Art

Zackary Steiner-Fox’s “Latent Cosmic Power” (video)

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I went to Zackary’s exhibition launch at the Gloria Knight gallery about a month ago. Sometimes I feel like art is another language – one that I am not at all conversant in.

Thankfully there was an incredibly well-written explanatory note (read: Art to English translation dictionary) written by Henry Davidson – an intern curator of contemporary art at the Dunedin Art Gallery which made it make a whole lot more sense to me.

Perhaps it’s the lawyer in me, but I enjoyed the concept more than physical manifestation/expression of it. I hadn’t given much thought to how defining things as the “other” or the “eccentric” can be a way of marginalising a minority group by reducing them down to a hyperbole of their most visible attributes or quirks. Given how pivotal the partitions and dividers are I thought this would be best expressed through video, so I popped by the gallery later that week to grab some footage.

So here’s Henry’s explanatory note:

In this new body of work by Zackary Steiner Fox the artist explores the possibilities and problematics encapsulated in the idea of ‘the eccentirc’ and the projection of eccentricity onto identities of difference. Occupying unique and often privileged positions in cultural texts, the eccentric is beloved, but never taken seriously. Even when they are, we never learn much about them; they are half-drawn, opaque characters. Queer people, who cannot adhere to cisgender and heterosexual imperatives, are often cloaked by others in the garments of the eccentric. As such, the eccentric stands in and is shorthand for a generalised queerness while being counter-productive to queer values in many ways.

In Latent Cosmic Power, the artists breaks the gallery into zones by partitions constructed from wood, glass and metal. These dividers appear like semi-screens from behind which one might change or dress. As such, they are imbued with a sense of intrigue and romance, which Steiner-Fox channels throughout the exhibition. Places where identity might literally be performed or ‘put on’ and ‘taken off’, the dividers are curious in that they are non-spaces. At Gloria Knight they form paths through the space but also hide or screen something. They facilitate a navigation of the space while at the same time cancelling it. They do what the eccentric might do in terms of queer politics; they help us to feel closer to the ‘other’ while actually negating the acceptance of difference.

Like the other work in this exhibition, the dividers’ form is foregrounded and their function is never settled but always changing. With their practical purpose (to conceal, to cover) discarded in the context of an event that emphasises looking, the screens ask us to embrace their impracticalness, to see potential in something that might at first appear illogical. In this sense, they posit disorientation as a desirable state of being. Similar to Hito Steyerl’s claim that we live in a ‘groundless’ time, that our experience might be characterised as a ‘free-fall’, Steiner-Fox advocates for a space of identity production that is unframed and potentially unlimited, where the external application of the eccentric to individuals would be recognised as an act of identity dismissal malevolent and bordered on violence. But where would this space be? What would it look like?

The zone of art is an arena where eccentricity is lauded, for to be an artist is traditionally to be understood as taking a position on the ‘outside’, however cliché this may appear to us now. A person’s difference is often endured or tolerated, or more, translated into eccentricity, if they are understood to be an artist. In this sense the concerns of Latent Cosmic Power reflect back on Steiner-Fox’s practice and status as an artist. With its liminal spatial qualities, this exhibition reminds us that identity is work and the body a workplace. The decorative folding screens of early and modern China were often considered ideal places for artists to display their work. Similarly, Steiner-Fox’s screens act as support for a range of options that flourish and bristle up against each other; choices, alternatives, opportunities.

The smaller works that embellish the dividers – hanging off them, clinging to them – seem to reference personal adornment and beautification. Glossy black and grey earrings with eye shadow running down them dangle off a metal rod. Glass beads form curtains and further screens while referencing jewellery. Small sculptural objects appear to have been dipped or coated in lacquer, varnish and oil. Housing these items, the dividers’ function morphs again as they become merchandising and display structures. The echoes of commodity culture and emphasis on appearances throughout Latent Cosmic Power might seem at odds with a desire to rupture the status quo. Theorist Jack Halberstam has drawn attention to Lauren Berlant’s outline of ‘cruel optimism’, of how, “we hold out hope for alternatives even though we see the limitations of our own fantasies.” Such a situation might exist in Steiner-Fox’s exploration of queer and identity politics vis-à-vis consumption and ‘the eccentric’. Halberstam despairs at how “those who study subversion, resistance, and transformation are seen as either dupes of capitalism who propose popular culture as the cure for mass distraction or cast out as inadequate theorists who have not read their Foucault, Deleuze or Marx closely enough” In line with Steiner-Fox’s optimism in this exhibition, the flourishes and twirls of romance that appear throughout the work might provide the sort of play and experimentation that Halberstam and Berlant are looking for. The show’s palette of lavenders and pinks and textures smooth, ribbed and cool melt us into a glossy, sexy world. Steiner-Fox’s techniques allude to Romanticism’s “validation of intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience.” Like Romantic literature and art, Steiner-Fox’s aesthetic experience embraces the unfamiliar and the distant in order to “harness the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.” Rejecting the eccentric as irrelevant, Latent Cosmic Power, as its [sic] name would suggest, heralds strength, embryonic but promising. – Henry Davidson 2014

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gloriaknight.co.nz/current/zackary-steiner-fox-latent-cosmic-power

– Chris.

Author: Chris Park

One half of the Park Brothers. Purveyor of banter, curator of misc. Manage comms for @BuoyandMine. Read More


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