Daniel Bozhkov’s hilarious photograph of Darth Vader purifying the black sea with a Britta filter drew me to The Kitchen’s exhibition space. It has no relationship to The Absolutely Other (through August 7), a show of artwork employing strangers in various capacities, but a friend sent me the picture while noting his work was currently in the exhibit. Between that and a tiny royal chair I liked of his at Basel Miami this year, I figured I should see more.
Like many exhibitions I visit because there’s an artist included I happen to like, the show itself mostly amounts to nothing interesting. Eight small island-like installations dot the gallery, and the video-heavy selection curated by Miriam Katz looks better than it plays out. The install is good, but neither of the two competing video pieces uses headphones, so nothing can be heard properly.
Closer to the front of the gallery, Bozhkov’s work is a notable high point in the show. Titled Condensed Instructions for Mutiny, a DIY re-enactment of all the storm scenes in Moby Dick plays on a tall pedestal with a small TV screen. Bozhkov and a friend stand in a lake and recite passages from the book, while two fellow artists throw buckets of water at them. Later, they are toweled off by these same water throwers.
The piece is pretty funny and includes explanatory text about the artist’s inspiration, along with a Keyway Classic coloring book on the subject. According to the nearby plaque, it was Bozhkov’s random encounter with a stranger who believed that Herman Melville created the hero from observation, thus inspiring Condensed Instructions. Bozhkov takes this thesis one step further, claiming that only bad weather leaves observable “traces” and those are “beyond repair.” This doesn’t make too much sense, but since I didn’t think the stranger’s thoughts were much more intelligible, the response is at least consistent. I don’t understand the coloring book either, which usually requires crayons to do any damage, but in the video Bozhkov does end up with a script so soaked it will never serve again.
Many other works in the show require the stranger create the piece rather than inspire it. Dave McKenzie’s “It’s a Date” uses a plexiglass raffle box at which visitors can enter to win a private dinner with the artist. I entered my name for the full viewing experience, but I’m not sure I even want to win. How is this different than a blind date but for the free dinner and almost no hope of getting laid?
Adjacent to this sits Nancy Hwang’s Meet Me At Home, a work employing almost the same encounters-with-strangers concept. In her case, a red telephone provides a direct line to her phone where she will invite you over to her house. She’ll meet a few more people than McKenzie, but the logic is the same: there’s value in exchange with strangers. As I mentioned in last week’s column, I have reservations about that idea.
Other problematic works include eteam’s mildly patronizing Landcruise, a faux documentary complete with accordion music of a trip never made by the disinterested tenants of their land in Northern Germany. Also disappointing is Hope Hilton’s When I am reading I am far away, an internet book exchange program that exists five hundred times already on the web.
Einat Amir’s Phase Three, in which she hires actors to visit the homes of gallery goers as either a crying woman, an ex-boyfriend, or a sleazy entrepreneur, fares better. Three video flat screens display the actors at last year’s Performa, their business cards posted above the screens. The piece is a little over-constructed, but the concept ensures a more engaging exchange. Had a few more of the participating artists spent their time developing better concepts, I’m sure more fruit would come from strangers.