Los Angeles

Kevin Pasnik

Richard/Bennett Gallery

At first glance, Kevin Pasnik’s object-sculptures appear to reference Minimalism, both in their use of industrial and everyday materials (sheet metal, 4 by 4s, and actual tree branches) and their serial, highly structured interaction with the surrounding space. Closer inspection, however, discloses a more overt concern with process. Pasnik attempts to occupy an enigmatic middle ground between the art object and performance (with the “work” acting as a trace of work). Unlike Minimalist practice, which tends to present the object as a productive fait accompli, Pasnik includes the residue and debris of process as an intrinsic part of the piece itself, self-consciously reifying Marx’s notion of labor as the realization of self through the bodily transformation of “nature.”

In Three Beams, Six Branches (all works 1990), Pasnik placed two sets of three tree branches (construction material in its natural state) vertically against the wall, “framed” by three 4 by 4s (construction material in its manufactured state). The sawdust that resulted from a vertical groove cut into each branch was collected and displayed on a shelf below. Though Pasnik’s actions were physically absent from the work, they registered everywhere as pure trace. Similarly, in Square Pull, Pasnik bolted a large expanse of sheet metal to the gallery wall, attached a cable to both ends, and pulled the material outward himself to create a curvilinear “record” of his own brute strength.

Like Marx, Pasnik is aware that labor and its signification reflect and are a condition of the division of labor within the ideological state apparatus. In One Tree, branches and twigs were cut up and reordered on the gallery floor according to their size and original proximity to the trunk itself. This playful de- and reconstruction of the natural object through rational inventory transformed the tree into a potential agent of economic exchange, filtering its objectness through systematic ideological structures for purposes of cognition, cataloging, and ultimately buying and selling.

The problem with Pasnik’s strategy is that he goes to elaborate lengths to state the obvious: all art is the trace of now-absent performative acts and Pasnik merely makes visible the mechanics and process of his labor or strategy. There is very little for the viewer to do except consume the work passively or make simple connections between object and labor, labor and primary source. Even here, our production is controlled by the very rigid parameters of ideological reception Pasnik establishes. He needs to explore the relationship between “work” and work—less as alienated authorship and more as a disjunction that discloses his own ideological disposition. This is an old-fashioned case of the author-as-producer that ignores the more relevant notions of audience-as-reproducer, and, more pertinently, the possibility of labor ensures the death of the author as a privileged whole.

Colin Gardner