RECORDED MARCH 14, AT VAST SPACE PROJECTS
Scott: First impression?
Jenessa: First impression … it’s grabby, it’s flashy, there’s a lot of seductive color, a lot of shiny surfaces. And I feel like, although he [art critic David Pagel, the exhibit’s curator] said there’s no connection between the works and Las Vegas, to bring this show here and either not see that or claim it’s not there, he’s either denying it or it’s kind of unbelievable that he doesn’t see it. So there’s that.
He’s selected this Dante’s Inferno theme, and the artists didn’t make this work with that in mind. So he’s kind of forcing that connection. And Dante’s Inferno is a kind of fashionable, palatable theme to choose — oh, we want to do hell, let’s do Dante’s hell, because that sounds really good. But does the show really need that link to function?
Scott: In his [catalog] essay, he described a three-way vision of the show, which is Dante’s Inferno, sort of filtered through a Spinal Tap mentality and updated with the idea that we no longer believe in the same kind of hell Dante believed in, which was a place, but rather more hell as an existential frame of mind.
Jenessa: He might be finding those little links, but, of course, the artists weren’t making it with those links, so it’s like he wants to push it in that direction. But I think in some cases that actually makes looking at the works a little more problematic to unpack.
Scott: Give me an example of that.
[We approach Erin Cosgrove’s “Urfather” pieces.]
Jenessa: Looking at these Founding Father/kabuki theater/demonoid pieces … trying to thrust Dante onto them makes an already challenging work more confusing.
Scott: One of the points Pagel makes about Dante is that he’s vividly entertaining, and I wonder if that’s some aspect of it. Each of these pieces seem to have that urge to entertain. To show you a good time. I wonder if that’s part of what he’s bringing into this show.
Jenessa: Yes. Because you have a good time in hell. (Smiles.)
Maybe. Maybe. They go together; these works kind of interact with each other in a nice way — they seem to gravitate toward one another with or without that curatorial theme imposed on them.
Scott: So, how does trying to view Cosgrove’s pieces through the lens of the theme change what it communicates to you?
Jenessa: To me, taking these presidential figures and putting them in this kabuki theater, maybe it’s commenting on money, maybe it’s commenting on the economy in some way. Some globalized notion of Western and Eastern ideas conflated together …
Scott: There’s a certain gothic …
Jenessa: Yes, very dark …
Scott: These skulls …
Jenessa: There are certain disturbing connotations, and I think maybe those are exacerbated by the Dante theme. In Dante, the inner circle, the ninth circle, is the circle of traitors. And if you put these pieces in the center of the room and you throw Dante on there, and this is the circle of traitors and they’re our Founding Fathers, you’re like, where am I supposed to go with that?
Scott: [Gesturing at the back of a Cosgrove sculpture, where there are some NSFW goings-on …] This is a literal reference to teabagging — Cosgrove [in a recent panel talk] made the point that it’s a political reference. If Pagel’s taken at his word, that his concept of hell in the 21st century is this disembodied angst or despair, certainly a lot of that is due to politics.
Jenessa: Yeah, and there are a number of political figures in the hell of Dante. So we can say it’s picking up on that theme. I wouldn’t say it’s extending that theme, but perhaps updating it to modern times.
[We stop in front of Jaime Scholnick’s Chuckles Series.]
Jenessa: What’s your take on them?
Scott: They’ve been getting a lot of attention. I would say they’re not my most favorite pieces in the show …
Jenessa: I think, in the context of Dante, they seem a bit gaudy, pretentious. These political figures — that gesture they’re making, is that the pinching-head gesture? Some sort of diminutive gesture they’re making toward the viewer, toward average citizens? The stripes are very vaudeville, very theatrical …
Scott: To me, the point mostly seems to be to make an aesthetically compelling piece out of something you consider evil, which, to me, is kind of an obvious inversion. Making something you think is ugly beautiful. It’s like the concepts are directly opposite, so there’s not a surprising angle on it …
[We enter a small room with two large photos by Nicolas Shakes, images of junk he found in the desert, arranged, lit and photographed.]
Scott: … which I think, in the case of Nicolas Shakes here, to me, anyway, these are beautiful pieces, but they seem a lot less programmatic. Their beauty is more unsettling.
Jenessa: I was thinking about what he’s doing, making these sculptures out of this refuse abandoned by homeowners who have lost their homes; and stringing lights on them is like having a garden party out of their tragedy. So to me that’s a little disturbing, in a way.
Scott: I suppose that can be taken as a political statement, but it doesn’t seem like one. It refers to topical conditions, but I don’t think it’s using them quite as glibly as Scholnick.
[Now we’re at Kyla Hansen’s assemblage sculpture “An Old Family Tradition”.]
Jenessa: I read these pieces as sort of totems made of consumer refuse, which you can take them as that, but when you pack Dante on top, that interpretation became very confused. It kind of suffers from that.
Scott: Conversely, I look at it not strictly through Dante, but through Pagel’s updated idea of hellishness as state of being — in which case consumer detritus does play into it, I think. Probably a lot of the angst in our lives has to do with our relationship to consumerism. I don’t see the Spinal Tap, I see but the updated hellishness here. [Getures at a gangly marionette by Wayne White.] Now, if the Spinal Tap people had written the Inferno, that’s something you’d see staggering through hell!
[We wrap up with Jimi Gleason’s “Ace of Spades”.]
Jenessa: These gave me this powerfully Vegas vibe. The silver, and we’re the Silver State. The idea of this glamorous, glittery surface, so sumptuous and rich, and then you peel it away and underneath it is just this black void. If you take that back to Los Angeles, maybe that relates to Hollywood and the silver screen, or here, with the surfaces, the facade that’s always presented.
Scott: I like that you can’t tell if they’re melting or coagulating. And maybe that state of indeterminacy also is a hellish, with that void yawning beneath or behind you …
Jenessa: In flux. It’s like limbo.
Scott: They also stand out. Everything else in the show, the information-per-square inch coming off these things is a lot higher. These offer a respite.
Jenessa: Overall, do you think the show benefits from the curatorial decision to place this theme on the works?
Scott: Well, first, let me say that if I was rich, my living room would look just like this! OK, Pagel says hell is part of us now. It’s not a destination you arrive at by screwing up your life, it’s innate in us. I see the expression of that in a lot of this work.
Jenessa: That’s … kind of … bleak …
Scott: Bleak but fun! Because the bleakness is undercut by its entertainment value.
Jenessa: It does have a carnival quality to it, a lot of shapes and colors …
Scott: I’m leery of saying “entertainment” so often it sounds as if I’m damning this with faint praise. I think the idea that, amid the hellishness, the vibrancy of these pieces gives you joy, is important.
THE 10TH CIRCLE, through April 13, VAST Space Projects, 730 W. Sunset Road, Henderson, vastspaceprojects.com