by Shana Beth Mason
It's tempting to think of Junkies' Promises: curated by Ivan Návarro as a psychotropic first night of Hannukah. Lights, lights everywhere seeming to burn endlessly; the endurance of the lights and the brilliant variety of colors they shine in appears just shy of miraculous. But Návarro's keen technical decisions, whose own work appears in a section of the show, is hardly a novel phenomenon: his fluorescent furniture-esque work has effectively bridge a hardened gap between form and functionality, all the while questioning the aesthetic repercussions of both concepts. His play on William S. Burroughs' semi-autobiographical novel works with the skills and cunning of one who defies every man-made law in order to survive (if the right to exist is meant to be divine law).
Steel lanterns from Jorge Pardo, a spiral tribute to Louise Bourgeois by Deborah Kass, a ladder reflecting colors by Stephen Dean and an elegant Deco chandelier from Josiah McElheny illuminate both lit and unlit spaces within the cavernous Paul Kasmin Gallery space on Tenth Avenue and its satellite space on 27th Street. The room directly to the left of the entrance (on Tenth) glows a deep navy blue, with flickers of white and multicolor neons littered on the floor and the walls. A curious installation, called Lap Lamp (2006), from Pipilotti Rist sits alone against one wall. A standup lamp covered with a painted lampshade stands next to a nondescript chair, a circular projection resides on the seat bottom. What is the light source? Do we eclipse light with our own presence? When we 'turn out' a light, it still appears in other places. In Burrough's case, for example, one unavailable hit of heroin could be rescued in the detritus of another. One failed opportunity to get high spurs determination beyond any to reach another. Rist's work is equivalent to the recurring promises a junkie makes for him or herself: the source is always somewhere, visible or not.
Back in the first room, the chandeliers burn almost too brightly. The eclectic collection of Baroque and Deco lighting delicately treads the threshold of light too intense to be seen. Dzine's Around the Way Girl (chandelier sculpture) (2013) further enhances its own luminous intensity with mirrored shards above the hanging candle-shaped bulbs. More than pulling a realistic symptom of the junkie's condition (sensitivity or extra-sensory perception to light), Návarro reads into the culture of lighting space and how such a basic natural function is warped into complex visual codes. Further evidence of Burroughs' death-drive existence are manifest in two works at the 27th Street space. Jill Magid's Bayonet Range (2013) physically mirrors the printed word as both the weapon and the victim: just as Burroughs' account was catharsis, it was also self-incriminating. He An's He TaoYuan (2012) softens the impression neon light as exploitative, but willingly reveals its breakages as something specific to a distressed or questionable atmosphere. Rounding out all of these works is a typically poignant, piercing neon message from Alfredo Jaar (who echoes the core plea from a personality like Burroughs'): Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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