One might say the wood domineers the bucket. This the same beam that Tuazon committed an “architectural attack” with in a large way.  Here reduced to human scale, this beam limp, hanging, but erect. A log penetrating a bucket.  
Another way: Joe picked up his cigar and submerged it, extinguished it in the chemical bucket. This has connotations. Joe did this. This has connotations.

Buckets of blue chemical, pillared, stab struck, and wet.  A bored hole wetted white.  Blankets, of the softest baby styles, others coarse, messed. made a mess of.

The difference between the works which denote acts, reveal a maker and thus a distance - we see the remnants of a struggle, but not ours, this is the blue buckets, the paintings, this is joe’s issues, this is cinema, we’re watching Joe - between this and the works that do not reveal their hand, hide their maker. These instead infer a stage, utilize theater. These latter, “theater” works, allow a viewer only themselves in relation to the objects, infer a stage. Rather than display their maker’s interaction, remnant and possible psychosis, a stage implies you as the actor, gives you the agency. This is the psychological and theatrical space of minimalism, amplified by a “situation.”  There’s nothing particularly inapt about beams running across a gallery, but why does it feel so violent, such an act of ownership, of seared branding, stretching out to say this is the space I need.

The question operates in Smith’s work whether the “projection” and interpretation is coming from the analysand (object) or the analyst, and whether this distinction matters (I don’t think it does in art), and but really whether this analysis reveals something about the work (the artist) or about the viewer confronting objects.
This is the sinister feeling operating in the work, like the psychoanalysis problem, a tension of not knowing whether a “transgression” is a sign of deeper issues, or, simply, not. Or whether it is actually a transgression at all? You Bring Only What You Can Carry, scrambling to make sense of why two beams stretched across a room causes a drop in temperature in the space between genitals and anus. Is this Joe, or is this me?  this tension of psychoanalytic dubiousness. Are the kids alright? Is my sexual deviance normal? How would we know when there is no outside empirical marker from which to judge?  This the tenuous horror of living in your own head.
The question leads to nothing but a recursive self-analysis of “he said, I said, who said?” murky vagueness of anti-empiricism that probably allowed for Freud to steamroll psychology in the first place.   

little pictures of self-help books held asunder, reduced to an image that holds them forever, held in fine contemporary frames, preciously, sentimentally, lovingly, how a photographer would depict a child’s teddy in worn torn countries: with nice lighting.

The work’s fetish confuses contemporary art fetish, and “real world” subconscious repression.  When this connection is overt, say in the relation between contemporary painting, mawkish paint, anal expression, and childhood blankets it borders on ciphers, connecting references to establish a sentence spoke.** However, it becomes weird and unspeakable when there is a discrepancy between from where references form and their relation to the space, as in the two rafters hanging. This is amplified by the theatrical relation of ourselves to the "situation." As opposed to seeing it at the distance of Smith’s narrative remnant. This is pre-language. With the rafters it becomes convoluted describing what makes them connote such violence.  This has nothing to do with reducing it to formalism, or stripping connotations.  The rafters have many. I could begin to describe this, but you would give me a look.

Smith presents artificially conflated scenarios, critical sites for the recursive questioning of pyschodynamics’s developmental signifiers and defining of pathology.

In A Theory of Values, Smith’s backroom installation, a work I will dub “the science fair” set. Compared to the glossed, super-contemporary, axiomatic structures from which to hang loaded acts, baggage, the “science fair’s” understated lo-fi display was uncanny and without reveal, without the yuck-factor of plastic wrapped baby hair.  Instead, the science display said nothing.  It didn’t even reveal anything about paper towels. It just shone, really well, in the sun, while paper absorbed wetness. It existed as an ambiguity of whether this was in fact weird, latent, absolutely repressed or, maybe, totally fine. The lower lowered towel implies, however euphemized to the point of loss, a gesture which gives nothing and is given to mean everything.***

This is exemplified in the photos of nondescript pastoral scenes, also scenes of brutal crimes, where there is both nothing and everything wrong.

Smith removes a signifier from its context, and displays it in the hermetic, vacuous, and suffocating gloss of contemporary art. Showing how at once the fetishistic act of display (literally fetishistic in the original sense of placing “unnatural” importance on something in the wrong context, i.e. the foot removed from locomotion, and inserted into sexual desire) can become violent, removing it from the real world of proper signification and not the fictive art-verse.  Which is, this removal of proper context and common sense explanation, exactly what psychoanalysis did and art does. That it is simply Art that makes it wrong. That maybe the kids are just fine.  A kid’s science project inserted into Art creates the sick feeling of what exactly this thing is doing here, besides cooling genitals.  A magazine page limply tucked between glass.

This whole writing entirely and blatantly ignores a discussion of formal concerns that are undoubtedly very important.
*As per an argument held, I assert: it doesn’t matter whether or not Smith actually did it, or who did it, Smith wanted it there, Smith is the one who bears responsibility for its existence.  (Obviously if Smith was having child laborers do his bidding this would affect the meta-narrative, but that doesn’t ring here.)
**which, with the current vogue of the highest form of sublimation in painting: post-neo-geo-nonobjective-painting -w/discursive-referent (gentle abstraction) to see somebody who in fact desublimates to the point of infantilizing and idifying painting is really really satisfying, pleasant even, even if it can be read as a pun on painting: “we’re all just covering our blankets in euphemized feces.” Smith gets a pass on this one.
*** This is a fine line for Smith to toe, and all the more difficult when even grad students have trouble with it, walking around repeating "I don't know, I don't know" and then even going so far as to translate their "I don't knows, I don't knows" into international art english and publish it on MN websites.  I generally think if you don't know, then work is probably pretty good, its the work that's readable that we should be worried about.