Essay + Interview: Hanski and Cory in the Abyss blur truth and myth in "As The Fidget Spinner Turns"
In Epstein's case, all humor points us toward our ultimate demise. "The magic of humor is that it doesn't take anything seriously, allowing an audience to fully embrace the knowledge of death." In one of Epstein's rug-hooked memes a figure wearing a Star of David necklace and yarmulke smiling in the first frame with the text "when you are super proud of your Jewish heritage"... "then somebody brings up Palestine" with the figure covering their necklace. Humor as well as knowledge of death coexist in this piece, but its reluctance to do anything with that knowledge, or move beyond it (the figure in the final frame is suspended in a moment of inability to speak) that reinforces a cycle of death.
When asked, "What is your fav thing to watch on TV?" Epstein answers, "That TV Guide channel. It's all of the options and none of the commitment." I want to scream, "fake!" One would almost have to force oneself to watch that. So why does Epstein want to point us to this moment of "all of the options and none of the commitment." Am I falling for poetic language? Or does it not seems a dizzying symptom of our times? Endless choices at our fingertips, from commodities to companions.
In the front room an Epstein installation takes up the largest wall and the entire vertical space of the gallery. On the wall, a table (whose legs went down to touch the gallery floor) and on top of this table a monitor filled with layers of neon yarn, strands of which extended out to the ceiling. My eyes trace the lines and I don't know if I'm being drawn in, if it's coming for me, or if we both just want to reach out and touch each other. The fidget spinner spins on.
I think humor does a concise job of exposing contradictory human behaviors. The laughter is just one sensory component to that “alchemical” process. It’s the sirens of us unpacking those contradictions. -Jenson Leonard
The other night I was reading about the Yes Men in Maggie Nelson's "The Art of Cruelty" and thinking about how some of Leonard's pieces in As The Fidget Spinner Turns use a similar type of hoax. Take for example the Yes Men’s prank in New Orleans back in 2006. On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a member of the Yes Men posed as someone from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and promised displaced people from New Orleans that they will be able to move back into their homes in addition to oil companies offering compensation to restore the coastline. Then, before the actual HUD could issue an apology and point a finger at the Yes Men, the group did it themselves and made it look as though the HUD had painted them undeservedly cruel (note: it appears obvious now that the Yes Men must have felt very entitled in thinking they could speak for or act on behalf of communities from which they did not come, without anyone asking them to).
A lot of the visual humor in Leonard's pieces (and in the work of many other meme-makers) comes from how he borrows elements from pop culture, branding and advertising. The modified CD and DVD cases are imposters, luring us in by promising to be JAY-Z's 4:44 or a Madea film. Assumed authentic until closer examination, "Madea's Proletariat Uprising" us becomes readable to those who, well, actually take the time to read it.
This, to me, is a less preach-ey version of the hoax because it's a poetic. It’s happening in the written language, not a broadcasted public appearance in which someone who appears to have the power to turn words into action is speaking. With written text, the viewer can choose whether or not to engage. So, where the Yes Men publicly embarrassed responsible parties and poked holes through their smooth rhetoric (they were effective, if problematic), Leonard's work also points fingers at very real cracks in our society, by giving you a gift of being able to imagine for yourself what a righting of injustice would look like.
Corneezy, Cory in the Abyss
What is YOUR plot line for this film? What does the world around these objects look like? By rendering these objects (tshirts with bell hooks, Judith butler, Noam Chomsky, and others, with declarations like "the world is your strap on" (with a triumphant Bulter); a towel with a smiling white family and the text "the floor is white supremacy"; newspaper with all the text replaced with "Diarrhea!"; a pedestal-height stack of pizza boxes with the "Dominoes" text in the logo replaced with "dominant narrative") Jenson brings us closer to an alternate dimension in which this shit is actually talked about in mainstream media (as more than a knock-off regurgitated by a capitalist engine) and for a brief, lucid moment these universes are touching.
And, with the sale of a Noam Chomsky "Shit's Fucked" shirt, there's some definite overlap.
When I asked Leonard where he wants his art ideally he said, "on the internet, free and unsullied by the art world." And while I don't think the art world is a good fit either, I love the idea that that shirt is going to go places outside this gallery and start conversations that will exist outside of a gallery walls or instagram feeds.
I say, embrace the dirt that happens to a piece over time because context and viewership changes and the object d'art is only useful so long as it serves to mediate conversation and idea sharing. Some of these other objects in the gallery might be more powerful encountered, say, in a record store or in someone's living room or a library. --Anna Nelson
I only asked Jenson Leonard and Hannah Epstein four questions via a google doc back when we were planning As The Fidget Spinner Turns in July. However, their work has prompted many more before and after the opening of their exhibition.
When, where and how does something become “art”? Does the vibrant fibers and “hobby-esque” techniques Epstein weaves together validate or negate their existence confined within a gallery setting? Does a stack of pizza boxes subvertly referencing the cold and ominous sculptural pedestal exist as a joke or a political statement? We’ve all seen a fidget spinner on someone’s Story of Facebook feed but have you ever actually spun one? These questions are rhetorical. The following aren’t. --Fred Blauth
What do you think you’re both doing similarly?
Jenson Leonard: Hannah and I are on a pretty similar wavelength, which helps locate our work aesthetically and politically. I think we view the world from a similar enough lens to find the humor in things where most people might have an impairment in finding it. Our identities are different, but we both read America pretty similarly. Me as a black man and her as a Canadian Jew, there is an ideological overlap in the way we dissect and identify the lunacies of American life. And we’re both huge Tyler, The Creator fans. I think those elements are the main uniting threads of our work. As a digital media artist first, i admire the actual physical labor that goes into her installations and rug hooks, and it’s cool to be apart of that.
Hannah Epstein: I think that it’s important to state that Jenson and I are friends first and as friends, we are always making each other laugh. If our work shares any similarities I think they are in the sense of humour.
I can definitely say that knowing Jenson has had an influence on the content of my work, it’s pushed me to play with meme images and language in a direct manner. I see him making work from the @coryintheabyss handle and I it pushes me to make work with a similar tone, but different in subject matter. On one level, our work shares a similar reference point of Internet memes, but it also shares an approach to them that emerges from our hanging out and bantering about culture in general.
How does turning digital work into physical affect viewers perception and vice versa?
JL: I’m getting a kick out of the conversion. Trotting this line, as Hannah pointed out to me, between art objects and retail product, as a lot of my memes replicate the iconography of advertisement. It will be satisfying to see a real life reaction as opposed to a “like” or “share”. I’m hoping people are a little gobsmacked. The work will be way more interactive on the grounds of it materiality. And therefore, should leave a stronger, more lasting impression.
HE: Personally, I have found the physical presentation of Internet memes to be much more impressive and impactful then I would have ever previously believed possible. I think that when dealing with digital images, which we see all the time, there is such a specific texture and quality to their appearance and dissemination that you quickly become numb to what they are truly representing.
This has lead to the creation of works that are emerging directly from the digital medium itself, images which may have never been possible without it. And that’s exciting on its own. The stunning effect of translating of digital images into the physical is a testament to the impact of digital images created online. We are so inundated with them, sometimes it takes seeing them in a new context to realize how radical and powerful they truly are.
Cory's Abyss, Hannah Epstein
Both of you come from practices that could be considered traditional to some (rug hooking, studying folklore...poetry). Why are you drawn to these ideas and how are you remixing them?
JL: There is some kind of false notion or conceit that poetry isn’t relevant anymore because it exist behind some kind of hierarchical wall of intellectual elitism. I think the reality is that poetry exists in all artistic expressions but its the academic institutions that have lagged behind in its movement. Humankind is the most textual it’s ever been. We are reading more than ever. Now, the quality of those texts is a different matter. But poetry has just changed. Evolved. And now we have all kinds of “texts”. People, poets, are still ascertaining what those texts look like.
HE: I like that connection, like we’re actually these romantic era artists who’ve somehow turned up in the year 2017 and they have to make their artistic disciplines edgier for the new audiences. It feels like the plot of a bad teen movie. For me, folklore and the folk art of rug hooking have always felt like these badass, underground, off-grid places where stories are told that reflect daily realities, in their brutality and complexities, but are also couched in fascinating metaphor. In very basic terms, folk and folk practices exist outside mainstream, indoctrinated languages and I find that’s where the art I most appreciate, and find the most interesting, comes from.
Personally, I have found the physical presentation of Internet memes to be much more impressive and impactful then I would have ever previously believed possible. I think that when dealing with digital images, which we see all the time, there is such a specific texture and quality to their appearance and dissemination that you quickly become numb to what they are truly representing. -Hannah Epstein
Memes are the new_______?
JL: Chemtrails. There’s tons of speculation about them, if you look for them, they’re there, omnipresent. But people don’t quite know what to do about them.
HE: Jetlag. I don’t know what this means, I just wanted to treat the question like a Mad Lib.
As The Fidget Spinner Turns is on view until August 28th, 2017. Please contact us directly to schedule a visit and/or click here to view the price list from the exhibition.
We launched The Bunker Projects Review as a platform to engage in conversations about contemporary art centered on the contributions of our exhibiting & resident artists to the field.