Notes for exhibition at Galleria Franco Noero, November 2000 (2nd revision), working title Vacuum
This exhibition will extend my interest in making artworks which pertain to the built environment, and the conditions which make possible and also impede my ability to produce artwork at all. In the past I have made sculpture and paintings derived from my activities as a wage earner. Small models of construction jobs and portraits of my tools led to the manufacturing of fake tools, examinations of architectural idealism, and installations of fictionalized scenarios. As my "job" of being an artist began to take up more of my time, and as my "real" job turned to being a professional model maker for the advertising industry, I began to expand my investigation of the conditions which contribute to my artistic practice. Recently I have had exhibitions which display the hidden structures of the gallery as "white cube"; a retrospective of my father's artwork; installations of mechanical devices which depend on commercial activity of the gallery for their function; and others that are concerned with the history of buildings, the process of artistic collaboration, and self representation. One of my biggest concerns is with the act of making things, and making things myself, as a product of curiosity in, research of, and experimentation with, the world around me. As a result I've made lots of things; models, machines, furniture, shoes, houses, tools, food, books, as well as all that "traditional" artwork.
"Vacuum" will pull together ideas about the conventions of exhibition, remote communication, quotidian objects, mythologies of technology, and the artistic career.
Description of the space
The gallery is divided into two rooms with a narrow passageway connecting them. The front wall consists of a large window and a glass door. Normally one can see all the way through the front space into the rear one and even through the back door and into the courtyard. Otherwise it is a quintessential "gallery space" with white walls, polished concrete floor, even lighting, and very little else, besides a desk which serves as an office.
For my installation, the walls will be painted black and the floor of the front space covered with a thick gray carpet. A single object will almost entirely fill this room. In fact, visitors will have to pass through it on their way to the rear space. The object is a full scale mock up of an LM, or Lunar Module, ascent stage. The LM was originally built by Grumman for NASA's Apollo space program. The first vehicle designed to protect human beings from the vacuum of space and also to operate only there, the LM was at once a triumph of technology and also an object made for a rarefied environment, and doomed to remain there. Only 15 LMs were made. Four were not used and are in museums, and one was scrapped. The rest are on the moon or close to it. The vehicle was launched as cargo in a rocket and occupied by the astronauts once they arrived in space. One astronaut remained in the Command/Service Module, which housed all three during launch and return, while the other two landed on the moon in the LM. The LM's ascent stage would bring the two astronauts back to the C/SM, leaving its descent stage on the moon. Once inside the C/SM, the astronauts would abandon the LM to lunar orbit or purposely crash it on the moon. For this installation, the LM's exterior will be a faithful rendition of the actual vehicle, while the inside will reveal its constructed, "fake" nature, looking something like a tree house. It will appear to have "crashed" in the gallery and several holes besides the two designed forms of egress will allow visitors to pass through the vehicle. Inside the LM, visitors will hear a quiet voice reciting a poem by Walt Whitman called "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". They will also find a cellular telephone and a sign indicating that it may be used in case of emergencies related to the sensations of loneliness, abandonment, weightlessness, and general disorientation or longing. Upon picking up the phone, I will be called directly (no other use of the phone will be possible), and wherever I am in the world, I will dispense advise and offer consolation to the caller.
Stepping out of the LM, and entering the rear room of the gallery, viewers will find an Apollo A7L extravehicular space suit, like those used in the space program, rendered at half size. Also in the room will be a number of paintings depicting the functions of the LM. Other objects in the room will be more familiar. These will consist of models of everyday consumer goods which are involved in various ways with Vacuum. There will be vacuum cleaners, vacuum-wrapped items, pneumatic delivery systems, a vacuum-forming machine (used in industry to manufacture plastic parts). These objects will be accompanied by texts giving alternate explanations of their use and significance.
The exhibition is intended to make a number of points. I think its interesting that the Apollo program was the culmination of a cold war competitive effort and while making significant achievements, was also designed as an elaborate public relations campaign. The LM in particular was a wonderful object because while existing as the pinnacle of technological and practical development, it was also made to be thrown away the instant its usefulness was expired. After the first moon landing, the ensuing boredom with the space program, coupled with political and social upheaval in the US, these objects came to represent wastefulness. The LM's ungraceful and anti-aerodynamic appearance, a result of its specialized function, makes it a trope for artwork, which is also unusual in appearance and can only function in rarefied environments (not to mention the average American's attitude toward art, money and society). The idea of the gallery as a neutral space wherein nothing interferes with the reception of the artwork has been examined for around thirty years (which is also my age, and the amount of time that has passed since Apollo). I was thinking that the "White Cube" is essentially a vacuum, which nature is supposed to abhor. I was also thinking of my own bouts of horror vacuui, and the fact that my childhood ambition was to become an astronaut. When I was a kid, I built a space suit out of household objects and old clothes. I remember being disappointed with it. I also remember being disappointed when I realized I had "the wrong stuff". It is this undercurrent of disappointment which pervades ambitious projects and the promise of technocracy that I am interested in. The poem by Walt Whitman is a kind of speculation on the spirit of the people which surround him on a boat between Manhattan and Brooklyn. He feels a kinship not only to them, but also to future readers of this poem. My making myself available with the latest communication technology, in the absence of my own artwork, and in the presence of this rather staid poem, and suggesting that I can help some stranger from a remote location seems to me to sum up this inherent disappointment. Further, the practical ramifications of aerospace technology in consumer goods offers a kind of depleted success of the space program . One could say all that is air coalesces into a solid. It is the very commonness of the outcome of the huge undertaking of something like the Apollo program; the conversion of brilliantly realized dreams into cheap fabrics and plastic gadgets that tends to alienate people from their environment. But of course all this stuff is just so COOL.