JACK STRANGE, TANYA BONAKDAR GALLERY, FRIEZE MAGAZINE
by Joanna Kleinberg, Issue 118, Oct 2008
'You want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?' teenage videographer and voyeur-next-door Ricky Fitts asks in Sam Mendes' film American Beauty (1999), before revealing a hand-held video of an empty plastic bag floating and whirling in the wind. This focus on a mundane moment and a nondescript object was not intended to be ironic, but it was suggestive of a telling trend in contemporary art of finding beauty in the banal. For Jack Strange banality lies at the core of his tricksy, Conceptualist practice. A recent graduate of London's Slade School of Art, Strange has produced a variety of sculptures, videos, works on paper and photographs - among them Plastic Bag (2008), a digital print of a shredded and impaled bag flailing on a stretch of jagged barbed wire - that recall Fitts' 'artsy' backyard cinÃ©ma veritÃ© but which provide a cheeky, wistful and at times revealing subtext.
Strange's solo New York dÃ©but, entitled 'Wallowing', was a clever conundrum of a show that indulged the various possibilities of appropriation and the Duchampian found object. The 23 new works range from the ready-made (lighting fixtures, coat hangers) to the handmade (collages, ink-on-paper sketches), and all are equally quirky, with varying degrees of visual wit. The exhibition was a catalogue of the artist's explorations with everyday household items alongside manipulated media and elements found in nature. The result was a perplexing yet inexplicably satisfying mash-up of ideas, images and materials. The exhibition opened with a row of seven small-format black and white collages entitled Spunk (2008). The explicit title seems to promise the patterns and splatterings of ejaculate (it's really just white paper cut-outs mounted on black paper) and the renderings read more like Hans Arp-like abstractions than money shots. Similarly, Distinguishing Feature (2008) - a minuscule clay impression of a pigmented skin mole (replete with straggly hairs) - was monumental on an otherwise blank white wall, transforming the expansive surface into a figurative body. In both pieces the literal titles coupled with the scale of the works emphasized the discreet humour that defines them. In contrast to this subtle spatial push-pull, Family Visit (2008), a large installation located in an adjacent side-gallery, consisted of three plinths plastered with stickers of holographic rainbows, monochromatic bull's-eye targets and chevrons, in addition to neon-light abstractions. The plinths were placed opposite TV monitors that showed the same patterns found on the stickers. Inflected with an Op-art elegance, the effect was as dizzyingly hypnotic as it was enlightening. Strange's
play with perception turned the act of observation back in on itself, shifting the focus from object to viewer.