Michael Joo

Paolo Curti & Co.

In preparing this review I noticed that in writings about Michael Joo, from the merely informative to the profound, there is a sort of embarrassment about citing the complete tide of one of his recent works, which was present in his first solo exhibition in Italy. Family Standing on a Bridge, Looking into the Future, Pissing, 2001, depicts four figures cast in bronze at two-thirds scale—father, mother, son, and daughter—unequivocally in the act of pissing. The work engages themes with which Joo has been concerned ever since he stopped making the openly and ironically technological installations he became known for in the early, ’90s. The family is a strong theme, but this family is unanimously joined by an intimate physiological function that is individual and hardly “noble.” The bridge, clear symbolism for a passage, leads toward the future, but this family’s reaction to the prospect before it is purely physical; one glimpses neither hope in the future nor fear. Finally, the figures are out of scale, reduced almost as if they were figures in a diorama. (Others of Joo’s works take the form of showcases, as in a natural-history museum.) All these elements induce a subtle sense of loss, of uncertainty and reluctance—and it may be these factors rather than the choice of a somewhat impolite word that lead to the reluctance to cite the work’s full title. Joo presents a world without certainties but also without dramas, in a continuous oscillation between polar concepts: tradition/evolution, science/nature, inside/outside, and so on. The work acknowledges a need for a natural cohesion We that between parents and children. But the values on which this cohesion is based are not the admirable ones of reciprocal love but rather those base ones founded in a shared physical behavior like urinating, a direct but hardly optimistic response to a truly uncertain future.

Access/Denial, 2001, consists of a rope supported by shiny steel poles of the sort one sees in banks and theaters but made of resin. It blocks access to nothing. The barrier is the work, and beyond it lies a space that becomes visible as such only because of the denied access. Improved Rack no. 2 (Moose), 2001, the third of five large pieces in the show, is made of a pair of antlers that have been broken into parts and then reassembled with metal joints. Essentially a sort of mechanical drawing in space with an exploded view that shows all the individual parts, it is based on the dichotomies inside/outside and organic/inorganic. But the interpretation of Joo’s work lies not so much in the identification of such dichotomies as in understanding how these seemingly opposed terms interpenetrate each other to the point where they become inextricable, placing the viewer in a state of suspension.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.