The following is the final curatorial discussion in a series of blog posts on the Hawn Gallery exhibition, Clear, Deep, Dark. This week’s piece explores Julie Morel’s print Reloaded (2017).

In the exhibition, Clear, Deep, Dark, when one enters the gallery your eyes meet illuminated pieces mounted onto each of the four walls. The pinpoints of light appear randomly scattered across the paper’s surface. The lights embedded in the matte black paper of the IP and GPS series appear to be coming from a distance, such as the light we see from stars, reaching us only years later. The pieces on the back wall referencing Darknet acronyms are also lit. They differ in that the LEDs surrounding the letters overwhelm and consume their host with blinding white light, making them difficult to look at directly. Once you approach the works in each series, subtler symbols, numbers, and letters become clear. The IP series contains silk-screened IP addresses using conductive ink, referencing places where Julie Morel has placed files of artwork on private computers, printed in blocky letters reminiscent of computer circuits. The GPS series is also composed of silk screen printed numbers and letters using conductive ink. These figures refer to GPS coordinates where Morel has placed physical objects of her own, locatable through satellite imagery, but inaccessible due to their remote or private locations.[1]

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Installation view of Clear, Deep, Dark with Morel’s Reloaded (2017) and IP series

As the exhibition title, Clear, Deep, Dark suggests, the artwork contains multiple reading possibilities that are both clear and illegible; too dark or far away from the viewer’s vision, yet brightly lit. The dichotomy of hidden/visible in Morel’s work is crucial as it exposes the ease in which meanings or objects can be hidden – something people must be vigilant of now more than ever.

These themes coalesce in the show’s outlier – Reloaded (2017) which juts out from the wall, drawing one’s attention with its saturated red hue. It is the only source of color in the room, making its presence all the more conspicuous. Reloaded is an appropriation of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ poster Untitled (NRA) (1990). Morel encountered the piece at the DHC/ART Foundation in Montreal as part of their L’offre exhibition, hundreds of copies stacked in a pile for visitors to take home. Morel took a poster with her and using her concept of versions – how artwork transforms physically and metaphorically over time as it passes through many hands –  decided to silk print a black market gun vendor’s IP address in dark matte ink on the poster’s black border. Morel describes her impetus for appropriating Gonzalez-Torres’ work as a means to comment on American firearm laws. She states, “…I knew that I wanted to do a piece on the absurdity of firearm laws in the United States, as well as a reference to the growing possibility of buying guns anonymously on black market websites.”[2] Similar to the text on the conductive ink pieces, the IP address only becomes visible when viewed up close. The barely legible address speaks to both the stereotype of the Darknet as a place to buy illicit goods and services, and the ease in which people legally purchase weapons every day in America. The Darknet is stigmatized while firearm dealers are not.

The creation and display of Reloaded comes at a contentious time in U.S. politics and debates on gun control. Morel has a unique perspective both as a French citizen and artist. Despite many artistic practices being firmly rooted in subversive themes and acts, the sentiment that politics has no place in art remains. With growing political and social dissatisfaction among the public, art continues to act as a means for people to express their feelings and enact change. Art that incorporates contemporary topics or critiques of social issues has the potential to educate people and affect change in ways that academics, reporters, and politicians cannot. Socially-engaged art is also a way for its creator to come to terms with an issue, rather than attempting to make a socio-political statement; how an issue affects them, how they may affect change, and even how they are complicit.

In an interview with artist Tim Rollins, Gonzalez-Torres discusses the implications of synthesizing politics and art. He states, “Ask a few simple questions to define aesthetics: whose aesthetics? At what historical time? Under what circumstances? For what purposes? And who is deciding quality, etc? Then you realize suddenly and very quickly that aesthetic choices are politics.[3]” The socio-political artwork Gonzalez Torres was referring to takes many forms – from sculpture, video art, performance, painting, to text.

One textual piece that has received renewed public interest is Jenny Holzer’s seminal work, Abuse of Power Comes as no Surprise (1982). The collection reads like a personal manifesto or a set of rules in which to live one’s ideal life, void of violence, cruelty, sexism, and so forth. The ‘statement’ is translated into Spanish, French, and German, each receiving their own page.

The book contains text from Holzer’s Truisms,(1977-82) series. Holzer began creating the series during her time studying art in New York in response to the dense reading material that her professors expected her and her classmates to retain, leaving little room for personal reflection. The result was nearly 300 aphorisms or sayings that revealed clichés in advertising and socially accepted beliefs. Holzer pasted the truisms around town on buildings and store fronts. Beginning in 1990, Holzer’s Truisms took new forms in the shape of LED signs, scrolling through aphorisms like a digital sign seen on public transit. She also incorporated marketing techniques, printing her aphorisms on mass-produced items such as t-shirts and coffee mugs. An entry on Holzer’s Truisms describes the transformation of her work.

While her first truisms read like a litany of claims, listed alphabetically in groups of forty to sixty on sheets of paper, her printing of single messages on such multiples enables the “consumer” to select specific points of view to own, display, or wear. This interactive aspect of Holzer’s work was also evident in the early posted truisms on which passersby often wrote responses.[4] The social commentary Holzer makes in her Truism series feels incredibly contemporary, and yet it was created over 30 years ago. It is fascinating to return to past work as it not only tells the viewer about the period in which they’re created, it also reveals much about the present.

One can find similarities with Morel’s concept of ‘versions’ and Holzer’s Truisms due to the transformation each artists’ work has undergone, specifically through its redisplay. Holzer’s work was initially displayed outside on buildings and store fronts, later moving into museums or galleries and onto merchandise. Much of Morel’s work centers around creating new iterations and displays of her own and other’s work such as Gonzalez Torres’ Untitled (NRA). In terms of design, Morel changed very little in her appropriation of Gonzalez-Torres’ work. The main alteration occurs in its display. Morel shifts the print as being seen as part of larger sculptural piece fixed firmly on the floor, to a singular object jutting out from a gallery wall. Morel’s work asks the view to consider how the redisplay and new versions of artwork change their meaning and our perception of the pieces. Morel’s work also considers how the internet has altered work and viewer’s perceptions.  If we are to continue to exhibit socially-engaged or political artwork from earlier decades such as Holzer’s Truisms, or current work like Morel’s in the future, there is value in updating our display practices to allow the work to resonate with present viewers.


Featured image: Reloaded (2017), Silk printed text on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ poster: “Untitled” (NRA), 62.2” x 41/7”, 3 copies
Gallery images: courtesy of Emily Rueggeberg

Curated by Emily Rueggeberg, Curatorial Fellow for the Hawn Gallery

Original: Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled” (NRA- National Rifle Association), 1990 Print on paper, endless copies Original paper size: 20 (at ideal height) x 33 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

[1] For more information on Julie Morel’s IP and GPS series, see the curatorial discussion on Blog post #1

[2] Excerpt from Clear, Deep Dark exhibition booklet. Courtesy of the artist Julie Morel.

[3] Sara Reisman http://the8thfloor.org/portfolio/when-artists-speak-truth-2/

[4] https://www.moma.org/collection/works/72389