Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Go Get the Butter (NSFW)

Robert Boyd


Clayton Porter, Trying Hard, 2012, multiple videos on three 32 in. TVs, time variable

Let's get the dick out of the way right up front. In the big downstairs gallery at Lawndale where the exhibit Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom is, you hear the words "work" and "hard" being repeated over and over, with slightly varying rhythms. Three 32-inch TVs are facing each other, so that their screens are mostly hidden from the viewer. That's where the sound is coming from.


Clayton Porter, Trying Hard, 2012, multiple videos on three 32 in. TVs, time variable

 Only when you get close and peek through the narrow slits between the TVs do you see erect penises (presumably artist Clayton Porter's penis) being pressed into soft sticks of butter. There are many things one could say to describe this, but "boring" is not one of them. That's the first clue that the title of the exhibit is not really about your boredom. It's more about what boredom unlocks. Being bored is an inducement to do something. For example, masturbation. And if mere masturbation isn't cutting it, why not press your dick into some soft butter? As The Waitresses sang, "It might not be better but I'll settle for different."

 
Clayton Porter, untitled (casts of melted butter), 2012, eight plaster of paris sculptures

Boredom here seems to be the inspiration for new work, a video installation called Trying Hard. And this apparently resulted in a series of little sculptures.

  
Clayton Porter, untitled (casts of melted butter), 2012, plaster of paris


Clayton Porter, untitled (casts of melted butter), 2012, plaster of paris

I had a discussion about these sculptures with a friend last night. He had two thoughts--first, as casts they seemed too perfect. He didn't believe that these were actual casts of butter that had been smushed by Porter's erect penis. He thought the technical challenges of creating such a cast might be too great. And there is nothing in the exhibit that states that what they are casts of the penis-smushed butter sticks--but everyone who sees them jumps to that conclusion. The other thing was that the sculptures were a way to turn this activity--pressing his penis into butter--into a salable object. He felt that detracted from the video installation, that the sculptures were unnecessary adjuncts. Perhaps so, but the fact that he could take this seemingly boredom-born activity and turn it into discreet sculptures is kind of impressive.

The thing about Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom is that Clayton Porter is everywhere. His work comes close to overwhelming the show. In addition to the loud dick piece and eight sculptures that seem to be associated with it, he has two more pieces in the exhibit.


Clayton Porter, Anal Patina, 2012, bronze, displayed with stationary bike and photograph, 11.5" x 12" x 2.75" (seat)

With Anal Patina, Porter made a bronze cast of his stationary bicycle seat and rode it naked for 650 miles. The patina (which I couldn't really see) was formed by his butt sweat. Boredom may have played a part (riding a stationary bike isn't exactly exciting). The piece is meant to "focus on the body," according to the notes. But mostly it elicits a laugh. In fact, one thing conspicuously absent in the show's notes (presumably written by curator Katia Zavistovski) about Anal Patina and Trying Hard is that they're funny. Porter is described as being preoccupied "with identity, sexuality and power relations." But the most obvious aspect of these two pieces, humor, is not mentioned.


Clayton Porter, Untitled (Sunlight Across My Face), 2012, video


Clayton Porter, Untitled Drawing (Self-Portrait), 2011, graphite and wax on paper, 9" x 11.5"

His last two pieces in the show are linked to each other. First is a pencil self-portrait--nothing special but well-executed. This is mounted on a freestanding bulletin-board-like structure. On the other side from the portrait is a projection, Untitled (Sunlight on My Face). This one is where Porter brings the boredom to us. This is, apparently, a video of sunlight slowly creeping across this portrait. It's only 19 minutes long, but I suspect no one watches the whole thing--too boring. I was reminded of Michael Snow's Wavelength, another film that few people watch all the way through unless they have to.

The boredom of the artist comes through in Chris Akin's work. Akin is a guard at the Menil Museum and apparently spends a whole lot of time looking at the floor. I can understand why. Standing in one place waiting for the occasional person to illicitly whip out a camera so you can actually do something must be excruciatingly boring. And the worn wood floors at the Menil are admittedly pretty interesting--I notice them every time I'm there.


Chris Akin, from the Menil Floor Drawing series, 2004-2006, metallic paint pen and pencil on paper, 2 5/8" x 4 1/4" each

Akin has taken his boredom and spun it into a body of work--drawings from 2004 to 2006, then collages from 2010 to 2012. Staring at the floors of the Menil has kept him artistically busy for years.


Chris Akin, from the Menil Floor Drawing series, 2010-2012, mixed media on paper, imensions variable

The pieces feel nostalgic, recalling cubist drawings and paintings as well as abstractions from the late 50s and 60s. In this way, they have a secondary relationship to the Menil through the content of its collection.

Another artist whose work references other older artwork is Jenny Schlief. She specifically references a well-known video by John Baldessari called I Am Making Art.


Jenny Schlief, I Am Making Art: After Baldessari, 2010, iPhone video, 29 seconds looped

The show catalog acknowledges that Schlief has humorous intentions. Taking Baldessari's dryly humorous video and replacing it with a baby with ants in her pants is funny. Apparently the link to boredom here has to do with the struggle of a parent to keep her child from being bored. But it could also relate to John Baldessari's ironic artistic statement, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.

Jeremy DePrez evidently kills time doodling on a scratch pad. One of his paintings in the show is based on this material.


Jeremy DePrez, untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 52" x 78"

Boredom is not all that far from obsession. The need to fill the vacuum of time leads us to pointlessly repetitive acts like the careful filling of blank space on this scratch pad that DePrez has expanded and immortalized. Horror vacui also comes hand in hand with boredom. We clutter up our environments to stave off boredom.


Uta Barth, ...and to draw a bright white line with light (Untitled 11.1) (left side), 2011, inkjet prints face-mounted against matte acrylic, framed in painted aluminum frames, diptych--each panel 37 1/2" x 55 3/4"


Uta Barth, ...and to draw a bright white line with light (Untitled 11.1) (right side), 2011, inkjet prints face-mounted against matte acrylic, framed in painted aluminum frames, diptych--each panel 37 1/2" x 55 3/4"

Uta Barth and Seth Alverson both depict interior scenes (curtains and a chair respectively) which are related to the theme of the show via the idea that loneliness is related to boredom. I think this connection is weaker than what we see in the other works. At least it is for me. Sitting in a chair staring at the light as it plays across the curtains, catching dust particles in the air, and zoning out is not boredom. Being bored is feeling each second pass. Barth and Alverson's pieces make me think of those moments when time ceases to exist. I suppose the question is whether satori comes out of boredom or if it is a banishment of boredom. In any case, I feel these two pieces are closer to depicting a kind of satori than mere boredom. They have a gorgeous emptiness.


Seth Alverson, Chair, 2012, oil on canvas, 30" x 30"

Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom runs through January 12 at Lawndale Art Center.

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