JOSHUA KENT /
07.12.2019 - 08.25.2019
Guest curated by Katie Waddell, as part of Second Floor Co-op 2019
I would rather spend an hour with a dying squirrelthan tour a cathedralalthough I like the poor lighting
-Dean Young, from “Paradise Poem”
Tender Alchemists explores the arbitrary designations of value assigned to objects.
Luxury is fragile. It is a condition that only exists by maintaining a qualitative difference from the things it is not: the austere, the shabby, the tacky, the mundane. Luxury is an elastic category, or so we learn when one group of people legislate resources away from another, re-defining the routine goods and services that make life more bearable (washing machines, cab rides) as frivolous expenditures. While luxury is fundamentally an economic paradigm, its shadow is an aesthetic concept, one which, much like Peter Pan’s shadow, can be liberated from its host.
The artists in Tender Alchemists undermine the false dichotomies of luxury and austerity, art and craft, and form and function. With a nod to the homemaking practices of pioneer America and Pakistan, Zehra Khan simulates traditional textiles with mass-produced materials such as permanent marker and hot glue. Joshua Kent creates formal compositions with discarded objects that reveal the bounty obscured by professed scarcity. Both artists are tender alchemists, although it might be wrong to say that their chrysopoetic gestures turn crude materials into gold. Their magic is contextual. By re-presenting marginalia as objects worthy of being beheld, they validate the quiet opulence of everyday experience.
I want to avoid classical music,bragging about its intelligence,punk’s redundant suicides.I want to get as close as possible to rainwithout actually being in it,my umbrella in total collapse,just another metaphysical argument.I would rather spend an hour with a dying squirrelthan tour a cathedralalthough I like the poor lighting,the tortured frescos
as if you could be threatened into paradise
-Dean Young, from “Paradise Poem”
But does it spark joy?
In the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution generated an excess of consumer goods, and with it, a mania for collecting and novelty. Paperweights, aquariums, taxidermy—a cacophony of knickknacks birthed by innovations in manufacturing—peppered Victorian interiors. The libidinous act of acquisition, once the exclusive domain of lords and merchants, was suddenly accessible to all.
Commodities are commonly associated with the existential bareness of mass culture, but in the industrial era, they quickly became extensions of the personal identity and experience of the consumer. Cultural philosopher Walter Benjamin dubbed the early collector of consumer goods the “furnished man” —a specifically modern subject whose psyche exists symbiotically with its surrounding objects. As Marie Kondo’s popular maxim confirms, objects demand certain responses from subjects. They seduce consumers by drawing them close, by offering an intimacy that unfolds in the owner’s imagination.
Today, mass culture is global in scope, and its products resonate with both personal and shared significance. Walter Benjamin once remarked that since modern people lack universal cultural lore, customs, or religion, they also lack forms of communal symbolic language that have traditionally served as the basis for group coherence and mutual understanding. In its place, consumer goods, technologies, novelty items—anything definitive of a shared place and time—shoulder the burden of common symbolism and poetic resonance.
Many contemporary artists acknowledge the near-universal currency of mass culture, and that there is no creative modality free from its ubiquity, or from Western hierarchies of taste that pit kitsch against fine art. One way these artists cull meaning from the commercialized homogeneity of modern life is to call attention to the friction between the broader cultural mythologies embedded in mass-produced objects and the seemingly personal meanings they tend to invoke.The objects in Dean Young’s dying squirrel poem—a ringtone, a broken umbrella—that engender meaningful experiences for the speaker are neither culturally valuable nor commercially viable. Global capitalism’s vampiric dependency on hyper-production requires that its products be abandoned, sloughed off like dead skin in the wake of modernity’s pursuit of novelty and progress. Young’s collapsed umbrella resonates because its dysfunction makes it a symbol of capitalist processes of production and consumption, desirability and abandonment. In the purgatory between functional consumer object and waste, it suffers a loss of identity, but becomes an ontological proposition. Trash? Treasure? The object’s vulnerability feels familiar.
Porsche, Whole Foods, Neimans–a litany of names recited, conjured, incanted. Little word-long protection spells.
The venn diagram of self-identification with luxury brands and the witchiness of high-end, commodified wellness culture is a single circle. Both require magical thinking, or at least faith in the elevating power of luxury. Fendi. A fetish.
Like a white lady at a Goop summit, luxury is fragile. Luxury is a condition that only exists by cultivating a qualitative difference from the things it is not: the austere, the shabby, the tacky, the mundane. Luxury maintains the boundaries of lack and is defined by those same contours in turn; it can only exist under the threat of loss. Under these conditions, agents of the culture industry make histrionic claims wealth’s power to satisfy: “Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines/Buy myself all of my favorite things//Whoever said money can’t solve your problems/
Must not have had enough money to solve ’em.”
Luxury is also an elastic category, or so we learn when one group of people legislate resources away from another, re-defining the routine goods and services that make life more bearable (washing machines, cab rides) as frivolous expenditures. They scrupulously chart luxury’s territory and police its borders, aware that late-stage capitalism–an optimistic term for an economic system with an indefinite end–breeds precarity across its spectrum.
But while luxury is fundamentally an economic paradigm, its shadow is an aesthetic concept–one which, much like Peter Pan’s shadow, can be liberated from its host.
The artists in Tender Alchemists undermine the false dichotomies of luxury and austerity, art and craft, and form and function.
Joshua Kent creates abstract compositions with discarded objects. These sensitive compositions are highly formal, however, given the state of some of the found materials Kent works with, they could be (and have been) mistaken for parodies of formalism. But the histories these objects reference are not art’s but their own. In Kent’s words, the materials collected have been “imposed upon” by the world. They signify the riverbanks from which they were pulled, the sunlight that faded their colors, the pocket that carried them home. Kent’s meticulous arrangements intentionally adhere to the Modernist doctrine of Significant Form while embodying the terroir of the environments from which their component parts were found. The gum wrappers or broken plates that find their way into Kent’s work, already historically rich, acquire additional meaning, and contingent preciousness, when they become art.
With a nod to the homemaking practices of pioneer America and Pakistan, Zehra Khan simulates traditional textiles with vernacular materials such as permanent marker and hot glue–humble craft items that simultaneously reference mass production, childhood nostalgia, and DIY embellishment-on-a-budget. Khan also draws from an array of aesthetic sources, including Post-Impressionist pointillism, which enjoys global visibility via prestigious museums, and Pakistani truck art, which remains largely confined to the streets of South Asia. Notably, these forms of painting share specific formal concerns. Both are defined by painstakingly crafted, vibrantly colored details that are visually arresting on a granular level, yet harmonize with their respective artworks’ total compositions.
If both artists focus on formalism, why claim that this exhibition is about arbitrary designations of value? The answer has to do with “art” as an ontological category and the invisible frame categorization draws around an object. Calling a mundane object or material art suggests that it is worthy of attention, and attention calls forth the meanings and resonances that accumulate and attach to the things populating daily life; especially things presumed to be beneath our notice. In this sense, Joshua Kent and Zehra Khan are tender alchemists, although it might be wrong to say that their chrysopoetic gestures turn crude materials into gold. Their magic is contextual. By re-presenting marginalia as objects worthy of being beheld, they validate the quiet opulence of everyday experience.
About SoBroke House
So Broke House is a one-day pop-up spa-like experience and mini-pool party; a self-care day for those who can’t afford self-care.
So Broke House was founded on July 28, 2019 as a decorated gravel lot-away-from decorated gravel lot for people working in the creative industries. It has since grown into a decorated gravel lot that hosts a community of like-minded individuals (i.e. broke a$$ artists and their friends).
SoBroke House Membership
Four types of membership to So Broke House are available: Gravel Lot, Decorated Gravel Lot, Party at a Decorated Gravel Lot and Free Party at a Decorated Gravel Lot.
Every So Broke House membership provides one-day access to our decorated gravel lot located at Basic Studios in Logan Square.
Included in So Broke House membership:
- A pop-up kiddie-pool party and pseudo-spa on Sunday, July 28
- Self-guided tours of Tender Alchemists, an exhibition that challenges the false dichotomy of luxury and austerity, at Basic Studios
- A donation-based bar
- Complimentary sunlight and towels
- Good company
- Sprinkler water
- Popsicles, probably?
- A $5 tarot card reading from mystical space oddity Sarah Luczko (space is limited; reservations encouraged)
- A $5 manicure with cosmic cosmetic legend Astrowifey (space is limited; reservations encouraged)
- Additional programming TBA
So Broke House membership is temporary, open to the public, and free, with the exception of VIP membership, which is $1 and comes with a complimentary VIP package, to be redeemed at So Broke House.
Prospective members should apply in person at So Broke House between 2:00 and 5:00 PM on Sunday, July 28, at the decorated gravel lot beside Basic Studios, 3551 W Diversey Avenue.
Joshua Kent works within the intersections of writing, performance, and sculpture. Rooted in their work at St. Francis House (a grassroots home of hospitality), Kent’s immersive practice proposes bounty amidst professed scarcity. They are currently an MFA candidate at Northwestern University.
Zehra Khan is a multi-disciplinary artist who likes to make things by hand. She works in drawing, sculpture, installations, performance, and painting on people.
Khan is American and Pakistani, born in Indonesia. She lived in Paris and Switzerland before moving to the US. Zehra received an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a BS from Skidmore College.
Khan has attended many art residencies including Ox-Bow, Yaddo, the Studios of Key West, I-Park, the Vermont Studio Center, and Art Space Sonahmoo in Korea.
Zehra is a current participant of the NYC Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova Museum Corporate Lending Program. She co-authored the children’s book “A Sunny Day for Flowers” and contributed to “The Resistance Coloring & Activity Book.”
In 2018, Zehra was nominated as one of “10 Emerging New England Artists” by Art New England. Since then, she moved to Chicago and now lives in Edgewater.
About the Curator
Katie Waddell is an independent curator, writer, critic, and cultural producer based in Chicago, IL. Her research and various projects focus on the phenomenon of the encounter as the center from which the intimate, the curious, and the experiential unfold. Her work skews toward interdisciplinarity, with contemporary art and social practice as the primary point of departure. Waddell received an M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism, and Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Waddell is the founder and director of 2nd Floor Rear, an annual festival of art in alternative spaces and experimental contexts, in Chicago, IL.