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Exhibition Begins to Take Shape: A Conversation with 4-Way, 2-Pack Artists Adler & Edmark and Earl Gravy

By August 16, 2015

On August 22nd, Pair Shaped will hold its first live exhibition featuring the collaborative work of Adler & Edmark (Christopher Adler & Alison Edmark) and Earl Gravy (Emma Kemp and Daniel Wroe). Following a succession of pieces showcased in Series 10 and 11, the two artist teams will be transferring their investigations of mediated representation to a vacant retail space in Downtown Los Angeles.

I recently sat down with the four artists for a round table discussion during the early stages of the project. We gathered in the exhibition space that was undergoing transformation from for-gotten storefront in a rundown mall to a developing complex of mixed-media assemblages. The freshly painted walls reeked of promise. Across the street, an aging Discount Citi was haloed in the fading glare of a late LA afternoon. The artists and I convened in a circle on the floor, squeaking on top of plastic sheets they were using to protect the emerald green carpet left over from the mid-1980s. Their comments echoed throughout the space that was once likely re-served for cheap commercial displays. Everyone present seemed poised for the undertaking to come, ready to fully utilize and create the environment anew.

The two duos live and maintain active practices with their respective partners. Interested in collaborating with others, the teams found Pair Shaped to present an appealing process for developing new work. In the case of Adler & Edmark and Earl Gravy, the Pair Shaped arrangement afforded opportunities to examine and react to another group’s negotiations with evolving creative output, first in a digital exchange, then in a physical arena. According to the exhibition artist statement, the resulting outcome has given rise to a “collaboration which accommodates the collapse and destruction of its labor, which welcomes cannibalism, evolution, and thusly obsoletion via a tag-team approach.”

Over the course of two hours, we discussed translating the original online series into a ‘real world’ context; the power and deception of digital representation that informs the installation; the collaborative nature of the show; and their experience working with Pair Shaped.

In your original Pair Shaped series online, your two teams had never met in person, and you set up parameters for the series detailing that you wouldn’t meet until the series was complete. After simply exchanging a few emails to set up the series, you began engaging in a creative dialogue producing images back and forth. Now that you are going to be working more intimately together in a physical space, do you feel as if the approach will change?

Emma: Even in this incredibly early stage, there is already a lot more discussion. We bounced off each other online; we didn’t interact with each other.

Alison: It’s interesting because this time we will be manipulating each other’s space versus the reactionary nature of the digital series.

Daniel: But, we have still built an element of surprise into the format. Each group has their own ideas and what we want to achieve, but it will be a surprise when it starts happening because we are going to be on different schedules.

E: We will come in and see something that you guys left, and we will probably interact with it in some way via the work that we make.

A: I’m hoping that we will be able to go up to you two and say, “hey, wanna’ dirty this piece up a little bit?”

D: Our work has more of a crude nature to it compared to Alison and Chris’.

A: Ours is much more of a commercial aesthetic.

Chris: Ali and I are both really interested in what is left over from human cultural interaction, so we play with that.

E: I think our concepts are actually the same, but the way we present them is different. So, I’m really excited to work on this show and get involved with the way that Alison and Chris work; to have our stuff interact with your stuff.

A: I think our approach has already changed in the way that we’ve thought about pieces and how they may all interact.

D: And, the process of installing is built into how the show is going to evolve.

Because of the collaborative nature of the show in both its approach and execution, do you think it can be considered a group show in the traditional sense or is it strictly a collaborative show?

D: I would be hesitant to call it either one. I feel like we’re straddling that line a little bit.

C: I think group shows tend to be cherry picked works and they sort of had a bad rep in my mind until Ali and I started to trying to make a collaborative model for the gallery we run, called Vacancy. The approach we are using here is to get amidst things as creators instead of getting on top of them. So, it’s a group show from the inside out as opposed to top down.

D: What we have established is an awareness of the traditional group show boundaries—where each artist has their own small piece of real estate within the gallery—and, at the same time, understand that those boundaries aren’t real.

E: In terms of labor, my thought process is this kind of collaboration can serve to undermine some of the less favorable aspects of the art market; nothing exists for, or belongs to, one per-son or another.

C: We are actively trying to create an environment where we can, understandingly, kind of steal from each other.

A: We are setting the stage for works from both of us, then going back in with these modifiers. It might be something like, “this could use a little bit of duct tape.”

D: I definitely have my ideas of what could happen and you have your ideas of what could happen and someone will make the first move and then another. It’s like a chess game.

C: It’s a structure of indeterminacy at this point.

E: It almost feels like the making of the work is the work itself, the labor of creating the show is the creative work.

You are transferring the series from something that once existed only in a digital form into a tangible gallery space. What concerns have you had in this early stage of the production taking the immaterial into the physical?

E. There are so many more elements that are harder to control when you come into a physical space. You can attempt to eradicate them, to control the environment and remake the space as if it’s an image that would exist on screen, where everything is perfect. The “internet aesthetic”—you can make it look as if time doesn’t exist. So, do we attempt to peel back and have a similar experience to an onscreen one, or do we fully embrace the incongruences of real life practicalities?

Your digital series wrestled with notions of the digital environment and digital evolution. Can you tell me more about some of your thought processes and art practices and how this might inform the gallery show?

D: One of the areas we were exploring was this idea of a digital suburbia and consumerism.

C: I love this idea of the geography of digital consumerism but in a purely geographical sense, the term suburbia implies that it is displaced from the center. Maybe it is all suburbia; maybe there is no center in the digital realm.

E: So, then it’s this kind of homogenous zone where everything is relativized and multiplied and available. I keep thinking about digital media in relation to suburbia and the way that the idea of suburban living was about easily accessible, easily purchasable homogenized goods: a standardization. Now, we partake in a digital, or web-based kind of homogenization.

A: We’ve been thinking about how to address that flattening in more direct ways, by confusing the digital and real.

C: And, embedding that into the terms of exhibition making, exploring, not as a framing mechanism, but as way to bring this work into a real world object context. Ali and I are also really interested in systems of production and different tactics that are available for the production of a work. We are working a lot with these customizable websites like Café Press, taking into account that these commercially produced objects have all their aesthetic decisions made for you; come with their bundles of appropriate judgments. If you play with these assumptions, they can be reoriented around various topical absurdities.

A: And the images that are being printed on them are pulled from online.

E: The aesthetic of stock imagery is so interesting, selling something with the image—letting the image control you; a purchasable aesthetic.

D: There’s this website called TurboSquid which is a similar take on stock imagery, but it’s a market place for buying rendered 3D models for digital mock ups. Some of them are very photo realistic. The other day I found these super detailed rocks. It’s 20 different rocks and there are these preview videos of this rock floating in space and spinning.

C: So you are being sold this object that normally has this amazing capacity for harboring mean-ing, like personal experience. You can pick up a rock and it will remind you of the place not only geologically, but also your own memory of that place. And, instead you’re being sold this digital copy of this potential meaning-making device. How do you give meaning to a digital rock? How do you make that personal?

D: In the same way one would go about having a rock collection, except now you have to buy them for $17 instead of picking them up off the side of the road.

E: It’s just pure consumption, but these rocks are so beautiful that you bypass that, you bypass the lack of emotional investment and you simply want it. You’re tricked into desiring what is re-ally nothing more than a mask.

C: I love that it is just pure consumption, pure aesthetic consumption, capturing the feeling one might have looking at a real rock.

E: But it’s also the perfect rock. The conditions for viewing it are perfect. It’s in high resolution, the background is soft focus and the light is amazing. It is the whole package you are being sold.

D: I feel like a lot of these thoughts went into the stuff we made for the online Pair Shaped Series.

E: I think these are collective concerns, which is probably why we ended up doing this together in the first place. We share these similar preoccupations in the unconscious flow of the work that we’re making. I think all of this stuff is going to manifest itself in the show somehow, maybe not explicitly.

You mention an interesting thought in the 4-Way, 2-Pack show statement, that the exhibition comments and plays with the erasure of the subject “in exchange for preserving the object’s immaculate death mask”. Can you describe the thought process here and describe how this may manifest itself? Does it relate to these concerns of the digital evolution?

C: The death mask historically is really interesting, because it was supposed to be this perfect form that was never actually achieved in the person’s lifetime, a sort of emptying out of true content to be replaced by this simulacrum. And, today this can be achieved through Photoshop or staging, the perfect iteration of the object. But, it holds nothing at that point because it isn’t real.

D: You kind of have to kill the object—

C: To elevate it. It’s the freezing of time, which is really beautiful, eerie and foreboding, like this death mask as an image, which is in fact a kind of snap shot that sort of dissipates time.

E: When we are talking about TurboSquid and these digital renderings, to me they are kind of like death masks of their original forms.

C: And, every time you try to reproduce anything, it’s impossible right? I mean we’re getting really good at it.

E: But that’s what I’m stressing, that we are moving towards this point where perfection, on the surface at least, is fully accepted and more so, expected. I find that I am always struggling be-cause I can’t do it.

C: It’s like the need to communicate that brings these commonly recognized forms to the replication process, but that just leads to compromises. So they have to be somewhat truncated for people to be able to interface. This is why people like, for example, those downloadable website templates online; it’s very comforting to be able to interface easily. That is what suburbia is all about, that comfort of the repetition of like forms.

Has Pair Shaped opened up new ways of representation and practice for you? Would you recommend taking part in a series to other artists?

D: We tell people about it all the time.

A: Yeah, for sure. I think it was great. It was super fun and loose; a low commitment. We normally do some kind of digital mock-up before going deeper into a work, so to do these kinds of quick exercises was really refreshing.

D: It allowed us to experiment, forced us to make a type of work that was new. We hadn’t really made work in this way before.

E: It was quick paced, low stakes—I’m just going to make all the things I’m thinking about into images right now. And it’s kind of marvelous because it’s led to this. I’m excited to see where Pair Shaped goes. I feel like it is at the beginning of its journey. It has so much potential to do good things and go far.

D: I was talking to someone about it and they were asking what Pair Shaped was—Is it a gallery? Is it a pop up space? It is kind of hard to define.

E: Which is good.

Is there anything you would want people to know about the show or that they should know?

E: Bring a bathing suit.

A: I was going to say bring your cereal box decoder.

4-Way, 2-Pack

Saturday August 22nd, 2015

7–11 PM.

Unit M3, Second Floor
440 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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