Art Review: Applefaces: Mixing Language and Material, Trying to Find a Voice

The latest exhibition mounted by a group of young artists who operate under a variety of monikers – S.C.A.B., or Homeland Security, or Studio Don’t F*ck this Up (or “DTFU” for short, which, as the misspelled acronym suggests, is already a forgone conclusion) is called Applefaces. It is a group show that explores, according to a catalogue essay by Eli Walker, “how the making of an artwork can be used as communication.” Perhaps the show is more accurately summed up as a consideration of how art incorporates written language in an effort to communicate – or how art can fuse (and confuse) aesthetic and linguistic concerns. In that way it feels inspired – maybe directly, but certainly indirectly – by the Nasher Sculpture Center’s current exhibition Sculpture in So Many Words: Text Pieces 1960-1980. If you’re wondering what apples have to do with anything, Walker also explains that the exhibit title is a mispronunciation of apophasis. Wordplay abounds.

Text is incorporated into most of the works to a variety of effects – kitschy gothic typeface superimposed on 18th Century still life kitsch; letters spelling out a Twitter-like proselytization on a dingy marquee; the itsy-bitsy letters and numbers on the balls of a hand-cranked lottery ball; a somewhat grating floor piece that repeats the word “post” over and over before the final “punk” punch-line, “nth-ing” post-punk, as it were, only not so much because there are all the quantifiable “posts,” printed on a “poster,” right there on the floor in between me and the side of the room I want to get to (I guess we can’t get past it, or over it, yadda, yadda). Kelly Kroener’s Groundwork spells-out difficult-to-decipher words  in a square of sand on the floor, framed by a pure white block of wood, a piece whose romantic and suggestive mix of sexuality, violence, and ephemerality begs to be installed somewhere in the Rockaways right now.

There are also other plays on linguistic and communicative systems, like Alex DiJulio’s Unrelearner, a computer monitor tipped on its back on the floor with tiny rocks arranged on the glass screen. The inclination is to decipher patterns in the spacing of the rocks, its un-packable code analogous to the obscure patterns of ones and zeros that form the basic structure of computer language. Jeff Zilm’s typically clean and formal aesthetic is present here in a small linen canvas that depicts four sets of six vertical lines, intersected by horizontal lines and marked with arranged dots. The uninitiated may not recognize these as guitar chord charts; the non-player will not be distracted by the fact that the repeated chord positions spell-out a measure of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says.”

Next to Zilm’s chords, Michael Corris’ The Birth of Venus from 1984, adds dimension to these various riffs on communication, historically, figuratively, and literally. Repeated phrases (“art is a weapon” and “for art and capitalism”) are arranged in typeface that takes the shape of an anchor receding in perspective into the space of picture frame. It’s a simple trompe d’loeil that unassumingly suggests a multiplicity of readings, from the symbolic juxtapositions of the anchor and Venus (I also see a cross, a shovel, a guillotine), to the tripping-up text and figure – a tumbling mess of signifiers and the signified — all the while poking at its own raison d’être (“weapon,” “product”). It is simultaneously, as Lawrence Weiner would say, “f*cking up our world,” while admitting its own capitulation to the required seduction of the market — a blend of aesthetic, practical, political, economic, and social concerns.

Corris’ piece here stands out, and not because he is the “name brand” artist in the show, but rather because his piece possess a multi-dimensionality, a subterfuging of meanings, an open-endedness, a variety of avenues of entry, a grappling with aesthetic and conceptual suggestion that most of the other pieces in the show fumble because of their very pointedness. If anything else comes close here it is Zilm’s ingenious volume A Null Model, which is left on a shelf in the exhibition space, 500-plus pages of jaw-dropping dot/slash/and dash doddles that are endlessly inventive.

Image: Alex DiJulio, Unrelearner (2012). Computer monitor, rocks. 14x16x16.5″ (Image courtesy of DTFU)