New York

Fred Tomaselli

Artists Space Exhibitions

In the early ’80s, L.A.-based sculptor Fred Tomaselli made kinetic sculptures that used technology to critique the evils of technological society. His sensibility combined Dada and hip-hop; his constructions ranged from giant pinball machines to models of homeless people that twitched violently when you walked near them. A pivotal work for Tomaselli was Shoreline, 1984, an installation that presented a sea of Styrofoam cups set in motion by a fan. This installation marked a refinement of the artist’s ability to use kinetic elements, and a continuation of his commitment to making the viewer aware of his/her position in a rapidly deteriorating world. In the late ’80s, Tomaselli continued to make installations that drew in and surrounded the viewer, putting his/her physical existence in a new alignment. The strength of his work remained in its ability to reveal not the cause but the effect of environmental destruction, specifically its effect on the human body.

In his show here, called “Diurnal Experiments and Nocturnal Investigations,” Tomaselli focused on what he calls “the bruising of creation,” the damage we have inflicted on nature and on ourselves. In particular, he addressed the effects on the body of the eight-hour work day, with its often concealed dangers. The fact that he is working on a much smaller scale than usual seems appropriate for this intimate theme. Paralysis (all works, 1989) is a freestanding door riddled with holes. Upon peering into these holes, the viewer sees slide-images of everyday objects and body parts that carry intimations of potential danger: meat, a coffee mug, a penis, and household chemicals. By placing the viewer in the awkward position of standing before a closed door and contemplating these sometimes agents of contamination, Tomaselli aptly characterizes our current, anxiety-ridden existence. Influence, a standard medicine chest with various lenses attached, similarly distorts a common object. One’s reflection itself becomes distorted, a reminder of the effects of the drugs we ingest on a regular basis. In Remedy, Tomaselli has stacked hundreds of aspirin in a long container hung on the wall. The repetition underscores the daily ritual of inducing and relieving pain.

Tomaselli’s touch here is much lighter than in the past. In 8 Hour IV, water from an upside-down office watercooler is fed through a surgical tube into an identical but upright cooler sitting on the floor. It takes approximately eight hours for the action to complete itself. Similarly, in No Title, a candle is placed atop a cascading metal chain, its wax dripping down to the floor, where another candle burns. This piece, too, expends itself in eight hours. Both works mark the passing of the eight-hour workday, and by extension its depleting effect on those who engage in it.

In his thematization of the body and the dangers that threaten it, Tomaselli implicates his own body. His presence, specifically his labor, is evident in the construction of these pieces. His labor becomes the subject of 5 Hours and 19 Minutes, a drawing of different clock faces, each inscribed with the time it was drawn. The artist, by creating this and other time-oriented works, and the viewer, who looks at them, are placed—knowingly or not—“on the clock." Tomaselli takes and reintroduces found objects with a faith in their signifying potential that is rare. In contrast to the Warholian impulse of offering up everyday objects to pronounce and revel in their banality, he encourages us to reconsider the significance of such objects, and our relation- ship to them. He also makes use of the poetic possibilities of the everyday, as in Respirator, in which a pizza tin, a suspended lamp, water, and some pennies have been transformed into a haunting wishing well. Far from dysfunctional readymades or hollow simulations, the found objects that have been incorporated into this installation carry a useful message, a real warning that we are invited to act upon.

Jennifer P. Borum