Questions about performance and interactivity connect the disparate bodies of work in the debut solo show of sculptor Jonathan Schipper and the recent photographic work of Simon Lee. Though formally distinct, both artists exhibit what are essentially proposals for performances. Schipper’s show, A Failure of Direct Automation and Rock ’n Roll to Appease the Gods, is a hypermasculine collection of interactive machines that suggests a kind of sci-fi rock-and-roll narrative. Lee’s show is an understated meditation on vision and time centering around the installation “How Beautiful is the Turning Cabbage” (2005).
Schipper’s work is far from meditative. Its rock-and-roll attitude is mirrored in the leather-and-steel fetish machine “Opposition,” built to suspend two people in leather harnesses at the end of rotating steel arms. The ride corresponds to a musical performance suggested by “Band for Opposition,” leather microphone masks suspended in the corner of the gallery. The masks appear to be used to isolate the performers from the audience and each other, as the microphones are inside the oval forms. A spinning panoptic bank of monitors and cameras hangs close to the ground between the related sculptures, giving them a mechanical audience. In the space, the objects themselves are slightly threatening, loaded with suggestion for the roles during the performance, which is currently scheduled for a March 12 Armory Show–related event.
Better than the implied violence of “Opposition” is Schipper’s “Model for Slow Motion Car Crash,” which expands the time frame of a sudden impact of a car crash over the duration of the exhibition. The two muscle cars imperceptibly fold into one another through the slow application of force. While only a proposal for a full-scale slow-motion car crash, Schipper’s model is a complete vision of the kind of underlying aggression and fatalism in rock and roll. It is fully realized in a way that only the performance can bring to the “Opposition” pieces. The addition of CAD-rendered studies of the schematics for “Opposition,” particularly the collaboration with Jim Sims to add figures to the study, feels like filler. They aren’t nearly as interesting as the possibility of seeing or being thrown about the menacing armature itself.
In the darkened second space, Lee shows a series of photographic light boxes along with his intriguing installation. “How Beautiful is the Turning Cabbage” is actually quite beautiful, as Lee uses klieg lights and projectors to create a cabbage eclipse of sorts. The actual decomposing cabbage spins gently in front of two screens that capture the part of its image being projected back by two video cameras. The cabbage also casts shadows and blurry ghosts of the projections onto the surrounding walls, giving the work an unexpected depth through the visual layering. Its preposterous title and setup gives way to an appreciation of the form, which sheds its semiotic associations.
Lee surrounds his installation with light boxes that tread a similar line between the bizarre and the banal. In “Adirondack” a titular chair is shown flying through the air and crashing into the snow-covered ground in a montage of twenty-four still frames presented in a light box. There is a destructive impulse in the work that runs counter to the quiet presence of the cabbage and the other light boxes, which he calls “obscuras.” Two of the obscuras present found photographs from the 1950s that are selectively obscured with black paint. The last obscura initially looks like an aerial map, until closer inspection reveals it as something of a photogram. Tiny figures and architectural forms compose the hectic field of indeterminate nature. The obscura light boxes seem to be reversals of his actual “Bus Obscura,” in which Lee transforms tour buses into physical camera obscuras. Passengers on Lee’s “Bus Obscura” see the world in a kaleidoscope of inverted projections on the darkened interior windows. The project, which will be presented for the Armory Show, is documented on a short video. It seems more ambitious than the photographic light boxes and enters into a dialogue with Schipper’s work about the possibility of participation. Neither artist shows work that seems fully realized absent their performative aspects. The different yet intimate social spaces that each promises could yield a different, far more expressive reading of the otherwise static props, studies, and proposals. The shows share a preparatory quality that might be drawn out by richer video documentation or greater emphasis on interaction throughout the show. In that respect, Lee’s slowly turning cabbage and Schipper’s slow-motion car crash offer the fullest experiences.