New York

Uri Aran, Untitled, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Uri Aran, Untitled, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Uri Aran

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

Uri Aran, Untitled, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Presiding over Uri Aran’s exhibition was a video, taken by the artist via Skype, of a man examining a plate of cookies. He picks up each one and looks at it closely, then shows it to the camera, as though the concept of a cookie were entirely foreign and slightly suspect. He groups them at one end of the plate, spreads them out again in neat rows. One of the cookies is broken, and he tries to reassemble it, over and over again, patiently, curiously, evincing no visible awareness of the task’s futility. Later, the man dips a tea bag into a cup of water again and again, this commonplace task made strange through repetition and by its disconnect from anything suggesting thirst.

Here Aran set up the themes—curiosity, repetition, a kind of obliviousness to usual use—for the rest of the exhibition. The show was largely made up of desks or worktables, like those one might find in a studio or workshop, covered with everyday objects arranged in ways that at first appeared haphazard and then, on closer inspection, seemed to have a certain—albeit inscrutable—logic. Cookies appeared now and again, in piles and grids, sometimes crumbled, along with gloves, passport photos, miniature globes and soccer balls attached to key chains, bits of curved glass that resemble lenses, actual lenses from glasses whose frames are twisted into obscure knots, and casts of those lenses in various materials, among many, many other things. Small metal disks, of the kind used for dog tags, were stamped with words or phrases (UNCLE, BRAVE HORSE, BY CAR, SOUP) and appeared among these objects like misplaced labels or floating koans.

Repetition was powerful in this installation, creating cohesion among this heap of broken images. A pair of billiard balls were confidently labeled DOG, and the gallery floor was covered in black paw prints, as if inviting us to follow the random wandering of the signified from one arbitrary signifier to another. The objects were inflected by their surroundings: The gloves seemed workmanlike and efficient beside cans of Play-Doh and various tools, but—fingers severed, covered in something shiny—disturbingly biological elsewhere. Canisters of fish food, containing goldfish flakes, found a kind of formal alliance, if not a symbolic one, with a nearby pile of pencil shavings. Next to a photograph of a group of lions eating a dead zebra, miniature globes spilled forth like guts. These shifting alignments of form and theme came to constitute a kind of poetics, a syntax attempting to create meaning.

As this syntax tried its best—at times cleverly, at times futilely—to organize sense, the nature of what Aran calls “bureaucratic formalism” comes into focus. This, he says, is an investigation of that which takes place on the desk—a site that, with all its connotations of labor and repetitive action, is the “meeting point for time and aesthetics.” So much of white-collar and creative labor involves categorizing, labeling, arranging—and then making things fit in the labeled categories when they don’t really want to fit—but nothing much, in a material sense, is produced. In fact, the activity of looking at Aran’s arrangements, of parsing their particular meaning and non-meaning, resembled nothing so much as surfing the Internet (which involves units of identifying data called “cookies”) or inventing categories (sometimes so broad as to be useless, sometimes so apt that they fill a need we never knew existed) via tagging and hashtags. Repetition and organization, in this great ungovernable system, became a solution. How else to explain the powerful feeling of recognition, transcending silliness, when a slide projector shooting into a corner turned out to be showing images of Bert and Ernie with a plate of cookies?

Emily Hall