After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: solo exhibition

Manual Realizations

by Paul D'Agostino

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The Safety Net, mixed media collage, 2015

Manual Realizations: Leslie Kerby’s The Laying On of Hands

Working always deftly and fluidly among a full range of image-making techniques, including drawing, painting, printmaking and collage, and recently adding sculpture and animation to her practice as well, Leslie Kerby creates all manner of visual narratives addressing, with a keen critical eye, societal practices, ills, curiosities, complexities, services, interactions and constructs. With palpable sincerity and a sense of humor, she has addressed many facets of our politically circumscribed, socioeconomically determined or determinable lives, from the neighborhoods we live in to the ways in which we attain our goods and services, from the ways in which we communicate with one another to the cemeteries where we might visit or bury our loved ones. Kerby has never shied away from handling even the most controversial or aesthetically challenging themes. Indeed, the most difficult ones sometimes become the greatest conduits for her creative impulses.

This is certainly the case with The Laying On of Hands, one of Kerby’s most recent and materially polyphonic bodies of work. Here, the artist turns her critical eye towards one of the most politically charged, ideologically divisive, societally expansive and, at the very same time, most deeply intimate issues of our time in the United States: our healthcare system. Kerby began contemplating this as subject matter six or seven years ago, having personally experienced, endured or witnessed no shortage of the good and bad of how we insure ourselves for and possibly receive medical care. She knew that, in a few ways, the system worked well enough. She also knew that, in many ways, it was direly inefficient, unnecessarily confusing and, for far too many people, devastatingly lacking. Given the issue’s gravity and complexity, however, Kerby spent several years moving forward with other projects instead, all the while pondering how she might effectively convey her thoughts about the precarious, indeed fundamentally perilous state of our healthcare system in ways that would be both visually engaging and candid in commentary.

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Blanket Coverage, mixed media collage, 2016

Kerby’s solution turned out to be simple and inclusive. She decided that works on paper with graphic immediacy would constitute the body of work, and that each work would itself be constituted by imagery produced via essentially all of her manual skills as a maker of imagery. In a way, just those few decisions are already striking analogs for what our healthcare system is definitively not, and what or how it could or should be: it is neither simple nor inclusive, but it certainly ought to be; aspects of it that might be conceptually plain are presented in ways that confound everyone, from doctors to patients and customer service agents; many of the system’s verbal convolutions are surely intentional, masking fees and exceptions in footnotes and conditional clauses; people at various income levels, especially the lower ones, as well as people who might already be sick are left out of the system entirely, or they are gravely underserved, meaning underinsured; and the system overall feigns personalized service while remaining pitilessly impersonal, removed, uncaring. Unfortunately, these are not new problems at all with regard to how healthcare in our country is provided, nor are they new in terms of how it is presented in our political discourse. Yet they are problems that have never gone away, and that seem to become worse as medical technologies advance, and as masses of data come to define patients and problems in general, statistically, rather than determining an individual patient’s problems specifically. This should seem absolutely paradoxical. It absolutely is.

How, then, do Kerby’s works convey something simpler, more inclusive, more comprehensible and intimate? How are the obvious levels — for they surely are obvious — on which our own lawmakers and doctors should demand — for they surely should demand — improvement from our ‘service providers’ made manifest in The Laying On of Hands? It couldn’t possibly be more genial or straightforward. Kerby conveys her commentary by crafting individually identified or identifiable patients and doctors, sometimes interacting with one another, sometimes only almost, and she does so by doing, as an artist, precisely what doctors have always done, and what so many of them still want and are trained to do: employ their full range of diagnostic reasoning and manual skills to care for one patient at a time, one ailing person at a time, as meaningfully and holistically as they can. Kerby achieves both ideals by tapping into the full extent of her creative skill set, employing several very manually driven processes of drawing, printmaking, collage and image transfers, among other approaches, to create variably pictorial contours and silhouettes of patients now ailing, now under examination, now being medicated, now ostensibly becoming their medications. Visages and figurations, and most certainly the omnipresent motifs of hands and eyes, predominate these engaging compositions in which pills, simplified x-rays and pieces of equipment factor as well, with backgrounds generally left blank or spare. In a formal sense, per her clear sources of inspiration and characteristic treatments, Kerby’s yields are images of great candor and immediacy, aesthetically steeped in various elements of German Expressionism and, with very fitting specificity, Neue Sachlichkeit — indeed, one might even identify in Kerby’s collages a rather seamless merging of the two readily distinguishable traditions, the latter’s germaneness here not incidental given the medical nature of some of its most historically trenchant imagery.

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The Dispensary, mixed media collage, 2015

On that note, Kerby, with perhaps a knowing nod to Christian Schad’s The Operation, makes her doctors, nurses and medical settings very easy for us to recognize. But how to recognize a student or a journalist, a chef or a plumber? Kerby identifies her protagonists in her very own handwriting, their facial features often well delineated, their attire or other accoutrements pointing to their trades or occupations. What do we know of their ailments? We see where they are ailing by way of where she places their pills within their figurative contours, with their medications sometimes taking the shape of objects relative to their professions: the librarian’s pills are spread across two pages of an open book; the banker’s are arrayed in a way that suggests coins; the musician’s are shaped like a guitar; the lawyer’s medications quite meaningfully sit atop the plates of a dramatically unbalanced scale of justice. How to keep viewers engaged in a suite of societally critical, even perhaps thematically somber works might seem an additional concern, but Kerby has cleverly foreseen that, undercutting the potentially overwhelming gravity of her subject matter — who will listen if it’s all pain and trauma, or keep looking if it’s all shock and awe? — by intermittently cartoony renderings, exaggerated embellishments, caricatured features and physiques, and even a certain kind of mirthful array in her arrangements.

Seriousness and humor come into most succinct and critically significant confluence in works like The Dispensary, in which a doctor and two nurses are portrayed as busts atop Pez candy dispensers, and in Candyland, in which the artist reconfigures many of the characters and formal tropes from her entire body of work into a loosely rendered representation of the eponymous board game for kids. Kerby’s critique here is at once precise and expansive: while the game is intentionally structurally misleading, so to speak, and indirect and obfuscatory in the sweet, felicitous interest of childish fun, our healthcare system is all of the same, and then some, in the bitterly sickening interest of corporate greed; and while the composition and visuals indicate a game for kids, they also suggest the hardly outlandish notion that insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies, assuming that we’re all manipulable and naïve, are playing a game with our bodies and minds. A form of casual entertainment for children, here, is simultaneously legible as a system of physical and psychological entrapment for adults.

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Candyland, mixed media collage, 2015

This kind of duality is also present in Kerby’s ultimate addition to The Laying On of Hands, a video animation, made in collaboration with designer Lianne Arnold, in which the full set of collages undergoes, or even performs on itself, a kind of surgery, autopsy or anatomical investigation. Here, by laying her hands back onto or into her body of work, she quite literally quickens it, sets it into motion. Now her compositions come alive and interact with one another, and pieces from one wander about from one spot to the next, from one collage to the next. In this animated context, however, the child/adult duality Kerby implies in Candyland is essentially inverted. Now, a system that is often entrapment for adults becomes, in a delightfully rendered ‘cartoon,’ something that could readily entertain children. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Kerby’s dual modes, or even dual moods, in this thoroughly considered body of work. On the one hand, they help her engage viewers more broadly and permit certain aesthetic freedoms, from ‘fun’ images like candy dispensers to a rather graphically lighthearted animation. On the other hand, Kerby’s dualities also relate quite plainly to the great paradox of our healthcare system overall — that the very form of ideally pathos-driven, human-to-human interaction that should be most intimate, personalized and hands-on so often seems, thanks to corporate avarice and legislative apathy, as insensitive and impersonal as can be.

By tapping into so many of her artistic skills, sources of inspiration and critical modes in the creation of The Laying On of Hands, Leslie Kerby has crafted one of her most fully realized, conceptually seamless bodies of work to date. As you follow the trajectories of figures and forms from one mixed media collage to the next, and from the suite of collages to her video animation, you can’t help but find yourself in agreement with both sides of her implicit claim: staying alive and well truly should not be a roll of the dice, yet what our ailing healthcare system has let it become is a baffling game that toys with our lives.

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This essay was composed for the catalogue accompanying The Laying On of Hands, Leslie Kerby’s solo exhibition at Project ARTspace, located at 99 Madison Avenue in New York City. The show will be on view from 16 May to 15 June, 2018. More information about the show can be found here. Images courtesy the artist.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicians

by Paul D'Agostino

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Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicians

Before you are so many faces you’ve seen so many times before.

You recognize some of them. You might recognize most of them. It’s unlikely for you to recognize all of them, for some of them have facial features that have shape-shifted in certain ways that leave them partly morphed — if not gradually, strangely ever-morphing — into arguably more monstrous, more horrid, more day-glow lurid, or simply weirder versions of themselves via physiognomic hybridizations with the visages of others of kindredly villainous ilk.

They are a rogues gallery of proverbial good, bad and ugly, albeit by and large lacking any and all good.

This somewhat humorous, somewhat serious, somewhat shocking, altogether creepily ominous merging of murkily meta-facial imaginings is what came about when Thai artist Tawan Wattuya brought into conceptual confluence two of his most enduring interests and sources of inspirational inputs in a search for subjects for his solo exhibition at The Lodge Gallery, the artist’s first solo show in the United States following many others in Thailand and elsewhere.

So then, his interests and inputs? The monsters and weirdos of primarily classical cinema, and the monsters and weirdos of contemporary politics. In this semantic context, only for the latter group, the politicians — most especially those who have most atrociously invaded our minds and newsfeeds in 2017 — does the expression ‘monsters and weirdos’ rank as understatement, if not indeed a generously kind one. In contrast, in this bizarre visual and thematic context, the ‘monsters and weirdos’ of cinema — here facing off against the more consequentially despicable characters with political mandates — begin to seem awkwardly friendly, maybe even lovable.

Considered collectively, however, Wattuya’s rogues begin to seem endlessly, newsworthily questionable.

For example, who appears more ‘dracular’ here, a draconian despot like Bashar al-Assad or Dracula himself? Who better embodies sliminess and living death, a blood-sloppily reptilian zombie or Robert Mugabe? Who seems more childishly, lethally maniacal, ‘playful’ little Chucky or ‘Rody’ Duterte? Who might be better at encouraging local populations or entire geographical regions to hide in fear or flee: King Kong, Frankenstein’s Monster, Freddy Krueger or Aung San Suu Kyi?

As you continue to look around and pose yourself such questions, you begin to realize that the politico-cinematic monsters whose likenesses are most fully converged are the ones who seem most hellishly denatured, repulsively demonic, devilishly absurd.

And of course, once you’ve fully examined this lineup of rogues so totally bereft of do-gooders, you will have recognized quite immediately, and many times over, the face and coiffure of a certain world leader who has spewed Godzilla-tons of fire this year.

And you’ll recall that we’re all in hell.

Or, to be a bit less alarmist, we’re at least pretty close.

And by that I mean that in this chaotic meantime we all share and perhaps collectively abhor, we might at least find an aesthetically pleasing sense of darkened joy in Wattuya’s wonderfully imagined, crazily populated, jubilantly colorful, comically hellbent limbo.

Limbo?

Yes.

Sad!

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This essay was composed for Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicans, Tawan Wattuya’s solo exhibition at The Lodge Gallery, on view from 10 January to 4 February, 2018. More information about the show can be found here. Grid of images courtesy the artist and The Lodge Gallery.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Sometimes Seen Dreams

by Paul D'Agostino

Sometimes Seen Dreams: New Paintings by Dana James

In her most recent suite of mixed media paintings, Dana James employs alluringly deliquescent strata of oils, inks, dyes, encaustic and pigments in the creation of landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes and spacescapes that whisk you away into the turbid beyonds of ambiguously horizoned, chromatically enchanted elsewheres.

James’s lush palette of peachy pinks and deep blues, emerald greens and purpled greys, earthy oranges and icy teals, smoky blacks and creamy, pearlescent, ivory-scale whites calls to mind the teasing, fleeting, atmospherically supple theatrics of celestial candescence of certain seasons or at certain latitudes, and her nimble, almost imperceptible handling seems nearly to convey that these works were never manually made, but rather conjured into existence. We climb and we sail as we navigate these realms, and we swim and we float, we fly and we soar, we dash and we drift, and only occasionally and just barely do we alight upon some solid surface — perhaps an island or sandbar, a hillock or glacier — or encounter the circumstantially candid linearities of tenuous, fragile lines. If ever we’re grounded, the ground beneath us seems curiously aloft. If these spheres have gravity, they haven’t much. In James’s kingdom of elegantly fantasized ethers, the lands and skies themselves are the timeless castles.

These fresh and assertive paintings are James’s strongest work to date, and they are arresting and transporting all at once. If colors dream, this might be what they dream. Perhaps James sometimes sees these dreams.

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This essay was composed for the exhibition catalogue accompanying Dana James: Sometimes Seen Dreams, the artist’s solo show at The Lodge Gallery, on view from 18 October to 12 November, 2017. More information about the show can be found here. Images courtesy the artist and The Lodge Gallery.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Radiantly Provocative

by Paul D'Agostino

Untitled (Target, Ripple and Zig Zags) 2016

Rico Gatson, Untitled (Targets, Ripples and Zigzags), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

 
Radiantly Provocative: Rico Gatson’s Power Lines

Robustly chromatic, visually potent, at times compositionally labyrinthine and physically imposing, Rico Gatson’s mixed-media paintings, sculptures and collage-centric drawings are always, thanks in part to their carefully honed economy of forms and means, declarative, assertive and indelible—and unmistakably, unwaveringly his. On levels aesthetic and conceptual alike, Gatson does not imbue, but rather inundates his works with definitive, invariable force, executing them with just enough colorful vibrancy, linear keenness and mystical curiosity as to allow his viewers to almost—yet only almost, and this is crucial—miss or overlook their certainly important, equally cogent, subtly layered, variably strident socio-political content.

All of this has been true of Gatson’s work for quite a while, but it is now much more so in the new series of mixed-media pieces he has produced for Power Lines, a solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects. The artist’s characteristic palette of patently Africana-associative chromatics—bright reds, greens and goldish yellows often framed, interrupted by or sectioned off with swaths of deeply flat or slightly lustrous blacks, all arranged in variable abstractions that might even, at times, feature embedded texts—has become bolder, brighter, richer and punchier than ever, and thicker sections of color and black alike make his compositions register as weightier, more declarative, somehow exigent. Some pieces, however, especially a fresh new series of small panels, as well as certain tall, lean-to like sculptural works, Panel Paintings, evidence Gatson taking a bit further his recent explorations of chromatic switchings—transposing the complementary balancing he usually achieves via reds and greens with value-like harmonies via purples and greys, maintaining his lush warm yellow to keep the violets at bay.

Gatson’s recent boundary-breaching explorations hardly stop at color swaps, however, and it is in some of his newest compositional tweakings that viewers are reminded to look very deeply into the information he’s providing to extract therefrom certain latent, open-endedly abstract statements regarding contemporary race relations. What does a small panel covered in colorful dots mean, for instance, when it’s formally disrupted by a veil of orderly black lines from one end to the other? In the artist’s series of ‘fun-looking’ Panel Paintings, what might it mean for so many Africana-colored pieces to be ‘infringed upon’ by one that is simply, and thus in some sense openly, black and white? Such compositional and installation-related choices bring viewers into more intimate closeness with the objects in question, for certain, encouraging them to decode those featuring formally obscured texts, for instance, or inlaid images. But are viewers looking at them enough to look into them? Are they really, on a certain level, reading them? This is indeed the self-reflexive crux of the matter in Power Lines: Are we truly and honestly—as viewers of art, or as a populace with presumed awarenesses—reading the racially relevant signs that are all around us? Within the context of Gatson’s work, are we actually reading, for instance, the collaged bits of generally civil-rights-era imagery he has been inserting with increasing pervasiveness across his œuvre? Are we pausing to consider that the ever-bright colors in his paintings are achieved with simple domestic paints, thus making their presence an oft-overlooked omnipresence, and granting their flatness not just visual frankness but also critical candor?

Gatson’s chromatico-formalisms are more blatant than ever in Power Lines, and the blatancy, boldness and volume of his sociocultural critique is markedly amped up. The artist has long posited his work as a platform for discussions of racial inequalities, and his voicings of the same, in his new body of work, now have notes of stridency. He now seems to be demanding for his work to be regarded as such. And now is a crucial time for us to regard it thusly, for these discussions have been heating up dramatically in so many places, on so many fronts. To be sure, the best way to cool the temperature of the debate would be to actually engage in it, actively and honestly. With Power Lines, Gatson seems to be putting himself forth as a moderator.

In the context of all this, then, it becomes very intriguing to take a closer look at the series of Radiant Icon collage-drawings that Gatson has been making for years and years, and of which he presents a new suite here. That is, in the context of Gatson’s recently amped-up volumes and greater formal overtness, it becomes clear that the artist has been waiting for these discussions to burst open for quite some time. In our faces all the while—now latent, now strident—have been his powerful, colorful, radiantly provocative lines.

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Rico Gatson, Untitled (Three Diamonds), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

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This essay was composed as an accompaniment to Power Lines, Gatson’s solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects in Boston, MA. The show opens on June 3rd and runs through July 17th, 2016. More information and images here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

In : Out :: / Out : In ::

by Paul D'Agostino

_Caput_ _Procedure_ invite

 

In : Out ::

In, inward, into, within, endogenic, ingressive, inside: Many are the modes and forms of inner-tending, variably interiorizing terms and motilities that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His paintings and sculptures alike are wont to turn, gyrate and churn, at times toward real or implied centers—the paintings, via gestural strokes, directional linearities and compositional flow; the sculptures, via a range of generally less-than-presumable yet ever-plausible, sometimes aberrant or amusingly jarred kinetics that seem now barely centrifugal, now subtly centripetal. With all their flux and functional switchings, with all their ins and outs, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, engorge one another, then devour themselves.

A most peculiar, mechanically genial, bizarrely balanced, disturbingly jocular and behaviorally confounding sculpture is Caput, a piece whose apparently simple, somewhat centripetally erratic motion would be consistent if it weren’t for the friction of certain surfaces, the presence of certain finishes, the interference of a wall, the tensile resistance of a twisting, force-conveying metal belt, and the irregular form and considerable mass of a captivatingly piece-capping albeit floor-bound wooden ball. Caput’s spasmodic motion is its function, its spasmodic function is its motion, and since both are intermittently stunted, thwarted and blunted like the day is long, the piece’s repetitive yet not fully predictable comportment makes it not merely uniquely Sisyphean, but also an exquisite commentary on being and becoming, on doing and making, on trying and conceiving, on coming and going, on failing and flailing, on flunking and clunking—not to mention on the useful futility, or futile usefulness, of tedium. Caput is the anachronistic Caput Mundi of a busted world, perhaps, or perhaps it’s so captive to its inherent natures that it eludes or precludes its own usefulness, purpose or success. It is also, in a way—as a spiritedly animated object, or as an ersatz pet—quite adorably pathetic, simpatico, endearing.

There is something affirmatively friendly about Caput, in other words, an observation of indirect relevance that makes broader formal sense, nonetheless, when it’s considered in an expanded context that would include, also, a painting called Procedure, a companion work of sorts whose linear arcs and compositional dependencies between spatially disparate, energetically bundled forms display just enough visual analogousness to make the pieces appear readily kindred. Procedure, however, thanks in part to the placid qualities of its subtle pinks, greys and variably striated compositional horizontalities, reads like a realm of resolve, repose, relief or release, or perhaps even, at some remove, salvation—metaphysical, merely material or elsewise. Between one wall-knocking of its head, as it were, and another, Caput itself might dream, and dizzily so, of retiring to Procedure’s sphere of fluidity, quiescence, calm.

But then Caput’s mechanical condemnation kicks comically back into gear. And there it goes all over again—spinning itself, clubbing itself, lugging itself up some implied hill of numbingly eternal cumbersomeness. It gives in to itself, knocks into its surroundings, struggles inward for something, yet also for naught. If only there were, as it were, a clear way out.

— 502 :

 

_Working_ _Core_ invite

 

Out : In ::

Out, outward, out of, out from, exogenic, egressive, outside: Many are the forms and modes of exteriorizing, variably outer-tending motilities and terms that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His sculptures and paintings alike are wont to churn, gyrate and turn, at times away from real or implied centers—the sculptures, via a range of ever-plausible yet generally less-than-presumable, sometimes amusingly jarred or aberrant kinetics that seem now barely centripetal, now subtly centrifugal; the paintings, via compositional flow, directional linearities and gestural strokes. With all their functional switchings and flux, with all their outs and ins, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, devour one another, then engorge themselves.

The resting state of the painting Core is, by and large, hardly restful at all. Rather, it is restive, tumultuous, turbid and roiling, a primarily bright-orange convulsion that might be a sort of geological extrusion, or a fulgor or flare dancing about eruptively on some distant astral surface, or a writ-large close-up of a wee little blossom, or perhaps just a heaving, surging, stirring chromatic effulgence. A certain darkness, however, in Core’s lower right register seems to hint at an interior otherness, or an unknowable beyond or subsurface pitch, or a titularly relevant central force that serves to dial the composition’s frenzy down a notch. What’s more, a rather curiously string-like line, also quite dark, darts up and curves down from one side to the other, a loose girding or spatially placeless garland of sorts that makes of so much stridency something ultimately melodious.

In formal harmony with that very line, then, is a meticulously braided circuit of pink twine that truly does gird loosely, in veritably garland-like fashion, the relatively circular upper portion of a sculpture called Working, a piece whose consistent, delicate, somewhat peaceful rotation is just deliberate enough to suggest potential centrifugality, and whose terrifically haunting, perhaps haunted gloves—because handless, because armless, because body-less, because worker-less—locked firm into a torqued, wrenching grip around the structure’s central axis, are at once a hint that something in the ‘works,’ or in the ‘workings’, has gone significantly awry, and a focalizing synecdoche for all the toil, ache and struggle that go into conceiving, creating, ‘working on’ and making things. The ‘work’ at ‘hand’ in Working is repetitive, in a way, yet not redundant; it is visually tangible and spatially present, even if also, in a structural sense, only barely there. The implied welder whose means of manual protection have been abandoned was flung away, perhaps, when Working’s slow spin went rogue-fast for an erred moment, or the ‘worker’ has gone missing for some other unknowable reason—and he remains the machine’s inherent secret, its enigma, its ghost.

Working worked its worker to the bone, worked him all the way away. As a viewer, a somewhat empathically disarmed one at that, you become one with this phantom’s wearied body in his phantom space. As he, too, might have—or still might—you might wish that the machine would invite you in.

— 502 :

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These essays were composed as accompaniments to Tom Butter’s solo exhibition, In : Out :: Out : In, at Studio 10 Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The exhibition opens on the evening of 2 January 2016, from 7-9pm, and runs through 31 January. More information here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Images featured in this post are courtesy Tom Butter. For more information about him and his work, visit  www.tombutter.com.

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