Bradley Wester

Artist to Artist #3 (SHINE and its DISCOntents)

I use the letter format as I did in Artist to Artist #1 & 2. In this case, a letter to Tavi Meraud responding to her article “Iridescence, Intimacies” in the recent e-flux journal #61 entitled, The Politics of Shine. I wrote this letter concurrent with my solo exhibition, DISCOurse #2: SHINE at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York, 12 February to 14 March 2015.

Dear Tavi Meraud,

Your article, Iridescence, Intimacies, in “The Politics of Shine” edition of e-flux journal, and Sven Lütticken’s, Shine and Schein, have brought important insight and confirmation to my latest body of work entitled: DISCOurse #2: SHINE currently being exhibited at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York.

You write, “Iridescence…as a particularly scintillating instantiation of camouflage, literally dazzling the potential predator, is a demonstration of a particular interior-exterior negotiation that ultimately results in a suspension of the appearance-reality distinction.”

70’s to early 80’s Gay Disco is the point of departure for DISCOurse, its utopic impulse, the disco lights and their coincident glamorizing and democratizing effect over a space dedicated to marginality. By democratizing I don’t mean to make equal or banal, but that the disco lights make everyone equally exotic, iridescent.

You have me thinking in contradictions: To be iridescenced is to be camouflaged by diversification.

Camouflage, to hide in plain sight, can also reference the closet in the queer context, existing within society but undetectable, invisible to the straight hater-predator. The Disco lifted that veil of repression, even if only for a few hours, and it made queerness attractive, dazzling, even for the straight interloper—a rehearsal for inclusion.

Paradoxically the real diversity of queer difference and its essential demand for social inclusion was given only surface regard, if not suppressed, within many of the bar and club models designed for its expression. That is, bars in the ‘age of the closet’ were so often specialized or segregated by theme or type: Leather, S&M, Twink, Professional, Hustler, Drag, Go-Go, etc. They may have celebrated the agency of a radical lifestyle, but also promoted a brand of conformity. For me that period’s greatest limitation was how it reduced us to one common denominator—I could never abide ‘hooking up’ with someone simply because we shared the single trait of same-sex attraction, no matter if that attraction was the desire that got me to the bar in the first place.

The Disco however, save for its consistent disco beat, was a sea of sparkling variation for all the types described above and more, including straights—from an S&M leather man to Andy Warhol, from movie stars to art stars, from drag queens to Jersey teens—the original glitterati. Freaks of all sorts were especially guaranteed admission. Not to disavow the elitism of the eventual velvet rope, but for a time the Disco was a dreamland of marginal belonging.

With my new work, DISCOurse, I attempt to both celebrate and critique our contemporary shine fetish by putting the Disco back into the discourse on shine.

Is there something deeper beneath the shallow of our contemporary fixation with the shiny object?

Shine is both thin and impenetrable, its depth is an illusion, all smoke, and mirror. Shine flatteringly reflects our own image literally inside our things, as well as the image of others watching us watch ourselves inside our things. Shine makes us look good. Alas, it is opaque. Shine is stealth, an apparatus that obscures. Whether masking our own mortality, the politics of labor production, or the destructive force of a drone, shiny is the preferred characteristic of our neo-liberal market economy of things. Accordingly, our shiny commodity fetish acts to distract us from, and formally condition us to, an habituated environment of omnipresent surveillance and secrecy. The more we embrace it, the more we are made in its image. No longer discerning customers, but drone volunteers made featureless via ‘mirror marketing’.

So you would have to be crazy to make shiny art if you want to be taken seriously. All too often we hear or read commentary about the inflated art market and the rich spec-u-lector’s crass taste for the “new and shiny”:

“The auction houses have seized on the phenomenon of wider interest, and, coupled with dwindling supplies of Modern and Impressionist works, have shifted their emphasis to the sexier, publicity-generating field of the endlessly new and shiny.”  —Kenny Schachter, UBER ART, March 2 2015

This is only one example of the oft pejorative use of the word shine or shiny when referencing contemporary art. Paint something silver and it instantly looks contemporary and goes with anything. And who was it that first said, “If you can’t make it good, make it big. If it doesn’t look good big, make it red. If you want it to sell, make it shiny.” So many contemporary artists do just that, and there are collectors who are willing to buy it. But is there more to this shimmer than meets the eye?

The Disco Ball, a recurring object, and referent in DISCOurse is the perfect seductive yet transgressive shiny object to address today’s Shine-geist. A spinning disco ball with its fractured surface of reflective mirror ‘fails’ or breaks our image into a multiplicity of moving reflections in the round that are then scattered onto limitless chance surface-shapes—dizzying, exotic, ‘queer’ mirror, a pixelated globe of potentiality. Here, even the straight reflection is made queer.

Industrial pegboard, another material found in DISCOurse’s hybrid practice of installation/sculpture/digital-image/and painting, allows me another strategy to have my way with shine. Like the disco ball as analog pixelator or image-failing device, the pegboard, which I custom coat with reflective Mylar, literally looks like a computer motherboard, and becomes the conductive substrate for other recognizable materials that are fixed, connected, like circuitry, but with unfixed associations. Here then is a mirror that is a representation of 1’s and 0’s, a shiny dot matrix which includes our now rasterized reflection, that we literally see through, sometimes to another layer. So a tri-spatial phenomenon of the viewer, their actual space, along with their reflection in the screen of Mylar’d pegboard, and finally the space that we see through, to the other side of the pegboard.

In the ‘Screening the Surface’ section of your piece, you speak of a related but different kind of tri-spatial phenomenon when referencing the virtual and real spaces that screens occupy or are occupied by—screens that hold projections as in film, screens that act as barriers or blockages, and finally screens as in computer screens:

“Oliver Grau’s suggestion that the spectator of a computer screen is in fact in three different places at the same time: the spatiotemporal location of the viewer’s body, the tele-perception of the simulated space, and tele-action that happens when one manipulates a robot’s [drone’s] actions with one’s own movements. This multiplicity—or more specifically, this simultaneity—of being present in multiple realities suggests that the key issue here is reality and how it is defined, staged, and refined.”

Mimicking the form factor of computer circuitry, my pieces also become literal screens, that both obfuscate and illuminate what stands between the here and there, the now and then, present and future.

I am now considering other significant associations embedded in my use of generic commercial pegboard: as both a holder and organizer of tools used in manual labor and as a display-holder of commodities in thrift store aisle constructions. Both uses are conflated in the DISCOurse works, and together they become their own commodity in the form of an artwork. And finally, by metalizing this uniformly perforated material, it not only mimics the form factor of computer circuitry but also suggests the chink in neo-liberal’s armor.

Celebrating the imperfect, the perforated, and the broken shine, I reveal the interstices of societies’ reflection, the spaces in-between, androgynous spaces, where potentiality lies. The site of DISCOurse, like cross-border economies, is where ideas and materials are hybridized and repurposed, where culture, commerce, and the imagination anticipate a future diverse: queer time.*

Oh, and it’s more than, but a little bit: I’m gay and shine is my territory—a rich, deep, anything but shallow terrain. Hello. Snap!

DISCOurse #2: SHINE at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York through March 14th, 2015.

Bradley Wester

* Special acknowledgment and thanks for José Esteban Muñoz’ book, Cruising Utopia, the Then and There of Queer Futurity