New York

Ben Gocker


There really is no single poem. These six words—taken from poet Jack Spicer—serve Ben Gocker well as the title and governing premise of his first solo show. As befits a Brooklyn librarian (with an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop), Gocker produces installations, drawings, and wall-mounted sculptures that are heavy on text. Following Spicer, Gocker willfully—and often playfully—circumvents autonomy; mutability, adjacency, and contingency suggest themselves instead, with works relating self-evidently to those around them. The tondo format of the plaster Untitled (color wheels), 2010, a trio of colored pencil–drawn pie charts, each cycling through the rainbow spectrum, repeats those of the empty Gold Wheel, 2010, and the handless Untitled (clock), 2010. Names, 2010, likewise features a plaster circle, this time covered by a vibrant field of densely nestled names (of friends, acquaintances, and past lovers), which cannot but read as funerary compared with Death and Friends, 2010, some twenty discrete, palm-size monochromes that incorporate sawdust—itself a by-product of the holes drilled into Calendar, 2010, a variable sculpture comprising totemic, hand-whittled sticks and four wood panels, which, when assembled, are the size of a coffin.

This rabbit hole of signification extends to historical precedents. Most obviously, Death & Friends is the title of a 1970 book of poems by Jon Anderson. For Gocker, this also leads to Yves Klein’s 1954 artists’ books Yves: Peintures and Haguenault: Peintures. Additionally, such associative chains admit an openness of form (which is to say, what poetry—its legacy and current practice, its manner of occupying or resisting space—might yield in this or other contexts). Yet, for all the ways in which Gocker renders poetry a productively open idea, hazily defined and materially unconstrained, the page still underlies much of his production: From the ongoing Floating Collection, 2003–10, a collection of covers to imaginary books displayed on a long wooden table, to the foam- and acrylic-doused Books, 2010, the very corporeal, object-bound parameters of writing offer a thematic and logic of making. Gocker’s suite Drawings, 2009–10, for one, features notebook pages crafted from plaster (think early Claes Oldenburg, and his painted-plaster objects from “The Store”) and covered with hand-drawn reproductions of sketches and ephemera, which, in this form, become even more physical. Childishly ham-fisted and willfully naive, the drawings redouble sheets of yellow-lined paper (Untitled [yellow paper], 2010), translate doodles (Untitled [puzzle man], 2010), and communicate the gnomic poetry forsaken in the show more generally (Untitled [glacier], 2010).

But it is in Early Poem, 2003–10, that the page simultaneously assumes its most literal and metaphoric significance. Here, Gocker places objects atop a wooden platform with proportions matching those of an 81⁄2-by-11-inch sheet of notebook paper. These items are largely sorted according to type: empty picture frames, small geometric shapes, figures sprung to life from the doodles mentioned above, and so on. Album covers—further decorated with Gocker’s inscriptions—rim the surface, while such stuff as coral, a makeshift wooden globe, and postcards punctuates the cornucopia, as a fan blows and music intermittently plays. These objects affirm their mutual dependence, producing not a single state but a gesture toward the near infinitude born of such constituents and their interactions. On one hand, this everything-is-connected approach proposes a model of paranoia, a kind of formal conspiracy theory. On the other, it argues for a relationality—of objects and language—that is profoundly social in its implications, while producing the best kind of visual poetry.

Suzanne Hudson