The Sisyphus myth makes a wonderfully funny analogue for the art world: greedy, hubristic and crafty, and sentenced to being endlessly unproductive for the entertainment of the gods. As both artists and art-viewers we help reproduce the conditions of our own pointlessness.
Like most artists I know, I have to earn a living doing something other than art. Having a wood shop connected to my studio, my day job is custom woodworking. I do all kinds of work from arts fabrication to kitchens. As I like to put it, I make wood smaller for a living. Since the vast majority of my disposable income is siphoned directly into my art habit, and I work where I make my art, I often wonder what constitutes the boundary between these ostensibly separate fields. Where does one set of skills begin and the other end? What are the relative values of those skills?
While building a custom kitchen, an opportunity arose to concretize those questions. Given that I would have marked the bottoms of kitchen drawers in any case (numbering them for installation), I wondered how far “marking” the bottoms of the drawers could go. Flipping the drawers upside down, I made observational graphite drawings of each drawer onto its underside: a sort of selfie for the drawer. Selfies are not so much images of us, as they are images of who we want to be. Implied in this is my aspiration towards making art and not drawers for a living - towards living the dream.
I then photographed the drawer-ings in my studio before installing the kitchen in the client’s home. Two weeks later, I received a text message from the contractor saying that he found the drawings and that they were “rad.” Another few weeks went by, and he forwarded an email from the client, who had unhappily discovered the drawings. Her email concludes with a succinct answer to the two questions I set out to ask: “It’s unprofessional and it cheapens them.” By way of a solution, I volunteered to erase the drawings.
The project, equal parts performance, sculpture, drawing (un-drawing) and photography existed for a while as a series of 30” x 40” digital prints: the original documentation of the drawers re-presented as excised “product shots”; captures of the texts and emails scaled 1:1 with their respective screens; and gridded photographs of the drawing removal process. I had been feeling that the project was still unresolved for two main reasons.
First, I wanted to invert the logic of the original inquiry. If I inserted “art” into cabinetmaking, could I posit cabinetry as art? I had been considering re-building the kitchen as a sculpture in a gallery setting, for example, but I couldn’t find the right note.
Second, I felt that the documents of the drawers should somehow become three-dimensional. The drawings were two-dimensional representations of and on three-dimensional objects. As documents, the photographs presented two levels of two-dimensional space: that of the object in the photograph and of the drawing on the object. The photographs needed to become objects in such a way that their object-ness distorted the image in the same way the photograph distorted the drawing, and the drawing distorted the drawer.
When presented with an opportunity to do a show in an apartment under renovation, everything fell into focus. I decided to make replacement cabinet doors and drawer fronts for the existing kitchen, satisfying the inversion criteria. In wrapping the new fronts in the photographs of the drawers, the images turned back into objects. By having the image span multiple doors and drawers, the in-service movement of those doors and drawers would fracture and reassemble the image.
Concurrently, the idea of a parasite/para-site became very informative for me. While working out the drawings originally, I was trying to imagine that the drawings were somehow separate entities from the drawers themselves. Could they be some small space of my own that perhaps didn’t belong to the client? In this way, the work shown here is a kind of parasite on the extant architecture, as with any site-specific work. When the show came down, I re-installed the original kitchen fronts. But, they also represent a para-site (parallel site) to the kitchen from which the project originated, calling into question the what, when and where of the art-event. Is this the art-work or the documentation? Does it still exist once it’s erased/taken-down? Is the site-specificity just any kitchen? Just another expensive kitchen, made by some anonymous crafts-person. Just another artwork stripped of its context, stored away in an anonymously ubiquitous box.