Los Angeles

Oliver Payne, Untitled (Replica of Game Boy Damaged in the Gulf War), 2016, Game Boy console, 5 3/4 × 3 1/2 × 1 1/4".

Oliver Payne, Untitled (Replica of Game Boy Damaged in the Gulf War), 2016, Game Boy console, 5 3/4 × 3 1/2 × 1 1/4".

Oliver Payne

Oliver Payne, Untitled (Replica of Game Boy Damaged in the Gulf War), 2016, Game Boy console, 5 3/4 × 3 1/2 × 1 1/4".

A jar of jelly beans, a replica of a charred Game Boy console, a set of inked fingerprints on a plastic sheet—these were some of the items included in Oliver Payne’s exhibition “Seven Objects.” This title, which corresponded to the number of works installed, is a reference to Miller’s Law, which states that, on average, the human mind can account for seven objects in its working memory. George Miller, a pioneer in the field of cognitive psychology, cites multiple examples supporting his theory in his watershed 1955 text “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”: the seven seas, the seven deadly sins, the seven primary colors, the seven wonders of the world—the list goes on. (In fact, it extends well past seven examples.) Although Miller ultimately calls such commonalities coincidental, the sentiment behind the psychologist’s initial suggestion, and indeed one that permeates Payne’s exhibition, is that these numerical alliances are indicative of unknown—and arguably unknowable—forces operating behind history’s curtain.

Untitled (1, 2, 3, 4) (all works 2016) is a wall-mounted sheet of Perspex clear acrylic on whose surface four central, carefully arranged fingerprints have been applied. The portrait-oriented work is scaled to the size of an iPad, while its black marks are arranged to recall the pass code 1-2-3-4 as one would enter it on the display’s interface. A calculation of combinations tells us that the device’s keypad allows for ten thousand different four-digit permutations; the most common pass code, however, is these first four digits in succession, which means that a large portion of iPad users key in this pattern from muscle memory on a daily basis. Payne’s glass jar of jelly beans, Untitled (the Wisdom of Crowds), which rested on a centrally positioned pedestal in the spare entrance gallery, served as an invitation for visitors to guess the quantity of its contents. The exhibition’s press release stated the statistical axiom that an average derived from a significant sample of guesses will be in close proximity to the actual number of items being estimated—a testament to the wisdom of a collective body. These two works, formally akin only in their spareness, and loosely tied by their shared emphasis on groupthink, highlighted the range of reference points in the artist’s oblique project. In the second gallery, Payne encased Untitled (Replica of Game Boy Damaged in the Gulf War) in a waist-level vitrine. The replica, bearing the discolorations and mottled surface of a burnt marshmallow, has a Tetris Pak in its cartridge slot. It is modeled on an actual Game Boy on display at the Nintendo museum in New York, which was discovered still fully functional in a bombed barrack in Iraq. Key to the artist’s interests are the global contours of the device’s lineage: It was made by a Japanese company, ran a game developed by a Russian designer, owned by an American soldier, and burned in a Middle Eastern war zone, indicating the opaque interconnectivity that yokes commerce to our contemporary existence.

These works, along with the others on view, cumulatively evoked a swirling muddle of relations, the existence and nature of which were not immediately apparent. We saw how a common daily practice, a collective knowledge, and an alliance of economic forces can each be abstracted via their translation to the visual realm. Thus, does this seemingly contradictory action, which both lends unseen forces a concrete presence and further obscures them, lead one to surmise that the values of individual agency and autonomous reason are false presumptions, or does it hint at an alternate interpretation? While the exhibition’s press release, along with a voice recording by the artist, clarified and materialized these pervasive relations, the force least addressed was that of the artist’s own guiding hand, which, by gathering, assembling, and arranging the objects, served to guide the viewer from one entity to the next. Ultimately, attention must be called to Payne himself, who, after all, asserted control over the allegorical narrative residing in the gallery. There may well be a common, unitary wisdom across humanity and a set of unknowingly shared daily practices, but this does not preclude the existence of solitary figures guiding our way.

Nicolas Linnert