Whitehot Magazine

July 2008, The Joint Custody Project @ Found Gallery

 Paul Pescador and Britt Ehringer, Spam Alert, 2008,
 courtesy The Joint Custody Project and Found Gallery, LA

The Joint Custody Project
Found Gallery, Silverlake, Los Angeles
July 5 through 13, 2008

There have been, in the natural development of creative processes and their social peripheries, a good many incarnations of the avant garde, those experimentally ahead of their time not only in their work, but also in their methods of interaction within their grouping. In the early twentieth century there was Paris: the Simultaneists, the Dadaists, and the Surrealists all manifested their presence. The Surrealist way of working and, by proxy, of living was garnished by if not centered on their various games, one of which was the cadavre exquis, or the exquisite corpse, in which a paper would be passed around for each player to sketch a body part and then fold their contribution out of the view of the others, so that the body was formed by a marriage of aesthetic and absurdity.

Picking up on this spirit of iterated, rather than cooperative, collaboration, Found Gallery in Silverlake presents the second annual installment of their take on the Surrealist game, called the Joint Custody Project. Clearly separated from their modernist avant garde forerunners in the postmodern context of Los Angeles, the endeavor translates what in the past was absurdity- an incitement to laughter- into a dramatic psychological play of artist ego and vision.

The project’s co-curators Shana Nys Dambrot and Tad Beck selected twenty-two artists to participate and paired them up to create works addressing the themes of duality and sex, in its many forms and outlets. On their end, the pairings were well seen and considered, but for the artists they were totally blind: the identities of the partners would not be revealed to the artists themselves until the show’s opening night. In each pairing, “Partner A” was given the liberty of selecting the initial medium and beginning the work, while “Partner B” was responsible for the completion of the work, which Partner A would not see until the reception.

The potential for escalation and clashing artistic visions that is inherent in this structure is ripe with viewing pleasure for the art goer. “Last year one of the Partner A’s ripped their piece off the wall and attempted to destroy it, and had to be escorted off the premises,” boasted gallery director Brady Brim-Deforest when explaining the concept of the show. Its crux is the delicate balance between creative generation and destruction: the very essence of drama.

The factors that exerted the most influence over this balance were gender and age; though, interestingly enough, it was not the former that most influenced it, as it may have been in decades recently past, but the latter question of generation. Shana Nys Dambrot admits to having purposefully selected solidly established and “reliable” artists to be paired with some of the younger, more experimental characters, the results being predictably fiery. Two cases in particular illustrate an explosive tension in artist methodology and vision. Both ended peacefully, however.

The first involves the work Treadmill by Leora Lutz [A] and Dominic Quagliozzi [B], who were easily a generation apart. Lutz, the elder of the two, is currently known for her series of work in which she takes paintings to the shooting range. This creative temperament became severely inflamed by Quagliozzi’s decision in the middle iterations to paint over that which she had already painted- the repercussions of which was that she cut down her efforts to contribute to the piece and threatened to boycott the exhibition’s opening. She did appear, in the spirit of dramatic confrontation, however her reaction to her partner’s terminal iteration of the work (the two canvases that they had worked on being nailed together face to face) was surprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly, positive. She stated that the finished piece was much closer to her original vision and her spirit as an artist; and as coincidence would have it, the artists’ respective statements featured a shared vocabulary and similar message.

The second case yielded the nearly unanimously favored piece of the entire show, Spam Alert by Paul Pescador [A] and Britt Ehringer [B], also without any real verbal or physical confrontation between artists. The piece featured a nude woman in white high heels squatting in what looked like the expulsion of a heap of fruit. Obscenities were painted over the image in a childish handwriting. The aggressive vulgarity of the image is more complex than a first glance would suggest. As it hung on the gallery wall, it was constructed entirely by Ehringer, the spunky and cantankerous yet senior partner in the pairing. He described in good humor the evolution of work, explaining that the fruit coming from the woman’s arse was in fact a cheeky reference to Pescador’s obsessive visual relationship to fruit. In the first iterations, Partner A sent image CDs and URLs to flickr pages filled with pictures of fruit. Ehringer, a well-trained painter, did not respond with directness to these contributions and, perhaps as retaliation, Pescador shredded their canvas and sent his partner a disk with photos of its remnants. What resulted was something far out of Ehringer’s normal realm of execution and what Shana Nys Dambrot called a “show stopper.”

Of course, not all could end quietly, even if the most brightly burning flames of tension were extinguished. Near the end of the show, a piece entitled Fragile: Handle With Care was blown apart by a firecracker laid by angry Partner A’s girlfriend, ushering the last of the reception’s attendees out with a disconcerting bang. Curatorial rage was shot back at the offending couple, proclaiming that their stunt was not, in fact, the breed of performance art expected of the night. The sentiment was shared, though, among those lingering in the gallery at the end of the show that at least someone made some noise.

Mallory Farrugia, LA

Mallory Farrugia is a writer in Los Angeles.

view all articles from this author