I am partial to installations of kinetic processes. Roxy Paine’s Second Nature exhibit at the CAMH in 2003 made a major impression on me as something eerily impersonal yet chaotic, with Paine’s art machines belching paint and molten plastic in a disquieting automated rage.
Jonathan’s Schipper’s excellent installation at Rice Gallery deals in glacial entropy, but it shares a spark with Paine’s exhibit—an exhilarating queasiness that comes from, well, processing something. Here Schipper has installed a crushingly accurate multi-cubicle workspace, seemingly placed in a tremendously bleak hologram of the late 1990s. The awful, bulbous designs of Microsoft’s “golden era,” zip drives and Dell desktops, lie sickly on surfaces of slick particle board. Faded family photos and generic ribbons and diplomas of achievement crookedly hang on the walls. All the furniture is of course extremely drab. But Schipper wisely does not lay on the despair too thick; there’s nothing mocking or mean-spirited about his tableau. It simply is unromantically and brutally real.
But in the corner of the room, a perfect white portal—like an ocean liner window—sits placidly. Coming out of the portal are thousands of white lines that attach to all the objects in the office—photos, copiers, computers, chairs, everything. Behind the portal, a 45-ton winch slowly and imperceptibly pulls the strings (the winch moves at approximately one millimeter per minute), and by extension all that they are pinned to, towards itself, in the process destroying the office and by the show’s end leaving it a total ruin. In the adjacent room, a time-lapse video displays the to-date carnage on loop.
Side by side, the two symbiotic pieces—the time-lapse video and the installation—create disparate experiences and a fascinating hinge for the show. The video is cathartic, recalling the brilliant installation and video by the Danish collective Superflex, Flooded McDonald’s, where a McDonald’s is painstakingly recreated and then slowly flooded into a joyous, apocalyptic bedlam. There’s something surreal and righteous in the wreckage, as if a trickster god of taste and pizzazz appeared to mete out punishment on homogenized dreariness.
The installation creates a different reaction. The silence of the cubicle hangs on an inexorable dread that is deeply disquieting. The portal, especially after viewing the time-lapse, becomes a malevolent, nihilistic abyss, akin to the filmic voids (with encompassing soundtrack drones) in movies like Eraserhead and Irreversible. The white lines ignite a lattice of patterns and references in the mind. There are thoughts of death and the destruction of the environment, of surveillance, of the brutal enmeshing of late-stage internet connectivity—full transparency, zero privacy, endless performance.
Schipper states: “The most static object is still in motion at a molecular level and the world is always changing. Even if the object was this perfect thing that stayed the same, we as a society change how we view it. My installations are about destruction and creation, and they generally have no static point. It is the process of changing them that is the point.”
By splitting the show into the installation and the time-lapse, Schipper articulates this concept fluidly and profoundly. The show contains multitudes: stasis, anticipation, movement and memory. From this pinnacle of banality—the office cubicle—Schipper forges a distillation of time and change, allowing viewers to step outside of themselves and witness. Given the tenor of 2016, there’s something elementally horrifying and resonant about this experience.
Through Dec. 4 at Rice Gallery, Houston. Images courtesy Rice Gallery and the artist.