2.12 / Review

The Immortal

By Carol Anne McChrystal February 21, 2011

A low-frequency tone permeates Queens Nails Projects. It’s a dreadful hum: doomy and gloomy, a humid sort of white noise hanging heavy in the atmosphere. Paintings and other objects hang, are propped or stacked, or lean against one another and the white walls. Fist-size holes in these objects allow viewers to see the collages, screen-prints, and hand-markings on canvases partially hidden beneath. In each work and throughout the exhibition, these holes speak to their remnants: positive and negative spaces yearn to be one and the same. Simultaneous presence and absence is the logic that rules in artists Facundo Argañaraz’s and Chris Hood’s exhibition, The Immortal.

Sheets of MDF bisecting chair frames transform into three-dimensional partitions and surfaces on which to mount images. Walls become paintings on which more paintings hang or lean, becoming sculptures in their own right. Paintings become walls with peepholes through to other flat images. Sculptures and stacked paintings become pedestals and, alternately, housing for books. Sotheby’s auction catalogues, science fiction novels, old guidebooks to contemporary art, architecture, and living environments are neatly clustered within the works, like Easter eggs. Every object is both an obvious prop of high art and, conversely, a fetishized version of itself. Their presentation here obfuscates the relationship between an original and its copy by not ascribing priority to either. It unhinges the act of reproduction and pries open the fluid, temporal relationship between production and reception of an art object, an ideology, or a commodity.

The clean lines of the Modernist aesthetic utilized in The Immortal are apparent as a tension between objects as themselves, rather than between objects as stand-in representations. The artists present objects as they are, in most respects only “tastefully” modified; their precious auras remain intact. Together and apart, every object both represents and is a commodity object for sale. The paintings—stewards of the imagery but not ideology of a Modernist agenda—signal a dynamic in which utopian vision mushes up in a regression toward the mean. As the Hammond keyboard (a rare collector’s item) that emits the drone-tone betrays, idleness and catatonia take the place of subversion or ruptures in the status quo. In such a world—one that echoes the world of the Immortals in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story—death is a welcome release from boredom. 

Argañaraz and Hood don’t simply reiterate a style, but consider the way in which style is an arbitrary form that can be taken up to any end—applied to an ideological set, popularized as fashion, or serving as whimsical cultural debris. The Immortal collects and consumes shells of the Modernist model as if to imply that they are empty signifiers—aesthetic strategy is extracted, decontextualized, and fetishized.

Chris Hood. Gelasenheit, 2011; metal, glass, enamel, books, oil, and powdered ink on canvas in nine parts; approximately 72 x 50 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Facundo Argañaraz. DCS01371, 2010; acrylic, silkscreen, and transfer on canvas; 68 x 54 in. Chair, 2011; acrylic and transfer on canvas; 60 x 53 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

By the same token, the houseplants that adorn the exhibition are not representations of the ways nature is tamed for decorative ends. The houseplant, here embedded in Table (2010), which transforms a Plexi painting/shipping palette into a coffee table/contemporary sculpture, isn’t a reference; it is the fucked-up-object it always is in the larger world that continues to talk about use and understanding of the natural world. Neither manifestation is truer than the other.

In light of this, a perceived subservience to the culture industry comes into question as the driving force behind The Immortal. In his short story, after which the exhibition takes its title, Borges writes, “Indoctrinated by a practice of centuries, the republic of immortal men had attained the perfection of tolerance and almost that of indifference. They knew that in an infinite period of time, all things happen to all men.”1 Through use of such a Modernist framework, the gallery becomes a monument, a reminder of an ancient paradigm that is and always was mere stylistic variation in the face of means-ends rationale of late-stage capitalism. On the whole despondent in tone, The Immortal implies that a willful removal of primacy from all objects and images in the space might illustrate the junctures between objecthood, ideology, fetishization, and commodity. The end result, however, is that of a psychic tomb, where such ideas are co-opted—where everything has already eaten itself, vomited itself, and eaten itself again.

The Immortal creates this ouroboros, but the loop reveals a more complicated relationship between Modernist aesthetics and the commodity realm. In this model, the ideas of form, function, aesthetics, and ideology tentatively collapse when considering each object. Such a relationship that displaces any sort of privilege granted to an object siphons the last drops of critical power from the ideology at hand, an idea that’s illustrated succinctly in Untitled (Flowers) (2011). As with Modernist painting tactics, abstracted contours of paint convey flatness, and non-figurative composition draws attention to the convention of painting itself. At the same time, however, this gives way to the decorative, representational, and relevant but inane: cats and flowers. Though rendered in paint rather than thread, and hanging on the wall instead of lying on the floor, Untitled (Flowers) is an almost exact iteration of a pattern printed on a decorative rug for sale at Urban Outfitters.

Though in some ways compelling, visually clever, and potentially conceptually terse, The Immortal raises one question in the wake of the futility illustrated—why use art to make this point? Doing so engages in an artistic trumping game, where the end results are either to render the mode of production dead or to resurrect it; the crux of this game lies in the same boring, calculated, and circular topical discussion of art school rhetoric. By critiquing the problems inherent in the production and reception of art within the bubble of ideological frameworks, Argañaraz and Hood’s strategies, working wittily from the inside out, may not be enough to evoke the concept that such a resistant ideological framework is never separate from the commodity culture that initially produced it. At its logical extreme, The Immortal offers viewers yet another set of readily consumable objects.

 

The Immortal is on view at Queens Nails Projects, in San Francisco, through February 26, 2011.

 

 

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NOTES:

1. Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Immortal,” in Labyrinths, ed. Yates, Donald A. & James E. Irby (New York: New Directions Publishing, 1964), 114.

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