Los Angeles

View of “Fiona Connor,” 2013.

View of “Fiona Connor,” 2013.

Fiona Connor


View of “Fiona Connor,” 2013.

“Bare Use,” a solo show at 1301PE by Los Angeles–based artist Fiona Connor, presented uncanny replicas of thirteen charmingly dull, awkwardly nondescript objects—a drinking fountain, a patio umbrella, a linen hamper, among other items—found at the Rancho La Puerta resort in Tecate, Mexico. These deadpan sculptures invoked not only the bare bones of a destination spa but also the bare bodies that might find escape there. A white, mineral-looking residue crept up signposts; a wooden lounge chair sat angled toward the gallery windows; five fresh towels piled on a low table on the first floor and dozens more filling a cabinet upstairs lay ready to dry wet skin. Across the gallery’s tan flooring, one could imagine a stone path lined with lamps, or desert gardens, or bathers sprawled in warm Baja light. But the illusion was only skin deep: Knobs on Object No. 7, Bare Use (jacuzzi sign) (all works 2013) activated nothing; a phone in the noticeably grimed Object No. 6, Bare Use (telephone hut) had no dial tone. Though charged with latent functionality, Connor’s realist sculptures were stunted by their context—representing the prescriptions of both gallery and spa.

Past Connor projects have doubled architectural or design elements—staircases, seating, facades, printed matter, and so on—with some thematic or historical relationship to the host site. A piece at Auckland’s Gambia Castle, for example, reproduced the gallery’s floor several centimeters above the original, complete with scuff marks and paint splatter. At 1301PE, however, Connor’s contextual play was less evidently site-specific. Two guideposts bristling with decorated ceramic arrows located the exhibition in a geographic lacuna surrounded by phantom outbuildings not replicated here. Another small marker indicated, perhaps in error, that “V-4” (a hacienda? a terrace?) lay in two opposite directions. Yet to say that these elements were displaced is inaccurate; rather, as sculptures produced for a given exhibition, they appeared exactly where they were supposed to. In contrast to Smithson’s handling of the gallery (where the non-site is staged), Connor’s effort to re-create aspects of a Mexican eco-resort did not point outward—it curled in, producing not lifelines to a world beyond but its simulacra, a kind of art-world hermeticism articulated by a show of sculptures.

A title like “Bare Use” might suggest an intimate, less sterile kind of Conceptualism (the show’s announcement even depicted a tousled bedsheet). But while you could drink the water from Object #5, Bare Use (water fountain), Connor’s sculptures neither invited touch nor desired it. And yet, such chilly distance felt perfectly natural in the context of a gallery. On display were the artist’s labor and the parallel forms of leisure offered by art venue and spa. In both cases, the value of the premises is maintained by unseen work: the tasks of the grounds­keepers, the gallerist’s private sales, the material and social labor of the artist carried out in advance of the show. Conversely, we can guess at the idyllic moments of Connor’s initial trip to Rancho La Puerta, when she first thought to repurpose the site of her holiday (or that of her imagined subject) as the substance of her work. No matter how scripted or stripped down, these parallel experiences are nothing if not authentic on their own terms. Rather than a partial replica of this Baja, Mexico, retreat, then—or an oddly peripheral representation of its decor—we find in “Bare Use” an utterly convincing replica of a gallery show. The towels tossed in the hamper were and will always be clean, far from nude, relaxed bodies—that is, unused.

Travis Diehl