By Emma C. Roberts
The opening reception of Bunk Notes felt more like a Halloween party than a gallery opening. The ceiling was covered in crisscrossed black streamers while music from a coincidental block party next door shook the walls. The space was comfortable, it did not take itself seriously and neither did the exhibiting works. The fifteen young artists featured in Bunk Notes use exaggeration, theatricality, and jokes to investigate how camp imagery meets urgency, arguing that humor can reveal truth.
Theo Triantafyllidis, Self Portrait (Interior), video game, 2016
Bunk Notes is Olivia C. Williams’ inaugural exhibition at Pilot Projects, where she has served as a curatorial assistant for over a year. Williams, an artist in her own right, mined Instagram for artists who employ camp critically in their work. Social media-as-curatorial-approach is no longer an uncommon method when putting together an exhibition and reflects a push for accessibility in the presentation of contemporary art. Instagram introduces a range of artists from vastly different backgrounds and stages of their career to the public, presenting them on a uniform interface. This is also the case in Bunk Notes, which displays the work of Philadelphia-based undergraduate students like Kyle Schiffbauer and Clare McCarthy in close proximity to artists with multiple solo exhibitions under their belt like Theo Triantafyllidis, who most recently showed at Depart Foundation in Malibu, CA. The uniting quality of these artists is not their exhibition history or their educational background, but their consideration of camp’s self-aware and subversive qualities. Bunk Notes extends from a lineage of artists, filmmakers, and musicians who have long used camp as a means of discussing politics, gender, sexuality, and race, illustrating a breed of camp that Susan Sontag describes in her 1964 essay “Notes on “Camp”” as “wholly conscious.”
Left: Brook Hsu, The Dead King Looks Up at the Green Moon, ink on yupo paper, 2018
Upper Right: Will Knutson, Penny Dies, colored pencil on wood, 2018
Lower Right: Alexis Mcauliffe, Untitled, oil and glitter on tile, two way mirrored plexi, 2018
Left: Will Knutson, Lock #1, stone, 2018
Center: Cameron Spratley, Hope of Deliverance, collage on paper, 2018
Right: Will Knutson, Key #2, stone, 2018
The main gallery space demonstrates varied understandings of tropes and their underlying gravity. Brook Hsu’s The Dead King Looks Up at the Green Moon, made specifically for the occasion of this show, demonstrates how horror movie tropes can carry personal and historical implications. In Hsu’s small ink drawing a frail pink skeleton seems to both cringe and dissolve amongst nothing but a few grey clouds and an intensely green moon. Skeletons have historically served as symbols of death, making them emblems for celebrations of fear and mortality including Halloween and Day of the Dead. Hsu draws from the myths and legends of these holidays and their earliest origins to bring attention to contemporary anxieties, exploring how familiar icons can serve as vehicles of personal trauma. On the neighboring wall, Cameron Spratley’s collages make visual reference to what he describes as “the street culture that black entertainment is built upon” while also articulating concerns of violence and police brutality. Spratley’s compositions demonstrate that pain and political context are inescapable, even in the presence of humor. Many of the artists in Bunk Notes investigate the relationship between the troubling physical world and simulated reality, including Theodore Darst. Darst’s The Tourist: This Machine Makes Fascists presents computer-generated figures that occupy a slightly uncomfortable space in the uncanny valley, accompanied by pulsating text and an unsettlingly atmospheric soundtrack by Kevin Carey. The Tourist transforms Pilot Project’s closet-sized video gallery into a site of disorienting entrapment, underlining the dangers that lurk within the digital spaces we have found comfort in.
Theodore Darst, The Tourist: This Machine Makes Fascists, (Soundtrack by Kevin Carey), 11 minute HD video loop, 2017
Pilot Projects was founded in 2016 with an interest in collaboration, as well as humor and antagonism that engages critical theory. Williams’ tenure in the space as a curatorial assistant is evident in Bunk Notes, where jokes are intended to be interchanged amongst cultural criticism. I spoke briefly with Williams over Instagram messenger about her curatorial debut, the importance of jokes, and her relationships with fellow artists.
Emma C. Roberts is a curator and writer based in Philadelphia. She is currently living in New York and interning in the Curatorial Department of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.