Stephen Lapthisophon

TBA Exhibition Space

The title of Stephen Lapthisophon’s exhibition, “Défense d’Afficher,” refers to signs forbidding the posting of printed materials on public walls (“post no bills”). But a deliberate mistranslation (typical of Lapthisophon’s approach) converts the phrase into a defense of such posting, a celebration of the multiplicities of communal signage and of how public walls communicate the practices and concerns of culture and the individual.

For This Will Kill That (all works 1999), Lapthisophon erected two ten-by-twenty-foot walls in the gallery and set them back to back. He then covered each wall with more than eighty large photocopies (averaging twenty by twenty-four inches) of various pieces of printed matter, mostly affixed edge to edge with little overlap. This unruly grid of visual and verbal data, all optically linked by scale and the ubiquitous tone of xerography, comprised remarkably diverse images—fragments of texts, photographs of modernist architecture, tabloid accounts of Madonna, images of Stravinsky, etc. Neither rebus nor narrative, Lapthisophon’s walls presented streams of dualities, speculations raised and dismissed, information abutting its own rebuttal. Some juxtapositions seem obscurant, generous yet illegible, but some are fairly clear. A reproduction of the well-known photo of a bloodied Joseph Beuys was placed a few feet away from a grainy reproduction of Jack Nicholson getting his nostril slit by Roman Polanski in Chinatown. Texts championing the possibilities of modern high-rise buildings were found near a Xeroxed image of the 1972 demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in Saint Louis. This will kill that, and that will kill this, in Lapthisophon’s compelling overload of simultaneously public and personalized cultural shards.

The artist experienced a serious loss of vision—now stabilized—in recent years, and several other pieces alluded to the vagaries of his situation. Most direct was As if Admonished from Another World, an eight-panel work that features enlarged reproductions of Paul Strand’s 1915 photograph Blind Peddler, a page from William Wordsworth’s Prelude (Book VII) that describes the poet’s encounter with a blind beggar, a bit of text from an art-history book, an image of Niagara Falls, and a photo of eyeglasses. Seeing and knowing, feeling and experiencing, looking and reading, the sublime and the mundane all shuffle together and apart in this work, indicating the ceaselessly inchoate process of understanding.

Lapthisophon also presented several large-scale freehand ink drawings across the room from what they represent, their “source” materials—a large Xerox of the back of a photo of Chicago’s modernist Inland Steel Building, with just the labels of the architectural firm and the photographer visible; and a fragment of a printed Hart Schaffner & Marx advertisement with the first two partners’ names cropped off (creating a wonderfully absurdist “Marxist” text). These were exercises in the seemingly arbitrary processes of selecting and prioritizing, of the activity of rendering and verisimilitude. Along with Lapthisophon’s investigations of signs and vision, these incomplete gestures were metaphors for the possibilities within the breakdown of communication that is so much a part of his pursuit.

James Yood