ISHMAEL RANDALL WEEKS: Annotations, Striations and Souvenirsby William Corwin
VAN DOREN WAXTER | SEPTEMBER 12 – OCTOBER 28, 2017
Ishmael Randall Weeks’s exhibition, Annotations, Striations and Souvenirs delved into questions surrounding the demarcations between the authentic, the counterfeit and the use-value of the real. Weeks's practice aligns itself with the growing movement in sculpture and installation of approximate, alternative, and invented archaeologies which questions the nature of the art object and the equivocal need for historical legitimization of those objects. Throughout this precisely edited and concise show, the artist toyed with a selection of media, none of which matched the objects they portrayed. For example, Two I-Beams (2017), which are typically made of steel appear here as combination of compressed newspaper, glue and dust. Souvenirs [IR 138] (2017) include plates, wooden splints, and wedges in copper. These works present a false fossilization of banal objects and pick away at the institution of discovery itself. How does the meticulous collection of data actually inform? Is this all a rather pathetic exercise in finding legitimization for our present selves in the past? Mark Dion and Aman Mojadidi have utilized the space of the archeological excavation—both real and staged—as a means of linking to the past, but in the pock-marked plates of Souvenirs [IR 137] (2017), which have been tarted up by being rendered in copper, we just see ourselves in more of the same, there is not familiar-yet-exotic dichotomy: the mirror Weeks holds up is decidedly dark.
It is in the reproduction of decay that the work shows its more virtuosic side. Like the miraculous transubstantiation of petrified wood or dinosaur bones into glittering mineral deposits, the artist pokes fun at the drabness of a cinder block by molding it out of paper and dust (in Two I-Beams) transforming the familiar into a tantalizing philosopher's stone like consistency. Similarly, Striation 1 and Striation 2 (both 2017) mimic geological contour maps by sandblasting thick accretions of wheat pasted posters. The colorful blooms are cleverly held in place by wooden dowels. This imaginary topography straddles the solid reliability of the perceived mountains and valleys and the unnerving fragility of flaking, weather worn paper. Unlike Damien Hirst, who played with codifying an imaginary past through opulence in his project in Venice, Weeks persuades through the ephemeral and transient aspect of history, constantly changing and perilously near to being lost.
The boldest works in the exhibition were the palimpsestuous Excavation annotations (2017) and Wind Variations (2017). Both installations relied on photographic transfers of antique fabric onto neutral gel swathes. These swatches were draped or hung amidst foreign materials in an organized but non-museological arrangement. In Excavation annotation the viewer was pressed to make the comparison between the warp and weft of the printed textiles against the sheen of copper, silver and glittering mineral. The piece illuminated the notion that our interpretations of the past are often shaded by the quality of the reproductions of ancient media and objects that we are exposed to. In other words, treasured relics are often far less impressive in the flesh.
In Wind variations the photographic transfers are displayed on a matrix of polished brass; a construction of thin isometric supports accentuate the bright crisp brass rectangles and sandblasted gray bricks. In their modified state the bricks resemble vertebrae. Again the artist transforms a common building material into an unrecognizeable hybrid form. The arrangement of Wind variations is ahistorical and invites comparison and quantification among its parts. The textiles and oddly shaped powdery gray stones may relate to one another? Perhaps they emerged from the same excavation? The shiny and gratuitously designed display framework subverts their tepid attempts at authenticity though, underlining the fact that merely pulling things from the earth does not history make.
WILLIAM CORWIN is a sculptor and curator based in New York City. His work has been reviewed in the Brooklyn Rail, ARTnews, Sculpture Magazine, Artcritical, and Art Monthly. In 2016, he organized I Cyborg at the Gazelli Art House in London. He currently teaches with the Meet the Met program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and hosts a program on Clocktower Radio.