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Timothy Nolan
Mario Ontiveros

Timothy Nolan, installation view, 1996

From the beginning of the exhibition, Nolan initiates an exchange between middle-class consumer goods and domestic labor, articulated by the cover of his quaint catalogue: a pattern of red squares suggests a suburban picnic tablecloth, over which a round black logo reads, "WORK," a witty reference to the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Together the pattern, text and subsequent signifiers reference the hoped-for, post-WW II America, in which a "new" nation was articulated along sociocultural lines, stressing small town hominess and good ol' Christian values. Commercially constructed via advertisements, film and television, and strengthened by an influx of consumer "wares," this mythological America directly impacted the domestic experiences of women and men. Nolan's textual referent underscores the pushing of women back into a pre-war, conscripted domestic interior by exposing the repacking of the domestic within a discourse stressing the home as the proper space for women. Moreover, upon opening Nolan's catalogue, you encounter not the obligatory artist's statement or critical essay, but images entitled flatware #4 and wash 'n' ware. It "reads" like a Sears and Roebuck catalogue as each image looks its consumerable best.

Nolan's layers of coy and ever-present acumen extend to his selection of materials. Collecting primarily metal objects--usually ones that have a wiry structure accentuated by a gloss of polished kitchenesque chrome--he meticulously and seemingly gently, wraps them with either white elastic, ribbon, or canvas. Often their original domestic utilitarian functions seem blurred, although not entirely subverted. gentle ribbing delicately hangs, almost floats, on the wall. A pair of skeletal metal structures flank each other, appearing as two torsos side by side. The elastic weaves along the exterior of one of the (rib) cages, while its mirror-other wraps in an opposite fashion along its interior frame. The elastic allows for flexibility, moveability--a breathing of the form. Only the metal ribs anchor the work stable. With works such as this, Nolan opens thematic spaces and gaps which circulate around the objects' initial specificities.

These unrestricted points of entry into the work remain even when the object's original function clearly remains at the surface. embroil is a shiny metal broiler with white elastic weaving in and out of the raised vents. The materials refashion each other: the metal lends a sturdiness to the fabric, while the fabric, in turn, softens the chrome-like surface. With this piece, specifically, I think, Nolan's wit and camp rub against and play with a kitschy kitchen sensibility. The reimaging of the broiler polished up, popped up and elegantly placed up on a stark white wall for everyone's gaze, lends itself to numerous sultry imaginative readings beyond the obvious sizzling surface.

Perhaps Nolan's new work arrives already suspect to many viewers, as it employs feminist art tactics and practices--ones effectively deployed by women artists to rupture and disrupt patriarchal power and privilege. Have several decades of feminist strategies, informed art practice and theory progressed to such an extent that "men in feminism" are not as problematic as they once were? In the context of the specificity of his work, Nolan, himself, employs a feminist strategy of incorporating icons and media typically associated with the domestic, but he avoids merely appropriating this tactic by appropriately refiguring labor as a process. The repetitive wrappings of his work render visible the intensive labor of domestic work with a crafty subtlety.

Moreover, his work not only involves the domestic and domestic labor, but, simultaneously, effectively interrogates the notion of collecting and preserving. common knowledge, a set of individually methodically wrapped 1950s encyclopedias, survives as mummified knowledge that exists unknowable in its preservation. Each bound volume casts delicate shadows, ultimately teasing the viewer into perceiving them as open. The static texts evoke a prepackaged and consumerable knowledge conveniently contained in a mere 25 volumes; a textual embalming of a mythically utopic America. The shadows reference elusive and ghostly concepts of history forever preserved in their own out-lived definitions.

In the end, Nolan's found objects, collected from thrift stores and out-of-the-way shops, are already removed from the domestic. However, without disregarding their domestic use, he imbricates original functions in his tactile wrappings, thereby fabricating another reading--a reassessment of objects and the process of labor.

Mario Ontiveros

Los Angeles, California
1996

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