Saamlung announces a solo exhibition of new work from the New York-based sculptor and essayist John Powers, opening on Friday 19 October and running through 17 November 2012. Entitled “Suite of Suites,” the sculptural objects in the exhibition make reference both to furniture as a functional category and to the more abstract logic of repetition and differentiation. Expanding his experiments with the historical legacies of minimalism and its ideologies for his second appearance at the gallery in Hong Kong, this project frames the relationships between floor and chair; floor and plinth; plinth and sculpture; sculpture and floor; sculpture and chair as matters of conceptual urgency when viewed with regard to urbanism and power dynamics.
Robert Morris makes a great deal of the difference between the “intimate” and the “public” in his second Notes on Sculpture essay, in which the public is deemed morally superior to the intimate. It is an essay in which he also valorizes object of a very particular scale:
Q: Why didn’t you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer?
A: I was not making a monument.
Q: Then why didn’t you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top?
A: I was not making an object.
Morris's desire to frame minimalism as fully of the public domain, lacking any indication of the personal, was characteristic of the modernist project from its beginning. The heroic masculinity of the art and architecture of the 20th century could only be haunted by the idea that moderns are domesticated “men without chests,” an anxiety that remains with us (consider Rush Limbaugh’s shrinking penises).
There was an overriding anxiety in the postwar years that art objects not be mistaken for intimate things. One can imagine a third, unarticulated question that must have haunted the minimalists as it did their modernist forefathers:
Q: Why didn't you have it upholstered?
A: I didn't want it mistaken for furniture.
If this seems silly, it is. Allowing oneself to look at a plain gray box as an aesthetic object, the modernist believed, would set us on the dangerous road to looking at everything around us with the serious gaze of the critic — a sort of aesthetic onanism. Here at the beginning of the new century, however, the desire is no longer to incorporate the heroic publicness of I-beams and sheet metal shops, but rather to wonder at the architecture of sofa fortification.
In the major series exhibited here, John Powers has fabricated a series of deformed furniture objects referred to as “sofa burls,” including individual sculptures that appear to have originated in the forms of ottomans and sectionals but which have been overtaken by transformations of a cancerous sort, sprouting cushions in unexpected locations and growing beyond the expected patterns of interior design. Many of these objects are upholstered; several remain as naked wooden frames mirroring the hidden skeletons of the sofa burls. Elsewhere in the exhibition, sections of rugs are afflicted with similar patterns of growth, spreading across the floor and even rising up to leave its surface. This is a vision of the living room gone mad, as the parallel logics of sculpture and domesticity somehow cross-pollinate with unexpected spatial results. If minimalism attempted to do away with the plinth, instead placing its sculptural objects directly on floors, against walls, and on the earth, here the plinth — that much scorned piece of gallery furniture — reasserts its presence with a vengeance. For the artist, this is an experiment with the capacity of “non-pedestal” sculpture to move from the gallery to the home, and back again.
This series of work will premier in the upcoming exhibition. John Powers’s work was last visible in Hong Kong during the Saamlung exhibition “No One to Hear You Scream” in the spring of 2012, a project to which the artist contributed a series of architectural models and an essay engaging with the theoretical possibilities of historical modernist public space as typified in Tian’anmen Square. Whereas that body of work polemically argued for the conversion of public development zones like the West Kowloon Cultural District or Victoria Park into massively flat and open concrete meeting spaces, “Suite of Suites” instead bears more direct consequences for the interpretation of the place of art in the minuscule private living areas to which Hong Kong is accustomed.
Most recently, John Powers completed a corrective rewriting of the complete script to the 2012 Ridley Scott film Prometheus, attempting to “rationalize the inconsistencies” of the film while fundamentally reconstructing the genre of fan fiction itself. Prior to that effort, he constructed the outdoor sculpture Big Gini (2012) in the north-central Russian town of Vyksa for the Art Ovrag youth festival, making reference to Futurism and notions of public art.
Concerned with the legacies of the minimalist avant-garde and its attendant ideologies as manifested throughout the popular culture of the past half-century, John Powers (b. 1970, based in New York) mines the iconography of science fiction film and art theory for the spatial vocabulary of his pointedly maximalist practice. Divided at times between writing and sculpture, which is often fabricated partially by hand and partially by machine, his work examines the intersection of supply chains and the traditional studio.