San Francisco

Packard Jennings

In his recent solo exhibition at Catherine Clark Gallery, prankster interventionist Packard Jennings hurled small stones at mighty, if easy, targets—the corporation and the church. Jennings’s interactive projects restage the David and Goliath narrative in our late, late capitalist moment, imagining ways in which the little guy might finally do away with his accursed office cubicle.

The show’s centerpiece, a multipart work titled Business Reply, 2006, takes aim at companies who target consumers with avalanches of direct mail. In the show’s announcement, Jennings asked gallerygoers to collect postage-paid reply envelopes from credit card solicitations and bring them to the gallery. There, in an installation called Business Reply (Office Installation), 2006—a space accented with “1970s orange” walls and a hanging pot of artificial plants—he placed a wood-veneered receptacle in which these were collected, with the aim of later sending the offending companies Packard’s jaunty anti-business propaganda on their own dime. On the “office” walls were framed working drawings for and pigment prints of such material: comic strip–style primers on the destruction of office culture, culminating in the repurposing of office towers as tribal dwellings.

Packard’s color-saturated format conflates the international language of airplane safety guides, Jack T. Chick’s illustrated religious tracts, and air-dropped government propaganda. Business Reply Pamphlet (Panel Two), 2006, for example, is a two-step guide to toppling a desk—large arrows emphasize the pleasure of the upheaval. Business Reply Pamphlet (Panel Fourteen), 2006, depicts a men’s room transformed into a community garden, with tomatoes, sunflowers, and corn potted in the urinals. Elsewhere, meeting areas are shown populated by nude coworkers who flirt, kiss, have sex, and, uh, sculpt pots, while in Panel Sixteen, 2006, the interior finally devolves into a postapocalyptic fantasy world where a community of hunter-gatherers dwell in huts in a now-verdant former workplace, trees poking through the drop ceiling and smashed windows letting in fresh air.

There’s a simple pleasure in Jennings’s fantasy of a utopian revolution implemented using the master’s tools, but the relational possibilities, along with any social urgency, wither when one ponders the pamphlets’ ultimate fate. Would they coax a chuckle from the poor sod whose job it was to open them? The project’s efficacy is ultimately elusive and ambivalent, communicating above all else a smirky social consciousness that only appears even more arch and problematic when the drawings are shown framed, commodity-style.

More effective is Jennings’s targeting of Darwin debunkers with giveaway stickers printed on gold paper and inscribed with a paragraph beginning: THIS BIBLE CONTAINS MATERIAL ON CREATIONISM. CREATIONISM IS A PARABLE, NOT A FACT, REGARDING THE ORIGIN OF LIVING THINGS. Bible Stickers, 2005, was shown with instructions for its use: CUT A STICKER OFF THE ROLL AND KEEP IT IN YOUR WALLET. WHEN YOU STAY IN A MOTEL, ADHERE YOUR STICKER TO THE INSIDE JACKET OF THE BIBLE. As art fairs bloom around the world, this viral campaign might live longest of all in the tasteful modernist nightstands of expensive international hotels. A more insidious, less aestheticized gesture than the pamphlets, it slips a mickey, however modest, to the power people.

Glen Helfand