It took me a long time to write about Aaron Flint Jamison’s exhibition at Artists Space. I had to figure out how to move past the obvious statement, which is that the work is frustratingly opaque, and say something about what lies under it. Maybe I could even say something about the opacity itself.
The exhibition leaves the gallery nearly empty: about half a dozen objects (depending on how you count them) are strewn throughout. The SoHo columns and worn floorboards of 38 Greene Street are on full display. Except for a lone gallery attendant (when I went, slouching on a window sill and reading a book), the room was empty of people; the usual work stations and reception table have moved to their 55 Walker space for the duration of the exhibition. At Jamison’s direction, there were no press releases or object checklists to take away, no artist bio or exhibition description in vinyl on the wall. Even the usual $5 suggested donation box was gone.
Four of the objects in the room are machines. All but one, an IBM laptop, were unrecognizable to me: an American DJ strobe (tagline: “Pure Lighting Excitement”) placed on a table light-side down; a FARO lidar (a combination of the words ‘laser’ and ‘radar’) scanner, used to survey and model landscapes; and a power distributor unit, or PDU, that “distributes power from low amperage single phase circuits to higher-power 3-phase solutions.” I had to google all of this. The IBM laptop plays the classic 3D pipes screensaver; when I moved the cursor, I found that the lidar is on, performing surveys of the room which were then dropped into daily folders.
I looked to the Artists Space website for clues, and found an enigmatic link: “For Production Balances click here.” The link takes you to a spreadsheet detailing the exhibition’s expenses. It is a nod towards institutional critique, in which Jamison lists a breakdown of his costs versus Artists Space's, a $3,000 artist fee. He also lists costs like $360 to Emily Henderson for “organizing everything” and $27.95 at a liquor store for “collating booze.”
So: an object in the exhibition scans the structure of Artists Space. The exhibition budget, generally the province of a select few curators and administrators, is made downloadable for the public. Jamison’s exhibition literally surveys the contours and boundaries of the institution. For anyone willing to search, he tells you quite a bit about his process and what went into the exhibition.
But I didn’t—couldn’t have—known any of this just visiting the exhibition, and these guesses could be off the mark. I am used to going to dense contemporary art exhibitions and this was an order of magnitude more work than usual. Jamison performs an intellectual sleight of hand by applying the readymade to advanced industrial technology (a language in which most art world citizens are illiterate), and institutional critique to the already deadpan web design at Artists Space.
For me, this became a sort of perverse enjoyment, a pat on my back for figuring at least some of it out. Jamison moves the labor of enjoying art away from the art historical knowledge to seeking, like an online puzzle game. I imagine, if pressed, that Jamison would consider the visitor having to do some work afterwards an agreeable byproduct, maybe even part of the work. A statement on the circulation of objects and images.
Jamison said of the issues of his conceptual magazine Veneer, in Artforum, “They aren’t easy to display, present, or even sell. Sort of like a lot of art that is important to me.” Frieze magazine said there was “as much chance of understanding dark matter as there is of processing information about Flint.” In an art world somewhat exhausted by its languages and by the same old tropes of conceptualism, density and opacity are themselves tools to jar the viewer. There is more to be said about the exhibition: for example, that the printed objects in the room are on “paper made of stone,” and that I still don’t know what to make of the tubular wooden sculptures in the show. But that would take much more googling, and I’ll leave that to the next visitor.
Editor's note: The previous version of this article contained photographs of the exhibition space taken by the author. ArtSlant was then informed that circulating images of the exhibition is not allowed, and this restriction constitutes a part of the concept of the show. Therefore we've removed the images. We apologize for any misunderstanding or inconvenience! You'll have to see the show for yourself...
(Image at top: Courtesy of Artists Space.)