New York

Jacolby Satterwhite, Blessed Avenue, 2018, disco balls, lights, potted plants, HD video (color, sound, 19 minutes 19 seconds). Installation view.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Blessed Avenue, 2018, disco balls, lights, potted plants, HD video (color, sound, 19 minutes 19 seconds). Installation view.

Jacolby Satterwhite

Jacolby Satterwhite’s kaleidoscopically immoderate show at Pioneer Works was built from a million little things that ultimately boiled down to a couple of big things. The exhibition was a trippy two-way cathexis, its parallel rituals of memorialization and individuation routed through an exuberant array of artistic strategies. Though “You’re at home,” as the extravaganza was called, was physically set within the vast expanse of this Brooklyn space, it felt everywhere and nowhere, at once brimmingly available and elusively decentered. Much of this effect was due to the nature of the project, which, like a good deal of the inventive, versatile artist’s work, drew on a subject that was itself both present and absent: Satterwhite’s late mother, Patricia. A schizophrenic who was frequently institutionalized, Patricia had the soul of a maker, writing songs that she sang a cappella into a cassette recorder and producing hundreds of simple drawings of implausible domestic inventions that she optimistically sent off to television shopping networks and the US Patent and Trademark Office. Patricia’s affectual and material legacy was woven into the show’s decor—its still and moving images, skittering EDM tracks, and objects both manufactured and handmade—providing the backdrop to Satterwhite’s twofold endeavor: an excavation of Patricia’s program of self-actualization that also served as an examination of his own.

Satterwhite has been refining his fantastical brand of queer-club-kid Conceptualism, and its complex engagements with consumerism and labor, over the past half-dozen years. Here, the kitchen-sink animations that are central to his enterprise were foregrounded in a pair of projections and a series of virtual reality sequences viewable at a pop-up shop where merch, including copies of Love Will Find a Way Home (2019), a double LP by PAT—the band Satterwhite formed with musician Nick Weiss to record and perform songs built around Patricia’s lyrics—were for sale. The music was also used as a soundtrack for the digital works, such as Birds in Paradise, 2019, the show’s centerpiece, which was projected on a screen behind a large stage at one end of the main gallery space. In it, Satterwhite’s outré visions—candy-colored abyssal worlds teeming with glitchy, green-screened characters whose repetitive, juddering motions owe as much to the shop floor as they do to the dance floor—melt in and out of sync with live-action footage. The digitally rendered sequences are so intricate and hallucinatory that they test the limits of description: One minute, a black-hatted cowboy is circling above a colosseum on a fractalized Pegasus; the next, platoons of leather-clad bodies connected by CrossFit-style “battle ropes” are voguing in robotic unison on massive floating platforms. The live-action passages are less visually hectic, but hardly less involved. In a particularly vivid sequence, Satterwhite hangs upside down on one half of a split screen as figures in white hazmat suits whip and wrap his naked body with strips of torn drop cloth; the performance references ceremonial African rites of renewal but is complicated by echoes of racialized violence. Meanwhile, on the other half, two men “paint” the artist with a kind of video image, transforming his bare skin into a living chroma-key membrane.

If Domestika (Domestic), 2017—the VR work, which shares its look and energy with Birds in Paradise—added a layer of vertiginous instability to the already dizzying mise-en-scène structuring Satterwhite’s incessant proliferations, so, too (albeit in a very different way), did the odd tchotchkes that were interspersed among picture frames and screens on a quartet of custom-made, wall-hung shelf units. The charmingly crude little doodads risked getting lost in the show’s buzzing dynamism, but they provided a crucial window into the project as a whole. The 3-D-printed IRL instantiations of the gadgets imagined in his mother’s drawings, which Satterwhite had framed and hung in a small white-cube gallery nestled in the heart of his installation, helped to contextualize what’s at stake in the artist’s oscillations between the virtual and the actual. It may be true that you can’t go home again, and not all pasts invite return. But if you’ve got the right tools, it’s possible to preserve what matters in order to make your own space, no matter where you find yourself.