Critics’ Picks

Encyclopedia Inc., Display Unit, U-238, 2015, digitally printed Sintra PVC, digital video, ceramic mug, glass figurine, dentures, bananas, Brazil nuts, carrots, lima beans, 36 x 48 x 6".

Los Angeles

“In the Flesh Part I: Subliminal Substances”

Martos Gallery | Los Angeles
3315 West Washington Boulevard
October 23–December 5, 2015

Ivana Basic’s Asleep (all works cited, 2015), one of three glossy lumps of flesh cast in wax and silicone, resembles a slightly torn organ resting on a pillow. Listed among its materials are “weight,” “pressure,” and “body.” Has process become material? Are there body parts here? Perhaps after decades of engineered food, it’s our materials list that includes alien matter. Mounted to a nearby wall is Display Unit, U-238, a PVC exhibition case printed with texts and diagrams and inset with samples, by collective Encyclopedia Inc. In the cheerful didactics of a science museum, the piece surveys irradiated consumables from dentures to ceramic cups that had their colors boosted with trace uranium. An incorporated video, subtitled Yellowcake, demonstrates the use of a cake mix but invokes pulverized uranium ore. Both pale powders come courtesy of the miraculous industrial atomization of American life—nuclear energy, processed nutrition—by which materials became ingredients.

No wonder the contents of Sean Raspet’s installation (Technical Milk) and (Technical Food) read like a recipe for either Mountain Dew or pesticide—“gamma-octalactone” and “gamma-decalactone,” to name a few—but are in fact synthesized versions of the flavorful parts of milk and food. Inside white canisters, the artist has mixed these compounds with the mysterious, bland supplement known as Soylent, in order to lend it a comforting taste. At an adjacent table visitors might sample from five jugs of water that Raspet has tainted with different artificial flavors. The day may come when we can speak of a gastro-chemical art in terms of abstraction and mannerisms and styles. In the meantime, we have instructive artworks like these to remind us that, when it comes to our bodies, a more corporate materialism is the avant-garde.