CamLab, Emodes of Research, Leslie Dick (Dan Graham), December 13, 2009 through January 10, 2010
This past winter, CamLab had an exhibition at the Leslie Dick (Dan Graham) art space in Silverlake. Titled Emodes of Research, the show seemed to be a space for the artists to let loose and pursue disparate avenues of inquiry that did not necessarily conform to one another or congeal into a coherent whole.
One theme brought up in the show’s press release was that of “psycho-ness”—“as a conceptual strategy, as liberation, as decoy, revolution, institutional critique, social downer, form of artistic expression, threat, and/or relational device for various pasts, presents, and futures.” To engage this theme through social sculpture, CamLab set up a podium made entirely of their own clothing, and placed on it a binder of clippings, which guests at the opening reception took turns reading from. The clippings included critical writings on art, email exchanges between Wyman and Mayer, a Yoko Ono interview in which she was questioned about her role in the breakup of the Beatles, Courtney Love’s infamous rant to fans following the suicide of Kurt Cobain, and writings by Johanna Went, among other evocations of “psycho-ness.”
On the large wall adjacent to the podium, CamLab’s signature duotone motif was evoked through a checkerboard wallpaper pattern composed of two different Xeroxed “To Do” lists, repeated over and over. The lists contained such freeform reminders as “Buy him a little treat, he’s always enchanted and confused by gifts” and “Text me and I can call you” and “Fuck the ocean!!!” Mounted on the far right wall was a large photograph of the two artists, looking straight into the camera, one of them winking, with the limbs of a stuffed monkey linked around both of their necks, conjoining them. This image seemed to tie the strands of the room together somewhat; it encapsulated the “psycho” theme while also grounding it in the familiar presence of the two collaborating artists and their standing invitation to others to participate in their world.
I’m not sure where the facets of this exhibition were heading, but their freeform nature was at least appropriate for the fluid and experimental space in which they were housed. (The Dan Graham space, which was also the venue for 1969 and The Sharon Show, previously reviewed here, has been described as a gathering place for a community of artists, where each exhibitor renames it according to the needs of the current show. Hence “Leslie Dick,” the name of one of CamLab’s mentors, for this show.)
Another interesting tangent of Emodes was a “docent” tour of Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years—the expansive collection survey now on view at MOCA—which took place a few days into the exhibition. Mayer and Wyman escorted about a dozen colleagues on a personalized didactic tour that focused on the female artists in the show and discussed many of their own seminal influences, such as Bridget Riley and Jo Baer. Held at the same time as Paul Schimmel’s mobbed public tour, the event was a nice political statement at the same time that it offered art historical clarification of CamLab’s roots.
My favorite component of Emodes was the series of short performances that the artists did at the show’s opening reception. The performances, which were driven by custom-made relational prop devices, took place in the front display window of the erstwhile storefront space, which was transformed into a “Night Alcove” using a curtain and a red light. Each performance was announced and accompanied by New Shapes—a custom musical score composed and recorded by their friend Josh Mannis—which I would describe as the charming love child of strip club songs and kiddie carnival tunes. A different prop drove each performance, and each prop generated a unique dynamic.
Donning two pairs of suede booties that were duct-taped together at the tips, the pair inventively danced together, collapsed together, sidestepped each other, and crawled through one another. Six pairs of prescription glasses tied together into a ring invited a group performance in which several people joined CamLab in attempting to peer through the glasses and at each other. A pair of lampshades inspired the most sexually suggestive performance, in which the two artists assumed various stances of mounting, topping, and gazing at one another’s faces and body parts. Two shirts sewn together with gloves attached made for another intimate interaction that seemed to involve a lot of groping and disrobing. Three glass props that looked like pairs of brandy snifters welded together brought on gazing, blowing, listening, and hand-muffling. A final prop—plastic rings taped together into two sets of dual brass knuckles—went unused at the end of the evening, because the girls weren’t quite feeling it.
Some of these performances were more successful than others, but taken as whole, they were another compelling and engaging exercise in relational studies and body sculpture. It was really fun to watch them get into these devices and see what would unfold between them, how many different ways they could get their bodies to intertwine, what shapes would evolve next. The Night Alcove worked great as a stage; the small, enclosed arena seemed to force a more concentrated interaction, and the evocation of Amsterdam’s red light district gave it a showy look that heightened its effect on viewers, making the experience almost, but not quite, lurid.