D I S A P P E A R I N G A C T A N D M A I L O R D E R P A I N T I N G S
Disappearing Act is an ongoing series of sculptures made of found restraints and reproductions of domestic objects. Colen’s work has, from his beginning, inverted the roles of the real and the illusory, both using art materials to imitate real objects and using readymade or found materials to make art objects. This interplay is born out here in the relationship between the illicit, real patina of the restraints and the raw, white oak of the remade furniture.
The devices of containment used in these works include handcuffs, Chinese finger traps, animal traps, chains, cages, safes, metal gates and grating, bike locks, and myriad tools for sadomasochistic ritual. The handmade furniture form in this installation is based on a bent wood coatrack. The process of novice furniture building in the studio erases just enough of the banality of the original object that one is forced to look at the form anew and, perhaps, to wonder about the physical manipulations of steaming, bending and wrenching that have twisted the object into being.
A coatrack, by design, echoes the human form, and so takes on an anthropomorphic character. Similarly, one can imagine cobbling together the shell of an entire human body by using the cuffs, straps, belts and head cages on hand. Entwined together, the armature and the restraints that adorn it draw our attention to the escaped (dematerialized) flesh that would come between them, as well as to an oblique private ritual made public.
Formally, the Disappearing Act works borrow as much from yard-art as they do the totemic personages of Eva Hesse and David Smith. Ideologically, the works rely on the latent dogmas that inhabit our objects – not unlike David Hammons’ sculptural artifacts, or Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s 1972 Womanhouse installation. Whether we try to conceal it or not, our “things” and our “places” are ammo in the broad cultural crossfire of self-assertion, subjugation and desire.
Colen’s Mail Order painting series is based on pages from clothing catalogs (to date the majority are taken from J Crew). The ubiquity of these catalog images and of the endless stream of goods they thrust into our gaze is stifling. The mail order content calls to mind the enormous squadrons of marketing experts, stylists and photographers whose exhaustive efforts focus sharply on teasing the maximum allure out of the minimally distinctive.
The building blocks of these images are simple: color, texture, and the strange flirtation initiated by an array of combinations of these elements. When a sweater is offered to us in eight vibrant colors and three styles, we are prone to deploying our powers of fantasy to personalize and perfect them, to imagine ourselves in each option and then determine which is our unique match.
The process Colen uses to make paintings out of these images involves a number of overlaying visual cues: the dot matrix of the original print image; the dot matrix of the subsequent CMYK silkscreened interpretation of the original image; the texture of the canvas; the enlarged, mass-produced weaves and seams of the clothing items themselves; the color field abstractions that emerge from the amalgamation of all of the above.
Over the last five years, Colen has been fine-tuning the system under which all of these components come together with an eye toward pushing the visual perfection of the source material through a painterly meat-grinder. The building blocks used to create the original pictures are still present, but they are murky and deformed – the silk-screening process builds in a degree of inevitable loss. And yet, in keeping with the precedents set by Pop Art, the loss of mail-order perfection endows each painting with a new portion of uniqueness and desirability as an art object.
The Disappearing Act and Mail Order series together engage in a dialogue about the objects of our desire and the consuming loss of control inherent to that desire. The works suggest that evading the quicksand proffered by this mix may, by now, only be possible in seclusion or even death.