Joshua Selman, "Off the Grid", installation view
JOSHUA SELMAN ; OFF THE GRID: LANCE FUNG GALLERY New York, New York
In 1966 Allan Kaprow makes a Happening entitled "Gas" at a car graveyard in Montauk. Among the children filmed at this event is a young boy, Joshua Selman. His mother brings him with his twin brother at the request of a friend involved with a proposed television broadcast. This day among days is ingested into the life of at least one eight year old child.
The year is '94. I am participating as a sculptor in "Sitations," a chaos driven international art event in Cardiff, Wales. Among the hundred or so participating artists from around the world I notice a character wearing a British navy coat and brown jeans, both subtly printed with infectious texts and images. I later learn that the prints are part of a project titled, "Personal Effects." Every article of his clothing (over 100 pieces), had been printed with virally acerbic and absurd images and axioms. "While George Bush was president I was an economic prisoner of war, I had been captured by a bank. The work is a personal talisman and a 24-hour meditation I used to protect myself from further brainwashing. 'Personal Effects' is designed for close proximity. Standing on line, sitting next to co-workers, or standing at a urinal in a corporate men's room. The smallest detail creates the largest effect." I was forever impressed with the attitude in Cardiff of the now-grown child from "Gas," Joshua Selman.
At his recent opening on 9/9/99 Mr. Selman showed his latest project, "Off The Grid," a solo exhibition, at Lance Fung Gallery in New York City. As I entered the main space I drifted towards a floor installation of a 20' triangular lattice made from cut pine trees up-ended over an enormous mound of soil, white salt and other natural deposits. The triangular pine structure was added to a two hundred square foot wall installation showing hundreds of color prints made with samples of rotting wood from infested trees, lichen feeding on living evergreens, bark dust, tree roots, moss, and other by-products of a decaying forest he put directly on the glass bed of a computer scanner for output.
The samples were collected during a number of roaming sequences on land two hours from the gallery he had recently acquired from artists Victor Bloom and Wendy Geller. The trees used to build the structure were brought from the same site. Recording a journey or walk which is then reimpressed into a gallery space recalls work by artists like Walter deMaria, Michele Stuart, Richard Long, or Robert Smithson. The sensibility I associate with him is both ephemeral and Conceptual; action based and informed by Fluxus and Happenings, from sound works and installations to public space performance, his projects exist more in the idea than in the materials.
Studying the 350 or so prints, a horizon view of color bands from brown-green-red-yellow to blue emerges. As they connect to over one ton of earth and wood, I ponder the massive leap in materiality in Joshua's work. The physical weightiness of the show is in direct contrast with the other works I am familiar with. For example, in '97 he executed DJ GLOVE, tuning a project in which an unaltered recording of a woman tuning a piano is released through an avante-garde techno label and actually makes the charts as 12-inch vinyl. "Glove" is a random identity created by a server. Or there's FULL MESSAGE, in which paper shredders combine with pre-emptive video footage of Manhattan's municipal forces battling tons of accumulated white paper behind the Yankees '96 victory parade on Wall Street. During the full message project he even got the public to help him mail the shredded paper to Ray Johnson as a posthumous collaboration. Some pieces drifted into Johnson's recent show at the Whitney Museum.
When I asked him about the new direction he responded, "It's the same direction. I find I make projects about what is happening in my life. "Personal Effects" is about my experience at the Bank. tuning has to do with losing a beautiful grand piano from my living space. full message is about being buried in paper work. off the grid is a response to being forced out of an urban dwelling by my former landlord. I make projects out of the most local adversity. The choice of medium is part of my approach."
Halfway through the opening Joshua separates himself from the mingling crowd and begins a sonic performance titled off the grid, in memoriam wendy geller. The action consists of planting two mutilated electric guitars. Their aerodynamic curves have been sawed off with a skil saw. Hooked up to amplifiers, the live guitars are planted with soil and salt in a 20" planter, strings touching, and the sawed portions are treated with pruning tar. The guitars are finally wrapped in tree wrap and the sculpture is watered (by Victor Bloom.) Of course, the by-product of the action is an awe striking sound event in which Jimi Hendrix meets John Cage. I noticed that during the performance he planted his watch along with the guitars. The next day, picked up by the electric guitars and playing through the amps, is the quiet sound of his watch ticking in the soil.