By Jonathan Santoro and Meredith Sellers
In conjunction with Vox Populi’s September shows, we conducted interviews with the four exhibiting members to learn more about their respective practices and the driving forces in their work. Exhibitions this month include solo shows by Will Haughery, Maria Dumlao, and Jay Muhlin, and a group show of printed matter curated by Beth Heinly. There is also an exhibit at Fourth Wall, the film and video space at Vox Populi, by Joan Oh, Tutorial up through September 27.
Jonathan Santoro and Meredith Sellers: Move In Silence is layered with many veiled allusions to Ridley Scott’s neo-noir classic Blade Runner (1982). Could you walk us through some of these references and why you found a loose appropriative strategy important for this installation?
Will Haughery: The central impetus for creating work in reference to Blade Runner came from my obsessive watching of the film starting early in the spring. The film presents such an intricate and colorful, bleak version of city life that was and continues to be prophetic to the ways in which we interact within a city today.
The set design in particular is poignant in creating a convincing world where characters exist and interact with each other. This coupled with the themes of existential wonderings and ethical modes of policing stuck me as both contemporary concerns and on trend with the current news circuit. Especially given the prolific nature of police brutality and our culture’s view of the way in which police govern. I kept coming back to the age-old saying “All Cops Are Bastards,” often abbreviated to “ACAB”. Ford’s character is a bastard in many ways—a replicant created by the Tyrell Corporation as a trash man in some ways, but given a badge and gun to retire (kill) those that are his brethren.
Harrison Ford’s character is unraveling the mystery surrounding his prey’s existence while unraveling his own query of existence in tandem. The latter strikes home with me personally, and I felt a connection to his character in the sense that he came to realize that he himself was the entity he had been hired to exterminate. The connection is found in the context of Caucasian maleness, specifically as a heterosexual male.
I am very much against the overarching monolith of misogyny that is both openly expressed everywhere and subtly (and not) imbued in what seems to be every interaction I witness. When I see this everywhere everyday, it’s exhausting. But I also realize that I have contributed to this. That is where I find connection with Ford’s character: his realization that he is the unwanted. The replicants are not made to do evil, and yet they do commit evils deeds. You could say that even Ford’s character is not a stand up guy.
It’s troublesome to be in a group that you are critical of, yet still lumped in with. You get a sense that you are part of the problem. I think that all men should be far more critical of their place in social and political culture (like seriously, wake up).
JS/MS: You have collaborated with Kris Harzinski on many performances, videos, installations, and curatorial projects that reinforce a thesis on deconstructing masculine identity. How does your independent work define itself apart from this focused collaborative and creative relationship?
WH: The work that Kris and I make has a very pointed and specific mission statement, one that we have worked through and molded in the seven years we have been collaborating. It’s easier when you have someone working alongside you, to check your mistakes as you check theirs. The trust that we have formed has created a fruitful practice in which we push each other as we push ourselves. Our most recent body of work for a show we had in Baltimore was a refreshing change for us. We focused on rural tropes of masculinity that surrounded both our upbringings, while still imbuing our bromantic critique of masculine culture/relations.
My solo practice is still evolving, and I am trying to find my footing in some sense. This show felt like my first chance to create a calculated body of work, one that was my own. But in some ways this show is very much my side of the collaboration with Kris. As if you cut a limb and grafted it to another tree, the original is very much there, but it grows into something else, while retaining aspects of its original growth.
Another part of my singular practice concerns itself with the simple joy and privilege of creating for the joy of creating. At my day job I am tasked with creating parts for well-crafted high-end furniture. From 8am to 5pm I have access to amazing tools and materials that I would otherwise never be in contact with, so there is a sort of dilemma when I get to my studio, where I have to figure out what to do with a limited material and tool set. This has left me to figure out how to create objects and images I find appealing within a lo-fi studio setting. It has provided its own set of challenges to be overcome in a way that satisfies my desire to create. It has led to a painting-heavy practice, while still involving video and sculpture.
JS/MS: In Non/Andropause you reenacted a scene from Blade Runner but replaced the female android—Daryl Hannah’s character Pris—with a male actor. How does your inversion of this scene in the film intersect with your previous work about gender and sexuality?
WH: My initial reaction to Daryl Hannah’s death scene was an interest in the way it was depicted. Her character screams and writhes on the floor, fighting death to the last breath. This is in direct contrast to Rugurt Hower’s death at the end of the film in which he accepts it with solace and acceptance. I identified so much with Hannah’s character and wondered how I could depict a similar energy within a male context. The resulting work is melodramatic and elongated. I shot the scene at 240 frames per second to create a very slow, dramatic motion, to call attention to its absurd nature.The talent has blood dripping from his groin, pouring onto the floor below and beside him. I’ve been thinking a lot about menstruation, or rather the lack thereof in the men, and how completely insane the world would be if men had to experience that on a regular basis. I imagine that men would have a much different view of themselves and their mortality if blood poured from their penises every month.
JS/MS: This installation is a melange of cinematic references and contemporary provisional painting. What is your relationship with painting and how are you attempting to connect the language of painting with cinema?
WH: I approach painting as a therapeutic exercise. It allows me to focus on a singularity in a way that is calming, and becomes about the brush, the application, or the substrate. I am not trying to make paintings that prove painting is still relevant or that there are things left to be said. It’s simply a way to create images that I find endearing on an aesthetic level.
JS/MS: Contemporary sculptors and installation artists such as Dora Budor, Alex Israel, and the collaborative practice of Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman focus on film props and/or film sets to respectively explore entropy, artist brand, and total immersive experiences. What are you seeking with your references to the interior architecture of Blade Runner and how do you want the viewer to feel in the experience you’re creating?
WH: The architectural motifs present in Move In Silence serve as a springboard into the film as well as a ladder out. This way the work can exist both in conversation with the film but also extend outside that particular conversation to other themes, allowing a layered reading of the work.
The large painting titled Ennis is a recreation of a Frank Lloyd Wright tile, present in the apartment Harrison Ford’s character inhabits in Blade Runner. The scale of the work evokes a wall-like structure, but its tiling is abstracted, flattened and delayed. This provides a subtle consideration of a specific thematic visual: a way into the work in the show, but not simply a recreation.
Jonathan Santoro is an artist working in multifaceted sculptural approaches. Born in Providence, RI in 1983 and currently living and working in Philadelphia, his work has been exhibited at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Woodmere Art Museum, Vox Populi, The Icebox Project Space, Bodega, Little Berlin, and Secret Project Robot. jonathansantoro.tumblr.com
Meredith Sellers is an artist, educator, and arts writer currently living and working in Philadelphia. Born in Baltimore, MD in 1988, she earned her BFA in Painting with a minor in Art History from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010 and moved to Philadelphia to pursue her MFA in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts in 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania. She works somewhere between painting, video, and installation. meredithsellers.tumblr.com