press release

He was in that familiar state – not that the occasion mattered too seriously to him – of incoherent ideas spreading outward without a center, so characteristic of the present, and whose strange arithmetic adds up to a random proliferation of numbers without forming a unit. Finally he dreamed up only impracticable rooms, revolving rooms, kaleidoscopic interiors, adjustable scenery for the soul, and his ideas grew steadily more devoid of content. — Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities

I was chopping down a palm tree When a friend dropped by to ask If I would feel less lonely If he helped me swing the axe. I said: No, it's not a case of being lonely We have here, I've been working on this palm tree For eighty seven years He said: Go get lost! And walked towards his Cadillac. I chopped down the palm tree And it landed on his back. — Neil Young, The Last Trip To Tulsa

How does one define the contemporary landscape? What is the optimal position to perceive where we are? Standing in Arcadian vistas with a digital camera? Is it in a car driving by a strip mall at 70 mph? Or looking down the atriums of the skyscrapers in Asian mega cities? Is it from the picture window of a two-week-old mansion in a Middle American gated community? From the rubble of Beirut or New Orleans? Perhaps it is in front of a screen gliding through Google earth? Or maybe from a spy satellite? Is it even a strictly material position? Do we have several imaginary landscapes superimposed on each other? Layers of mediascape in seemingly infinite varieties—String Theory personified?

The Long Goodbye, Jonah Freeman and Michael Phelan's second solo collaborative exhibition, continues these two artists' concern with the 'contemporary landscape' and America's absorption and perversion of both Occidental and Eastern historical modes and models. The exhibition includes mundane and disparate icons of consumerism such as disposable aluminum foil and ready-made glass display systems. Also included is a rambling testimonial on personal and financial failure found on the internet after googling the fortune cookie proverb "the two hardest things in life are success and failure". Freeman/Phelan present these seemingly everyday/ordinary objects with an eye towards both art history and the legacy of Middle America "life-styling" within a postmodern aestheticized landscape. Their appropriations and re-contextualizations create objects that typically blend seamlessly into the field of the commercial contemporary landscape and blur the distinction between high and low while continuously questioning the viewer’s definition and expectation of what one may consider traditional 'fine art'.

Freeman/ Phelan's interest in appropriating domestic architectural/functional signifiers that are both alluring and practical can be seen in their series of 'totems' or 'monuments' comprised of glass, chrome and acrylic gels. The sculptures, made from display systems that have been reconfigured into dysfunctional quasi-monumental structures are stacked on compact concrete slabs and reflect a nod to the evolution of the minimalist vernacular (Sol Lewitt/ Donald Judd) . The gels that decorate them, gleaned from web sites geared towards home decoration, superimpose a fantasy upon the objects with themes like stained glass, ice crystals and precious rock. The titles such as Eastern Plain (roaming narrator), Prodigy (roundtable) and On golf (honey oakwood), borrow a style of language used in the description of lifestyle consumer goods, a style that attempts to take banal objects out of the mundane and into the realm of illusion.

The large unique photographs in the series Reynolds Wrap Quality Aluminum Foil are made from scans of crumpled aluminum foil. These complex abstractions convey both a vastness and emptiness that reflects perfectly upon the condition of everyday goods like molded plastic containers, foil wrappers, cardboard boxes and aluminum cans - utilitarian products that make up the many varieties of empty vessels that carry our content. They are trappings of our cultural landscape with no meaning or use value apart from that which they hold - things meant to be immediately discarded - disposable nothings – the bi-products of progress and convenience. By 'photographing' and 'presenting' this emblem of consumerism Freeman and Phelan posit a play on a number of art-historical models... ie: painting (still-life/ landscape/ modernism)... as well as Warhol's Shadows (and the concept of seriality) and the precedent of James Welling's crumpled paper photos. Unlike Welling however, Freeman/Phelan are using the 'advances' of western technology (the scanner/ computer)- as opposed to the camera- to capture/ document the 'contemporary landscape'- both physical and metaphorical.

The walls in The Long Goodbye are painted in progressively darkening shades of gray. Inspired by a technique often used in institutional black & white photography exhibitions to accentuaute the contrast of the pictures, Freeman/Phelan appropriate this strategy to point toward the use of the architecture of the exhibition space as a theatrical device that assists seemingly autonomous pictorial objects. Each shade of gray is presented/ positioned as a work in itself and titled after the name of the actual 'style' of paint such as "Ice Age", "Silver Queen", "Platinum Plate", "Diamond Heights", "Cast in Stone", "Dark Shadows" and "Carbon Copy". As the viewer passes through the exhibition he reaches a room, painted in the darkest shade of gray, that is lit only by a single white neon sign that reads "goodbye". The light from the sign is cast upon the only object in the room, a black & white pigment print of an upside down palm tree - a reference to the City of Los Angeles's recent decision to systematically replace all palm trees in public spaces with ones that are coniferous. Chinatown, is a spatialized loop of the sound of running water taken from the introduction of the Can song Sing Swan Song that fills the room and borrows from a recent tradition of marketing sound as a relaxation device. In these products isolated sounds of nature (i.e. water, wind, birds) are used for insomnia and other psychological ailments becoming a bastardized variation of eastern spirituality that idealizes and recontextualises nature to sooth the woes of the modern world. The title is taken from the Roman Polanski detective movie about political corruption surrounding water management and land use in Los Angeles.

Punctuating the exhibition is I know I'm not a loser, but based on results, how can I not be??, a young man's confessional found on the internet after googling 'the two hardest things in life are success and failure' - an adage received in a fortune cookie by one of the artists. The hand-written text begins with the following caveat:

I really don't have anyone I can talk to in real life about this. My family and friends don't understand, don't know the truth and/or both. A couple of years ago, I would have called myself and probably been called by all who knew me - a very successful and happy person. I had set out and met or exceeded most of my life goals. I had a great, supportive and beautiful wife and a wonderful son. I had built a thriving internet company that more than paid our bills and I was living my dream life in Hawaii. Plus we had had 100K in assets in the bank. I was only 28. This was in the summer of 2004. That was the peak. When we moved to Hawaii it was the culmination of 5 years of building my business, paying our debts down and planning for the future. We made it and we were set for life. Or so it seemed. Then we/I began to fuck up, repeatedly until we arrive at near total failure which is where I am now...

In many ways this testimony relates to the conceptual undercurrents running throughout The Long Goodbye ie: the "American Dream" and the success and failures of histories (art, architecture, personal) and the way we systematically destroy, rebuild, redesign, reinvent, all in the hope of fulfillment.

Jonah Freeman's recent exhibitions include Busan Biennale, 2006 Curated by Manu Park, Busan, South Korea. Intouchable (l’Idéal transparence) Curated by François Piron & Guillaume Désanges, Centre National d’Art Contemporain – Villa Arson, Nice, France and Fountains D’amelio Terras, New York City. His upcoming exhibitions include Grow Your Own curated by Peter Coffin, Le Palais de Toyko, Paris, France and a solo exhibition at Centre Pour L'image Contemporaine, Geneva, Switzerland

Michael Phelan was most recently included in Fountains at Damilio Terras and View 11, curated by Amy Smith-Stewart, at Mary Boone. Forthcoming exhibitions include Shane Campbell Gallery, Oak Park, IL, and Changing Role Gallery, Naples, Italy. He will also be included in Just Kick It Till It Breaks at The Kitchen this Spring and The Triumph of Paining: Abstract America at The Saatchi Gallery, London, this Summer.

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Freeman/Phelan : The Long Goodbye
Jonah Freeman / Michael Phelan