In eXhibitions, we bring the conversation to the artworks, discussing art from within the context of its display. Here, our two interlocutors engage the sculptures of Harry Dodge in a speculative tête-à-tête-à-tête, while on site for the artist’s Works of Love at JOAN, Los Angeles, July 8–September 30, 2018.
Scene: an airy, seventh floor gallery in the garment district. Twelve sculptures by the artist Harry Dodge—vivid, quasi-abstract figures constructed from various industrial materials—are evenly spaced on the floor or on plinths. The walls are white; large-paned windows give onto panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and the mountains beyond. LATE AFTERNOON. A door opens: two humans, Brian Karl (1962) and Olivia Mole (1975), enter the room.
Accidental Megastructure (2018) greets them as they enter: a crude, open-mouthed Incredible Hulk mask, impaled on thick aluminum pipe, its sightless eyes patinated by rivulets of blood-red. Its cocked smile proclaims it a martyr to love.
@briankarl When confronted by something like this, I have to ask: is it a warning, or a challenge? This cheap Halloween mask held aloft and staring us in the face from the get-go—a low-rent, B-movie “abandon all hope ye who enter here” gag—makes me wonder how seriously we’re supposed to engage with it. Funny, yes, but tell me why this assemblage isn’t just garish, heavy-handed: “Look at me!”
@oliviamole Ask them yourself.
@briankarl Hey, you there—are you “good-ugly” or just ugly? Or just contrived?
@accidentalmegastructure ahh what’s with the sour face ? come on pucker up – gimme some sugar sweetie
Further inside the room stands Pure Shit Hotdog Cake (2017), an anthropomorphic figure with solar-panel mitts and a urethane wiener for a head, strapped in place. Dry waterfalls of colored resin pour down its ten-tiered cat-tree body. It presides over the room like an outrageous queen in a candy-fountain crinoline. One small used paint can remains on a ledge just below the wiener, winking broadly at the joke of making the sausage of art.
@briankarl How are we supposed to approach, much less embrace, such stiff and brittle forms? How close can we even get? Is the best we can do mere juxtaposition?
@oliviamole This double-end(tendr)ed head reminds me of the sixteenth century Flemish portrait The Ugly Duchess (c.1513), holding out her bud that will never blossom. But while the painting demands, “How dare one so old and ugly expect to have her desires fulfilled?” Pure Shit Hotdog Cake stands loud and proud. The Duchess is like the degenerate old women from Erasmus’s essay “The Praise of Folly” (1511), with smeared-make-up faces, plucked pubes, and flabby breasts, lusting after young Adonises. The old bags have the last laugh: “They swim in honey up to their ears. . . . They live in bliss.” Erasmus’s essay sees imagination and play, bestowed upon mankind by Folly herself, as central to the human experience—
@accidentalmegastructure what’s human ?
@pureshithotdogcake who’s folly ?
@feralsympathy folly is a hotdog head
Feral Sympathy (Works of Love #4) (2018) toggles on its plinth.
@feralsympathy through folly, through pleasure, through being able to imagine things other than how they are, humans can exist beyond themselves
@pureshithotdogcake we want your folly !
@accidentalmegastructure they can’t hear us, shit
@oliviamole D.W. Winnicott describes play as a zone of potentiality beyond the imagined “inside” and “outside” binary of a human subject. As a baby discovers “not-me,” she begins to fiction a world based on her experiences. The figures of play exist neither entirely inside her subjective reality nor fully in external reality. When play is projected onto another object—in Winnicott’s term, the “transitional object”—that object unites baby and mother, while at the same time separating them: it exists “at the point in time and space of the initiation of their state of separateness.” Or, as Dodge himself wrote, “The place of my self, then, is a thing contained somewhere within, but not defined or established by this envelope of skin.”
Black Transparency (The Cloud Polis draws revenue from the cognitive capital of its Users) (2017) is freeze-framed as it slops a bucketful of black liquid into space.
@feralsympathy hello dear object – you are as i imagine you
@blacktransparency ‘hullo, object ! . . . i love you’ #winnicott #playingandreality #1971
@briankarl So the sculptures are a materialization of the place between space (or the space between place)?
@feralsympathy together we wetware our actions, reaching out to each other’s hard surfaces to perform a generative, conductive inbetweenness
@blacktransparency at some point i started to wonder if there could be a digital-object, or even some sort of programmable robot that might be able to (theoretically, eventually) produce affect, or something in the range of affect, something which (radiant), might also then leap, invisibly, from person to person or even thing to person . . . #harrydodge #worksoflove #2018
@pureshit imagine that !
Pure Shit (2017): a urethane-filled jock-sock-on-a-stick, bent upwards in a saucy curve like a Nike swoosh or a deep-fried fairground banana, dripping with black goo.
@blacktransparency the interval, inextricably bound up with place and body #aristotle_via #rebeccahill #theinterval #2012
@feralsympathy a threshold, from which place, duration, being, emerge
@blacktransparency . . . e.g., love #harrydodge #worksoflove #2018
@oliviamole A fluid threshold, the conductive material humans need to mediate between each other and our environment—to eat, breathe, speak; a medium across which communication or co-existence occurs but which also marks the difference between things.
@blacktransparency the mucus has multiple thresholds – it serves love, respiration, song ! #luceirigaray #anethicsofsexualdifference #1993
@feralsympathy nothing is, everything is in between !
@accidentalmegastructure share your wetware
@oliviamole Imagination is a redemption from limit. It’s like a welding arc between forms, making more matter as it jumps.
@briankarl There’s a lot of welding in this room.
@feralsympathy of course there is – how better to materialize our inbetweenness than by a sculpting process that materializes inbetweenness ?
@briankarl But a disjunct gets to me. It’s the fatalistic embrace of inertia intertwined with power moves of sculptural figuration—low-end material and high-end output—in bronze, plywood, and polyurethane, plus a few things found lying around the street, garage, and studio.
@feralsympathy i think he’s putting us down
@pureshithotdogcake is he putting us down ?
@iamastrangeloop what he doesn’t know is that junkiness has its own agency – power to what the people make !
@oliviamole They have egg-shaped surveillance robots now in Bay Area gas stations, with lasers and cameras on all sides to “deter, detect, and report,” protect private property from poor people, irregular behavior, and other threats to capital. Dodge’s figures are the opposite. Nothing here works, and that’s its secret weapon: a band of techno-Bartlebys, opposing efficiency and instrumentality with sausage-headed jouissance.
@allthesculptures WE PREFER NOT TO
@briankarl So can we climb on top of I am a Strange Loop (2017), that outsize, hot rod fuchsia StairMaster, grab the “handlebars,” and ride it into battle—
@iamastrangeloop yeah baby ! now you’re talking, get on top !
@briankarl —as if it were a prototype from a Mad Max knockoff? Or the “real thing” of future-trending or even current possible extra-species affection?
@oliviamole Yes! In an act of bum-engineering autopoiesis, a revolutionary army of crap commandos, renegade gizmos, anti-functional lemons is born.
@pureshit if i can’t ride a glossy pink hover bike i don’t want to be part of your revolution
@blacktransparency joy is a desubjectifying process, an unfixing, an intensification of life itself – it is a process of coming alive and coming apart#nickmontgomery&carlafried #joyfulmilitancy #2017
@iamastrangeloop happy happy joy joy ! #ren&stimpy #stimpysinvention #1992
@briankarl OK. But still. I get the power of Bartleby as a Concept, but isn’t that standoff just another dead end? I’m reminded of Nothing (1997), Pipilotti Rist’s paean to impotence, ensconced at the Venice Biennale in the ruins of a dockside warehouse, belching wisps of machine smoke from its seams. And the last gasp of the last creature on the beach at the end of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). I’m an easy drifter into fatalism myself, but is this really the bummer of a party where we want to spend our dying days? (Bartleby the Movie is pretty dull.)
@oliviamole So you see these objects as Game Over?
@briankarl Pretty Much?
@accidentalmegastructure he knows nothing
@feralsympathy or too much
@briankarl Are they trying to have it both ways—debased and degraded materials, gloopy layers of implementation, but also neatly formed and compositionally controlled? This could be a potent combo, but does the tidy, museum-style exhibition, plinths and podia in Apollonian array, belie the in-your-face aesthetics of paint spills and repurposed debris?
@iamastrangeloop our kind of minimalism: all that slips off sticks to any surface on view ?
@oliviamole If they resemble the rogue descendants of works by Anthony Caro or David Smith then a history of conversations about art objects are in their cellular memory. By looking like modernist sculpture they automatically carry discussions of presence, gesture, the body, objecthood.
@briankarl More than anti-art as art—or art as anti-art—Dodge’s project could be read as the overachieving maneuvers of a self-hating artist—or an art-hating artist-self. Most of the painted pieces carry variations on the title Pure Shit—dried cascades of it. I get the cheap thrill of glossy black, pretty-in-pink, and Day-Glo hues, for sure. But rather finely wrought for the goal of confrontationally redeeming the latest lowly by-products of material culture, isn’t it?
@oliviamole It comes back to modernist sculpture again—objects in duration, ad infinitum.
@blacktransparency every moment the work itself is wholly manifest – one experiences perpetual creation as instantaneous #michaelfried #artandobjecthood #1967
@pureshithotdogcake a single infinitely brief instant would be long enough to see everything #michaelfried
@oliviamole The questions about modernist sculpture in Fried’s “Art and Objecthood”—about the conditions of art and not-art—also apply to human-ish objects, particularly when the boundaries holding the human are blurred by AI, new biochemical relations, and a turning away from the gendered and colonial logic of rationalist thinking. And anyway, the dripping paint is loaded. The Pure Shit Hotdog Cake paint can is labelled “Van Gogh Yellow.”
@pureshit that’s specific
@themonstrousinterval . . . a dead artist – a dead mad painter artist . . .
@oliviamole Van Gogh took digitalis-derived meds for his mental health. As well as helping him ride his illness, it made him see yellow extra vividly. Hence the sunflowers. He shared his biochemistry with the foxgloves (or they with him); they were part of him, and of his paintings.
@pureshithotdogcake the day of your death i put a 50-mg dose of testogel on my skin, so that i can begin to write this book #paulbpreciado #testojunkie #2013
@briankarl But are they raucous enough? Really unruly? How about a full-on heap of them clustered together, leaning on one another like a drunken robot choir, or upended in a junk pile?
@pureshit uh, to resist rationalism is not simply to descend into chaos
@iamastrangeloop that junk pile is just what we’ve escaped from, thank you very much – our power is in the unheaping
@oliviamole The heap is the obliteration of the body and its meaning. The heap is the immanence of death. In the film Frankenhooker (1990), “mad scientist” Jeffrey Franken dismembers a crew of sex workers to rebuild his mutilated fiancé. Once sewn together, the composite woman gabs on in phrases her constituents used on the job: “Looking for some action?” “Ya wanna date?”
@blacktransparency her heteroglossic subjectivity is a composite rerun of the performative subjugation of bodies to labor value #miamazza #postmodernfeminismandfrankenhooker #1991
@oliviamole Marx describes the capitalist processes of manufacture as harnessing the bodies of workers into value creation. Capital is a monster, a Frankenworker, bodies and psyches smashed together to feed the machine—heaped!
@blacktransparency a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demonic power finally bursts forth in the fast and feverish whirl of its countless working organs #karlmarx #capital #1867
@feralsympathy scene: a sweatshop in a dense commercial district. large fans push around the sultry air. workers – mostly central american women – negotiate piles of clothing while moving from machine to bin to bench, performing various tasks. some have a child in tow. the camera pans the length of the space and dollies up through cross-sections of the building to the next floor, where it finds a light filled gallery . . .
@accidentalmegastructure is that supposed to be a screenplay ? is everyone in this town a fucking screenwriter ?
@blacktransparency where is that place ?
@accidentalmegastructure so we’re supposed to feel bad somehow ? because we’ve got the penthouse , while the laborers labor ? what about the historic need for the avant-garde ? you can’t start a revolution without cracking a few organic eggheads – that’s OUR job – does that make us monsters ?
@briankarl Well, if all those kinds of labor are the latest parts of that monstrous capitalist machine, isn’t Dodge also embracing the monstrous in his robot toys?
@iamastrangeloop they don’t hear us ! they don’t hear us !
@oliviamole Yes, but they’re not all crushed together. As it turns out, the murdered women’s leftover body parts form a vengeful collective and kill both Jeffrey and their pimp, Zorro. In the case of these sculptures, singularities have been formed out of the leftover materials of industry; while the bulk of it pleases the capitalist monster, the remnants have come alive to fight back. Or so the story could go…
@accidentalmegastructure she hasn’t seen our price list
@oliviamole In his introduction to Bifo Berardi’s The Soul at Work, Jason Smith describes the soul: “It spaces bodies, rather than hiding within them. . . . It is what they share in common: neither a form, nor some thing, but a rhythm, a certain way of vibrating, a resonance.” When bodies and psyches are crushed together in capitalism, this resonant space is destroyed. The figures in “Works of Love” are like a chorus of metal and meaning, spacers inserted into the world to re-admit resonance.
@feralsympathy nothing is, everything is in between !
@briankarl Maybe my question is: if this is a deliberate attempt to embrace other beings, are these particular renderings the neighbors, friends, and lovers we want?
@oliviamole Pure Shit Hotdog Cake’s plexi panel has a circular hole in it, an inch or two in diameter. I can poke my index finger through it carefully, without touching the art, of course. I am doubting Thomas penetrating Christ’s wound—a cheeky little finger-fuck—to check that there’s a visceral inside to his semblance of outside. With this gesture of deep feel-up, I manifest, in my imagination, a real flesh to all this synthetic anthropomorphia.
@pureshithotdogcake ahhhh do it again !
@blacktransparency in fact, since love has its only site in imagination, desire never directly encounters the object in its corporeality #agamben #infancyandhistory #1993
@blacktransparency i heard a story, it went – from revolution within the revolution to revolution without revolution in modern history #etiennebalibar #uclaectseminar #2018
@feralsympathy i heard a story, it went – love loves to love love #jamesjoyce #ulysses #1922
@briankarl I’m ok with the “we-are-all-one” and “we-are-what-we-make” intimations, but I’m still left wondering if we aren’t defaulting to an attempt to impart wisdom to waste, taken up because given. And doing so in a rarefied artworld setting—if not exactly a gilded lily then a lacquered plastic wiener floating above and somewhat insulated from the wholesalers selling the same steaming crap below.
@iamastrangeloop strange loop, i am a strange loop #iamastrangeloop #iamastrangeloop #2017
@oliviamole If there are social and political rumblings in this work, there is also profound intimacy. An artist is a being that disassembles and reassembles themself, molecularly and semantically, through language, technology, and aesthetics. Each of these figures is an iteration of the others, enfolded in duration, congregated in chorus. Dodge has expanded his molecules so that we can move through the spaces in between. Through these objects, he exceeds his skinbag and in a turn of aesthetic, intellectual, and affective prosthesis reaches into our proverbial soft bits—as we do into his. If that’s not loving, I don’t know what is.
@pureshithotdogcake don’t forget the finger-fucks !
Olivia Mole is an LA-based artist working with video, installation, and performance.
Brian Karl is a cultural worker of one kind or another.