INSTITUTIONAL CRITIQUES (1976-2016) Bruce Eves
Exhibition extended to 1 April, 2017
The exhibition is a little shocking, a little prescient, a little sexy, a little snotty, a little surly, but smart, with a couple of jokes . . . and Elizabeth Taylor. It includes a newly discovered, never exhibited work of cultural criticism from 1976, and related archival documents.
Work # 977: CLEAN-CUT EVIL ONE OBSCURES
According to Renaldo Arenas, the Furies were the only goddesses that should inspire us. This exhibition is, from my perspective, a pared down retrospective of works from the past decade or so, with a nod to the distant past and a nervous glance toward what may likely occur. Torture, self-loathing, political revolt, contrarian dissent, psychological trauma, terrorism and other trendy topics are cherry-picked at will from mutually exclusive sources – the morning headlines, the official record of 20th cen-tury art, the signs and signifiers of the gay male underground, as well as plumbing the well of my own internal zeitgeist. By positioning myself as an ironic spectator, this has allowed me to explore the spaces between these charged relationships. Renaldo’s outlook is evident throughout.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is two works created a decade apart. From a distance, the twenty 60.9x76.2 cm (24”x30”) panels that make up the enormous “Work # 680: Skin (Scenes of Wres-tling and Torture and Sex)” (2004) assume the sweet and calming innocence of fluttering falling snow as imagined by a small child. By shifting one’s focus to the background images the work becomes more of a psychological game. While the three activities in the title appear to be unrelated, the fact that the im-ages bear such a striking similarity to each other one is prompted to recognize the root commonality that places wrestling on a continuum with sex and sex on a continuum with torture. But from this root of human interaction repression grows in one direction and perversion grows in another. And while the layered white dots began as a (perhaps too gentle) razzing of Damien Hirst and John Baldessari at their most air-headed, they posed a challenge to the viewer to classify each pile of tangled limbs into its proper category. While an earlier version of the work has only ever been exhibited once, this challenge was put to the test and the audience got the classifications disastrously wrong . . . I was thrilled!
Not unrelated, “Work #952: The Devil's Keyboard” (2016) is a different type of fevered psycho-logical game – it’s about learning the alphabet 2017-style. Rather than Aa=Angel, B-b=Boy, Cc=Cat, Dd= Dog, Ee=Egg . . . we’ve got Aa=AK47, Bb=Blindfolded, Cc=CCTV, Dd=Drone, Ee=Explosion and so on and on. The installation design follows the QWERTY layout for English language keyboards.
As a mash-up of “Hercules Beating the Centaur Nessus” by Giambologna from 1601 and a slightly abridged line lifted from Charles Dickens’ 1835 “The Pickwick Papers”, it appears there’s a meet-ing of an apple and an orange. But when taken together, the two fragments – sculpture and text – of “Work # 900: (Endeavouring . . .)” (2014) assume a different form of feverish instability by implying a conflicted relationship willfully engineered by Nancy-boy Nessus to force hunky he-man Herc into deli-vering the most satisfactorily masochistic pounding.
misery so many outsiders experience at Christmastime, this offhanded work on paper contorts the opening line of a particularly obnoxious and sappy Bing Crosby hit song by morphing Christian symbol-ism to its ultimate Gotterdammerung.
Every year during Documenta, a survey of the best in cutting-edge art that happens roughly every five years, toward the end of his life Joseph Beuys would install himself for 100 days in the Frideri-cianum, a lavish 18th century palace and one of the oldest museums in Europe, and become Headmaster of Free International University. Its program at Documenta VI dealt with a range of contemporary social themes and issues where radical and creative new thinking was needed to overcome existing problems, including human rights, urban decay, nuclear energy, refugees, the Third World, violence, manipulation by mass communications media, and labour issues. These topics were discussed in an interdisciplinary way by a changing stream of international politicians, lawyers, economists, trade unionists, journalists, community workers, sociologists, actors, musicians, and artists. The participants invited to participate in the “Violence and Behaviour” workshop included a contingent from Toronto’s CEAC (Centre for Experi-mental Art and Communication); a group from South Africa, the British behavioural performance team Reindeer Werk; and a contingent of the Polish Contextualists. While Beuys maintained a commanding presence in the museum for the entire run of the exhibition, the “violence and behaviour workshop” was only a small part of his programme and lasted at most a week to ten days. “Work # 971-(02): Dossier # 02 (Violence and Behaviour Workshop, Documenta VI)” (2016) is a trio of archival documents from those workshops. I am next to Beuys at the far right, videotaping the proceedings. While unrecorded, my lecture on homoeroticism and the simulacra of violence in punk and leather/S&M, while praised af-terwards, aroused much hostility from the audience in attendance. At the after party when the work-shop had finished Beuys launched into a series of demeaning and contemptuous impersonations of his invited guests and ended his thanks by sticking his tongue down my throat. Beuys thought of us as his students; we came to think of ourselves as props. He was a HORRIBLE man, and when he died in 1986 I didn’t shed a tear (crocodile or otherwise).
Taken together as a group, the ten editioned works create a series of disruptive juxtapositions that explore the interconnectedness of masculinity, aging, bias, history, and data collection presented through the mashed-up lens of gay history, art history, and my history, yet frustrate any simple narrative reading. Some include experiments with pinhole photographs with its capacity for an indefinite depth of field and its tendency of allowing small mundane objects assume the monumentality of public sculpture. By adding collage elements to the negative ups the ante for a picture’s conceptual implications while the
medium is ideally suited to transform the mere gothic into something more satisfyingly overwrought and post-apocalyptic.
While startling, slightly hilarious, and eerily of-the-moment, “Clean-Cut Evil One Obscures” is in actuality an anagram of the two artists – Nicole Clouston and Bruce Eves – exhibiting at the Robert Kananaj Gallery (January 19-March 4, 2017) Bruce Eves. December 22, 2016
Bruce Eves creates conceptually-driven photo-based works that explore the shifting nature of time, focus, and perception, as well as the ever-changing relationship between image versus interpretation and memory versus present-day reality. He co-founded and was chief archivist for the International Gay History Archive (now part of the Rare Books and Manuscript division of the New York Public Library). His work is represented in a diverse number of public collections from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Tom of Finland Foundation.