Graham Wilson’s I Clocked Out When I Punched In brings together an array of works that relate to the life of the studio and the valuation of artistic labor.
In the front gallery, Wilson sets up different systems of measurement and demarcation that form the basis of his practice. “Natural Motion” an installation of five, five-panel works is composed of thin vertically hanging and identically sized and spaced strips of canvas. Each set of five paintings stands for one of the natural elements (earth, water, wind, fire, and aether). Each of the five elements is itself comprised of an assortment of “Alpha” and “Omega” paintings, which are always exhibited together. While the “Alpha” paintings gather paint splatters, the “Omega” paintings amass paint chips from previously paint-stripped canvases. These works address the question of intentionality, accidental production, possibility, and control, and extend Wilson’s interest in the potentiality of repurposed and rehabilitated materials. Wilson moves from these direct impressions of his practice, to more general representations of process, marking, and presence. “sic sic (th’u’s th’us’),” a Paschal candle typically burned during Easter, is lit at the beginning of the exhibition and progressively burns down until it has totally disintegrated. This representation of the “brightest light” is paired with another floor piece, “One Reason Why Five Is Important,” a small dirt mound fostering a blooming sprout over the course of the show. The flower and the candle, each respectively rising and falling, take the floor as a demarcating line, and echo “Where ‘I’ Draw the Line” a thick band drawn at eye level along the length of a wall.
The final piece in the front room is a time-clock used to mark time spent in the studio over the past year and half, along with the corresponding time cards piled up below. Now broken, the useless machine titled “Institutionalized” anchors Wilson’s practice within a rejected framework of systematic accountability, which turns artistic presence into monitored (and monetized) activity.
The gallery’s back room features a set of works that take up the critique inaugurated by Wilson’s time clock. The artist’s “Self Portrait at 27” is in fact a clown nose, a tongue-and-cheek reference to the absurdity of trying to position oneself within an art world that turns artistic labor into entertainment value.
The two-part installation “Something About Two Birds and One Stone” features a crumpled tee-shirt displaying the face of curator Jeffrey Deitch and the words “Team Jerry” (“Ain’t No ‘I’ in ‘Team’”) as well as a check from Gagosian Gallery, framed, and surrounded by large scissors wall decals (“Any Way ‘You’ Cut It”). Wilson pokes fun at narcissistic celebrity and major powerhouse taste-making, without sparing himself (the clown) in the process.
The final works in the room, “Ups and Downs,” are two quilted, arrow-shaped paintings pointing up in a blue color scheme, and down in a red color scheme. Creating an area of architectural containment through their position in the corner of the space, they refer back to the dichotomies between above and below set up in the previous room, articulating this duality of artistic presence along the axis of embodiment and commodification.
Exhibited on the artist’s website is the performance video “Reaping Everything ‘I’ Sew,” a 17-minute short of Wilson, dressed in overalls and oversized Timberlands, digging a grave in his native Kentucky. Gold chips shine through the dirt. Standing over the grave, the artist refuses to make his bed and lay in it, instead abandoning his tools and stepping away. Wilson reminds us that compromising towards value is a form of death. But one walks on a tightrope to keep presence balanced.
Text by Rachel Valinsky.
Images courtesy of Brand New Gallery and Graham Wilson.
Graham Wilson - I Clocked Out When I Punch In
Brand New Gallery, September 24 - November 7