On the Daoism of ‘Dudeism’

by

Special To The Japan Times

As the phrase goes, “s—- happens.” Walead Beshty explores different ways that it may happen, and in doing so, he gently suggests that we consider the implications. His solo show at Rat Hole Gallery exemplifies this. There are two series of works: a selection of framed sheets of large-format film that have passed through airport X-ray machines, and damaged glass cubes set atop the Fedex boxes they were shipped in. Both are projects in which the artist set a process in motion and then displayed the outcomes without strong authorial comment.

It’s Beshty’s first solo show in Japan, though his work has appeared in some of the most renowned museums and festivals in the international art scene for a number of years. His particular alchemy of signposting complex systems of everyday life using minimalist typologies, and mixing randomness with rigor have resulted in a healthy roster of shows since his graduation from Yale University School of Art in 2002.

As he talks about his work and his experience of visiting Japan for the first time, Beshty is mild and circumspect. It’s been “lovely,” “really nice,” and he’s a bit surprised that Tokyo is “just like everywhere” — it’s not all crazy game shows and schoolgirls tied up, as the Western media suggests.

“I’m afraid I’m not being very helpful,” he says after describing his trip so far, concerned that he hasn’t had any particularly extreme or profound reactions to anything.

But this calm and considered attitude is well-matched with his work. After a couple of whiskies, Beshty can provide a cogent discussion on the qualitative differences between visual art, philosophical discourse and real life without breaking a sweat. There’s some Daoism going on here. Or maybe “Dudeism” (See the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”) — Beshty is based in Los Angeles, after all.

The sheets of 5×4 film on display each show faint crisscross patterns that mark where the X-rays have passed through them. The process of shipping the glass boxes results in crushed, powdery corners, and some larger cracks that spread across the faces of the cubes. S—- happens.

In comparison with previously exhibited examples of the Fedex box series, the glass objects in the Rat Hole show are not in bad shape. They have come directly from LA to Tokyo and, consequently, have passed through the careful hands of Japanese staff. This relative lack of damage is indicative of how respectfully objects are treated in this culture.

Despite Beshty’s stated interest as being more in processes than in creating distinctive art objects — as he put it, “a particular outcome isn’t all that informative or important” — the Rat Hole iteration of the Fedex project, is particularly interesting and informative, from a sociological point of view.

The boxes are also visually engaging — in a way that the transparencies are not. The small grayish rectangles may represent the intersection of the global contemporary art scene, airport security, an inhuman “machine gaze,” obsolescence, control, intrusion, chance, intention and so on, but we are required to do a lot of work in order to invest these signifiers with significance.

This is not by accident, and it’s also part of Beshty’s practice to act primarily as a facilitator for viewers to develop their own network of correspondences and interpretations in response to the work. Seeing Beshty’s work in Japan, where context is king, and curator Nicolas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics fit conveniently with collectivist values, may be particularly interesting. Or not. But that would be just, you know, like, your opinion, man.

“Walead Beshty: Transparencies” at the Rat Hole Gallery runs until June 25; 12 noon-8 p.m. Free. Closed Mon. www.ratholegallery.com