"The Real Thing"
March 15, 2010
Author: Stephen Truax
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The Real Thing
Ingraham Street in Morgantown is filled with semis sitting eerily in open garages, garbage dumps, graffiti murals, vinyl siding, and brick factories. Like its pronunciation-unfriendly name - Ingram? Ing-ra-ham? - it isn't tremendously welcoming to strollers. There was almost no signage announcing an exhibition, with the exception of the SITE Fest "YOU ARE HERE" poster and an 8 1/2 x 11 in. inkjet printout of the press release stapled to a small poster board on the sidewalk, which parenthetically instructs you that the show is (in the alley.)
In the summertime, said alley is decorated like an outdoor Italian villa/restaurant, but is now a bleak parking lot without cars. This is the home of Brooklyn FireProof, a multifunctional space that plays host to music events, art happenings, and drunken nights out. The abandoned look of industrial park Bushwick breaks immediately to an intimate, packed bar. After wading your way through the crowd, you enter a large industrial room which might have been a storage facility or perhaps a meat locker.
Video monitors are set up throughout the space, glowing ominously, on tables, folding chairs, mounted to the walls at various heights. The two-day-long exhibition of You Can't Do That On Television, 2010, curated by Joe Nanashe, presented in conjunction with Arts in Bushwick's SITE Festival, is comprised of 15 artists and artist groups, 13 video monitors and miles of extension cords. The setup is casual, makeshift even: plywood tables, metal folding chairs, inverted buckets as seats, duct tape.
The space is enormous, whitewashed with gray cement floors, where the only light is from the monitors and one naked light bulb by the door. The videos are all documentations of performance, including acts of sex, violence, absurdity, and behavior that's downright weird. A single sentence serves as the press release: "Absurd, strange, transgressive, confrontational and confusing performances for video." Included in the impressive roster were widely exhibited artists Nina Katchadourian and Type A. The installation was refreshingly spare, and the work uncomfortably personal.
"Explorations of [the] personal are the only things that can really make people uncomfortable in any substantive way," offered Nanashe.
Marni Kotak and Jason Robert Bell's new work, Our Year, 2009, depicts Kotak in an awkward home-video format, in intimate bedroom lighting, from the stomach up, engaged in coitus. She moans and cries dramatically as her breasts bounce vigorously in time with her endless humping. The cuts in between scenes are almost invisible, so she seems to be having sex constantly. The credits list "orgasms by" Kotak and Bell.
Nina Katchadourian's Mystic Shark is quieter, a video made on a digital camera which depicts a closeup portrait of the artist in a maritime environment of which you get only a sliver on the left side of the screen. She very slowly goes in and out of focus as the handheld camera struggles to get the close-up. She carefully places, one-by-one, shark's teeth in between her lip and her gum, while maintaining an almost Abromovic-like seriousness.
Artist team Type A (Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin) sit around a campfire drinking Budweiser with a friend in Mead, experiencing the natural environment and the intimacy of comradery. David Greg Harth's What Ate the Black Man? shows a young white man, shirtless, biting a shirtless young black man over and over again. Biting was a consistent theme throughout the show, especially when done repetitively, and was included in three or four different videos.
Nanashe's casual approach to curating actually lead him to several interesting observations on the nature of performance. "[What] I became increasingly aware of while I was gathering the work, was the vulnerability expressed in all the works," said Nanashe. "This very personal, individual exploration of the body with humor, absurdity, cultural constructions."
"My initial idea became distorted by what I couldn't help but be attracted to," he continued, elaborating on his process. "Of course there was sex and breasts and shouting and juvenile behavior."
Throughout the research period, he became more and more interested in how these seemingly unrelated performances actually revealed something about culture with their similarity.
"There something so revealing about the frailty of the body and the act of performance," Nanashe remarks. ̉The earnestness of the amateur act. Like those people who beg for another chance on American Idol auditions."
How did this curator get these heavy hitters (mid-career artists represented by major Chelsea galleries) to participate out in Bushwick, on an industrial street, down an alley, behind a bar, on the most important art weekend of the year, in an exhibition that was up for only two days? By asking them!
Nanashe was interested in curating a show long before he had a list of artists or a venue. He found out about Brooklyn FireProof through a friend, and they conveniently had just finished renovating the back room and gallery space. The managers were receptive to his idea and immediately slotted him for their inaugural exhibition, which drew an estimated 300 visitors over the weekend.
Nanashe is an artist first and foremost, but his practice as a project-based conceptualist is closely related to the work of a curator. Going forward, he intends to refocus his energy in his own studio, where he makes drawings and videos.
After a week of art fairs, which present a different kind of makeshift and oppressive environment, this show and venue's rough aesthetic is familiar. However, unlike the Armory and Independent, Joe Nanashe's You Can't Do That On Television at Brooklyn FireProof seemed like the real thing.
You Can't Do That On Television
Artists: Marc Aschenbrenner, Laurel Jay Carpenter, Crystal Curtis, Amy Day, Ruthie Doyle, David Greg Harth, Nate Hill, Wayne Hodge, Mike Jones, Nina Katchadourian, Marni Kotak & Jason Robert Bell, Yeon Jin Kim, Jorge Rojas, Type A