View of “Dan Rees,” 2015. Foreground: Tri Tin, 2015. Background: China Trivision 1, 2015.

View of “Dan Rees,” 2015. Foreground: Tri Tin, 2015. Background: China Trivision 1, 2015.

Dan Rees

Tanya Leighton

View of “Dan Rees,” 2015. Foreground: Tri Tin, 2015. Background: China Trivision 1, 2015.

“Stimulate Surprise” was Dan Rees’s fourth solo show at Tanya Leighton, and his second without any of the abstract paintings for which he’s best known. The exhibition consisted of six three-dimensional works and two videos, all addressing tropes of industry (specifically agriculture), advertising, and global trade. Though this thematic framework could have said a lot about the artist’s own industrious output of paintings, their signature Artex—a material otherwise most often used in texturing ceilings—finish and their proliferation on the market and in digital reproduction, here it underpinned an obscure view on how commerce could draw far-flung places into relation: namely, Rees’s Welsh home, as a potential site for increased seaweed cultivation; diverse Asian seaweed-producing regions; and Continental Europe, an ostensible growth market for sales. (The show included a pallet with boxes of a type of seaweed not currently exported to Europe as well as a video of seaweed being harvested in Vietnam.) The framework of commerce also explained the inclusion of three large blank metal billboards and one small one. Though only the smallest of the four hung on the wall—one lay flat on the floor, one leaned against the wall, and one was freestanding—in the context of the gallery, their rectangular formats inevitably recalled paintings.

The seven-minute video slide projection that gave the show its title, produced by the New York ad agency Sid Lee, used contemporary advertising lingo to address the potential sale of Welsh seaweed. Each slide paired either glitzy product photography or a dramatic view of the Welsh seaside with marketing proposals and truisms about today’s consumers: “Mixing high culture and low, they’re as at home as [sic] a Michelin star restaurant as an authentic pizza joint.” Later, the video enumerates a series of goals that details in the proposed packaging design should fulfill, such as: “1. Establish the Provenance.” One of the slides explains, “The visual inspiration for our packaging will come from the oceans and high-end marbling found in handmade print-making. . . . Marbling techniques speak to the product and artisanal production techniques.”

The tongue-in-cheek tone of the video slide projection prevents its candid approach, familiar in contemporary art from the trend forecasts of the artist collective K-Hole, from coming off as purely hackneyed. It also serves to explain the video’s glaring omissions: We’re left knowing next to nothing about the seaweed itself or how it’s farmed. The exhibition left one longing for some of the rigor of an artist such as Peter Fend, with his proposals for harvesting algae as sustenance, or Andreas Siekmann, who has analyzed the involvement of governments and corporations in contemporary agriculture. By contrast, Rees’s foray via three-dimensional works and video into the subject of agriculture seems built on a shallow understanding of global industries––not unlike another exhibition seen not so long ago in Berlin, Oscar Murillo’s “Rámon how was trade today? Have a break . . . Sit! Enjoy the food, but you’re not welcomed at the table” at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie in 2013. Murillo padded a show of his paintings in the gallery’s main space with a satellite room containing a pallet of cardboard boxes filled with lollipops and a video documenting the candy being produced in a factory––effectively filler within Murillo’s otherwise formal framework. Rees’s show of similar elements, with its comically exaggerated reflections on what sells, could have at least offered a valid commentary for his paintings, had the two cases of industriousness been allowed to confront, and perhaps even account for, each other.

––John Beeson