Reversing Reversals: Scenes and Results
by Brooks Turner
Scenes and Results—these titles, read together, establish a chain of causality in my mind even before I saw the two new exhibitions by Joe Sinness and Daniel Luedtke, respectively. What are the results of the scenes set before me?
The hermeneutics of sexual desire is a curious dance of bodily objectification and the celebration of individual subjectivity. Objectification occurs in the way the body becomes an object of pleasure—chiseled muscles, bulging dick behind gossamer G-string, ass held high and offered out. We cannot help but objectify the body in our sexual desires, and yet, simultaneously, our desires are deeply personal and informed by the subjectivity of the other. Sinness repeatedly objectifies the body in his exhibition Scenes, while simultaneously endowing his imagery with a personal tenderness born from each subject’s individuality. This juxtaposition is perhaps most apparent in Birthday 2. The contrapposto pose of the figure presents a kind of relaxed self confidence in their sexual presentation. An allusion, or perhaps invitation, to sex plays out across a vertical access drawn from penis to pearly whites, as the figure bites and tugs the end of a balloon, gentle enough not to pop but nonetheless creating tension between aggression and fragility.
The humor in this playful sexuality continues throughout the exhibition. Drip, a black and white drawing depicting a cumming phallus in the hands of a lover, hangs next to Always Open, a color depiction of a business sign illuminated at night advertising a space that is “always open”—a libidinous proclamation that defines the homoeroticism of this exhibition. Nearby, a vertical juxtaposition of drawings depicts an array of repeated hands rising up from one drawing (Bab’s Hands) towards the second (Pink Prick) where a button fly window offers a glimpse at a partially exposed, erect but contained, dick. The pun opening in my mind between hung drawings and hung dicks begs the question: is art viewership encapsulated by depictions of homoerotic desire, an arousal that chases the dragon, only to find climax in isolation (when the artist or artists can make work for themselves)?
The back room contains small drawings depicting fragmented and de-personalized male sexuality on large black backgrounds. A large mixed media sculpture sits in the corner: two wood cutouts with images affixed, one, closer to the front, depicting bushes, the other a figure bent over, presenting ass. This sculpture, entitled Bather, offers a secondary turning point for the exhibition: that of formal exploration of the relationship between photography, set, subject, and drawing. The theatricality of these two objects, flattened but nonetheless three dimensional in their occupation of space, calls attention to the space of a stage or set occupied by bodies. The exhibition title, Scenes, plays into this theme as well, further emphasized in the felt presence of the photo lens in how each drawing composition freezes a moment in time. How many of these works were actual candid snapshots? How many were scenes staged with precision? Are any film stills?
The photograph is often seen as a tool of objectivity, capturing the truth of reality, while drawing is seen to unfold through the subjective filter of the artist’s mind. Of course, these ideas are simplistic fabrications, often proven false—and in their falsity, these categories reflect back on their use in framing sexual desire. The distinction between object and subject is ever entangled, a gordian knot where any slice presents an incomplete understanding of the body’s relationship to the world. This to me is the strength of Sinness’ exhibition: together the works present a complex entanglement of subjects, objects, scenes, and desires, collectively building a homoerotic, utopic dreamscape.
Desire translates from image to space in descending the stairs to Daniel Luedtke’s basement exhibition, Results. Ludtke created two tiled floor installations, one, Missing Blood Types: Chocolate, with a custom blanket draped over the tiles and the other, Lab Work (Easter Candy), with scattered papers containing Luedtke’s medical test results. The tiles have a shimmering ceramic quality to them, but upon closer inspection, are clearly cut from foamcore and coated with a thin layer of dyed resin. In defining a specific installation-space, these floor sculptures become like stages, implying bodily performance. In encountering the absence of a literal, physical body, especially in Lab Work (Easter Candy), I imagine stepping foot onto the saccharine topography—would my experience change with tiles underfoot? What would the exhibition look like raised a half inch off the floor? But, my weight would destroy the fragile tiles, and so without thinking, I sought to satisfy my desire by picking up one of the green papers in the installation. Once it was in my hand, even before reading the medical results, I wonder if I have transgressed, if I have ruptured the carefully curated paper placement. The stage, as a spatial category, carries with it an implication of bodily performance, but also permission and structure—certain bodies (performers, subjects, stage crew) are permitted to be on stage when a script or cue invites them, while others (the audience) are required to observe passively, unless special circumstantial authorization is granted. I tried to replace the paper in the exact location as best I could, concerned that I had in fact transgressed a boundary I should not have. Missing Blood Types: Chocolate, provoked a similar desire to touch the fleece blanket bearing a giant Cadbury’s bar with blood type letters removed. Here, for some reason, the boundary of the stage, the division between viewer and object, felt more clear, even though the soft, warm, sensuosity of fleece stirred in me a desire to touch. In a further reversal, the fragility of these sculptural stages results in bodily discomfort even in my navigation of the gallery floor—I wanted to be close to each work and yet I knew, one wrong placement of my foot could cause damage to the material or the composition.
Despite the absence of a physical body, both works imply one through materials allusion. Lab Work (Easter Candy) conjures the body through medical data systemized within a corporate organizational structure—a dissociative but nonetheless specific portrait of the artist. The Cadbury’s chocolate bar printed on the fleece blanket in Missing Blood Types: Chocolate is taken from a marketing campaign by international corporations to draw awareness to the need for blood donations. Here, the body is implied by the blanket’s scale and use; all that remains is an image of corporate capitalism. In both cases, the objectivity of the body through its fluids and numerically summarized data, is prioritized over the subjectivity of the artist’s bodily experience and mind, instigating a broader human narrative of human subjectivity within systematizing and objectifying international capitalism.
This point of contemplation continues in COPS DOOM NATIONS, a monoprint reclamation “of the ‘FAGS DOOM NATIONS’ protest sign designed by the conservative hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church,” according to the didactic. My gut reaction is fuck yes, but on deeper analysis, a complicated narrative emerges from these three words and their original reference. The role of the police is in maintaining a system of violence against all but cis-gender, heterosexual presenting white men and women, a system built on the maintenance of Christian Imperialism and chattel slavery in America. The nation as an organizational structure with specified, delineated, and policed borders is a product of Imperialism, which has always privileged and protected white cis-het bodies. Cops don’t doom Nations—they sustain them. And likewise, especially in considering the homo-utopian imagery in Joe Sinness’ work, perhaps queers really do doom Nations—and that’s a good thing! Anarchy as a principled political structure is not chaos nor “might equals right.” Anarchy’s guiding principle is that a government must always justify its existence to the people it governs. When it can’t, it must be dissolved and rebuilt. The Nation asserts itself as a force bearing down on its citizens, maintaining order rather than responding to the needs of its citizens or a world population. The primary goal of a Nation is continual increase of power for an elevated few—which results in violent oppression of the subjectivity and objectivity of bodies that do not conform to the status quo both internally and externally. In its clever and quick reversal, COPS DOOM NATIONS, undercuts itself, our police state, capitalist power, and continued Christian Imperialism embodied by groups like the Westboro Baptist Church—after such deconstruction, what else is left but an anarchic utopianism?
As a poetic experiment, let’s reverse the exhibition titles: Luedtke’s exhibition becomes Scenes and Sinness’ becomes Results. The scene set by Luedtke is one of corporate, systematic objectification, highlighting the dystopian nature of our current political and social reality. The result of these scenes interpreted through Sinness’ exhibition is a reversal, a path forward, a plan for a better world. I see this especially in Sinness’ quieter works, such as Golden Hour, Summer Night, and The Gift. Their pink coloration conjures rose-tinted glasses, a metaphor used to discredit naive optimism and positivity. But perhaps instead, every pair of rose-tinted glasses contains a radiant sunset of radical acceptance and the celebration of individual subjectivity. Rose-tinted glasses can be our tool to chisel away at the Imperial Nation, allowing us to build communities of pink skies, relaxation, and acceptance. Perhaps this is naive in itself, but right now I know at least I could use some warm fuzzy feelings.
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator. His recent work engages the history of fascism in Minnesota and has been supported through a 2020 Artist Residency in the Weisman’s Collaboration Incubator, a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a Minnesota Humanities Center Innovation Lab Grant, and a Rimon: Minnesota Jewish Arts Council Project Support Grant. Since 2014, he has taught sculpture, drawing, and painting at the University of California, Los Angeles, St. Cloud State University, Ridgewater College, and is currently Chair of Visual Arts at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts. In 2017, he wrote A Guide to Charles Ray Sleeping Mime, published with Paperleaf Press, and continues to write essays for Hair and Nails Gallery and Temp/reviews.
Cameron Downey says:
Joe Sinness’s Scenes and Daniel Luedteke’s Results is
Upon entering the H&Ngallery space— one that dons a pool blue front door— to see Sinness’s airy and delicate portals feels most like an inhale. At first taste, Sinness’s drawings greet with astral blues and pale pinks; each of which is pulled out, or rather set into one another on rolling land and body scapes.
No one image wears identical characters or settings, but one of the two might saunter easily into the wirey blonde universe of another. Most exude pleasure and exhaustion, tied down only by the intra-image framing of the scenes themselves. The bodies populating Sinness’s scapes are as delicate as and perhaps imbued with the same tongue-and-fist-in-cheek knowledge that one is being gazed upon. Always accompanying is the assumption that that gaze is sweet, contentious and reliant on the lover.
Most of what makes Scenes as playful yet distant as it is finds itself tied up in the smooth, technical prowess of the drawings. Colored pencil makes the glimmer in an eye pearly. The sweat breaking on a lat, the pubic hair swirling up from a g-string piney and as flawed as the bodies are pristine.
To enter Leudtke’s world of Results is to discard reasonably and practically the absolutism of the glamorous. Dreams of satisfaction and temptation stow as we put on instead, fragments of that which perhaps should be used, but isn’t.
Tile-like grids and abstract requirements greet the entrance: a glimpse of supportive shoes, super foods and services— as disfuctional as they are real (see: medical insurance)— peak from behind rounded rectangles.
Where Sinness’s Scenes hints at the satisfaction of mouth to mouth, Leudtke shows as much, pulling from what one could assume to be a lesson on revival. The colors even then are still aspirational and adolescent in tenor – submitting that we’re to learn from or ignore its tasks.
The piece that stands out at first as incoherent in the face of these works— but later is clearly their culmination— is the timelessly over-inked black and white print that states assertively
It too, and especially, operates as both instruction and infraction.
Leudtke gives us no choice but to enter his spattering of a world with a reluctant comfort in something that likely never was explained but always was expected.
The most overtly beautiful of these being the sun-washed skittle-tinted tiling that fills the basement corner and lights up the space like a well-tended to Floridian Department of Motor Vehicles. Backyard hot tub tangerine and marbled yellows hold tax attourney green receipts: a totality of 01s and 02s. And at closer glance, they’re all results. Indicative is this minute reading of the entire room, a tension between the utterly individual and the utterly necessary. A curiousness at the space between.
Cameron Downey is an undergrad at Columbia University pursuing studies of Environmental Science and Visual Art. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, she oscillates between the midwest and Harlem, NY. Among artmaking, she spends time as a writer, advocate, curator and dreamer.
Downey’s art has previously been exhibited by HAIR+NAILS in: HAIR+NAILS at 9 Herkimer (Brooklyn) in 2019 and FUTURE FUTURE (HAIR+NAILS MPLS) in Jan/Feb 2020. Downey guest curated HOLDING SPACE, an exhibition of video, image, light and sound, in the H+N frontyard this summer.
writes about Daniel Luedtke’s Results
In “Missing Blood Types: Chocolate (2020)”, one of the conceptual pieces in Daniel Luedtke’s “Results” show, a tawdry purple towel printed with the Cadbury logo spills over a layer of funny-shaped black and pinkish tiles. The company name has been manipulated to read “C d ury D iry Milk”, but it’s Cadbury, not Luedtke, who originally suppressed the a’s and the b. As the show notes explain, the company took part in a real-life campaign in which major corporations advocated for giving blood by deleting the blood type letters in their names. The ploy is ripe for an artist attuned to our poor soft bodies’ subjection to capital and clinic, and Luedtke gleefully exploits the anxieties around bodily fluids it arouses, including those concerning who does and doesn’t get to be mined for biocapital or included in its affective economies. No fags allowed in this blood-sharing flash mob, unless they happen to be neg and riding out a dry spell.
To judge by the towel, though, the spell is pretty damp. The spermy milk dripping from a chocolate jug on the Cadbury logo, or the microfleece’s remarkable ability to suggest stains, evoke anxious fluids other than blood. Rumpled and probably sweaty, this is a towel to fuck on, its tacky tactility exacerbated by the weird tiles it’s laid over. Though they mimic ceramics, the tiles are foamcore glazed in resin, as cheap-feeling in their way as the towel. In shape, they have a typographic quality, like an imaginative conflation of a’s, b’s and o’s. But they also resemble dicks or boots (as in the cartoon feet of “Mr. Happy”, “Mr. Tickle” or “Mr. Nobody” from the Mr. Men children’s books.) Black and pale pink, vaguely interlocking, paired off two by two, they seem to pattern “interracial” sex in a faux naïve fashion similar to that projected by the milky chocolate. In one way or another, the “Fairtrade” seal on the Cadbury branding evokes relationships of imbalanced power, and maybe even a more intimate version of the extractions celebrated by the campaign.
In keeping with “Missing Blood Types”, bodies as well as a’s and b’s often disappear from “Results”. Other works highlight this elision, as in “Relaxing Tiles #1 and #2”, where empty body shapes outlined in acrylic stand out against grids that recall quilting panels, farms seen from an airplane, or more tile cells. Some of these cells are filled with images collaged from massage or mattress ads, while the empty outlines are frozen in attitudes of slumping, as on a bench, or leaping in joy or terror. In contrast to the ads’ clear, commodified calm, the outlined bodies are both plastic and enigmatic, like Pompeii plaster casts.
More often, though, the bodies are just not there. In “Lab Work (Easter Candy) (2020)”, the undetectable body is the artist’s, indexed by LabCorp printouts of tests done in clinics in the Midwest and South over a number of years. As a self-portrait, the piece orchestrates a life story through data points and references to clinical apparatus, strewn over a second, very different array of glazed foamcore tiles. The Easter candy of the title is captured in the tiles’ hard-shell pastels, and maybe even in spiritual processes deflected by those “serial monitoring reports.” Cellular as elsewhere in the show, the tiles feel especially “institutional” here. Faux ceramics, they cast our clinics as simulacra of something better.
In “Lab Work” and other pieces, a breezy Hockney palette highlights the element of sublimation inhering in showing “Results” but not always the messy processes behind them. (Hanging the blueprint for “Lab Work” in the downstairs bathroom feels like a sly acknowledgment of that tension). But “Cops Doom Nations”, a one-off black-and-white screen print, reads like a pivot from results to processes—the elemental and maybe ordinary process by which matter produces words, in this case the titular phrase; or the way that one process—printing—can imitate another—burning.
A little charred, “Cops Doom Nations” looks like Lake Street and Minnehaha still smells—that acrid odor hanging in the air, walls licked black and plastics melted. The piece lands us, of course, amid cultural processes as unaccountable as the bodily ones reported elsewhere in the room. The show notes explain that the slogan is adapted from one invented by the Westboro Baptist Church: “Fags Doom Nations.” In “Cops Doom Nations” too, then, faggotry is strategically suppressed. But maybe we can hear the “fag” persisting in weird tension with the “cop”, lingering beneath it, threatening to doom nations also, and maybe even to make this one “just another part of the world, no more, no less” as John Cage, legendary faggot, once hoped.
Travis Wilds is a writer and scholar based in Minneapolis. His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and other sponsors, and he is currently at work on a book entitled Empire of Exactitude on the entanglements of literature and the sciences under Napoleon.
In the spirit of continuity, HAIR+NAILS launched HAIR+NAILS TV in March as sheltering-in-place necessitated closing the gallery doors. As of this printing the H+N TV production team (Emma Beatrez, Ryan Fontaine, Lee Noble, Kristin Van Loon) have aired 9 episodes, including:
5/16/2020 JUDY HOLO SHUI XIAN: DANCE PERFORMANCE HAPPENING THING “how I’m feeling now”
8/13/2020 EMMA BEATREZ feat. music by LEE NOBLE: CHOREOGRAPHY FOR EPSON SCANNER, FIRE, CCTV
8/21/2020 APARATUS #1 BY RYAN FONTAINE (feat. KRISTIN VAN LOON)