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The future arrived in 1999 when The Matrix’s Neo slopped and squelched into real life: drugged, unplugged, and thrust from one wretched reality to another. Red pill or no, both worlds in The Matrix mostly suck and both are premised on infrastructures constructed and controlled by “the machines.” Twenty-some years later, amidst hot ’n heavy conversations of structural and algorithmic oppression, Build-ing Back Better, supply chain crises, and various metaverses, the notion of “infrastructure” continues to carry sinister connotations of the monolithic and mechanical—or else the failed.
Now on view at Monte Vista Projects, the group show Infrastructure Lovers offers an entirely different tact. Loosely coalescing around repeated forms, photographic and architectural interventions, and friendly plays on authenticity, the seven artists in the exhibition take the idea of infrastructure and do something breezy (but never airheaded) to it. Each artist references physical and/or economic structures and then tinkers with the components to reveal an ongoing permeability—infrastructure as ecosystem, not machine.
Occupying a full wall of the gallery, Nathan Gulick’s site-specific Not Long for this World, Monte Vista Projects (2021) presents selections from the artist’s idiosyncratic photo archive as a haphazard bulletin board. Hundreds of laser-printed images are tacked to the wall, and, similar to many elements of late capitalism, the conglomeration becomes a hyperactive riddle about its own underlying logic. Celebrity photos mingle with images of fragmented body parts and figural statues, stock photography portraits, and casual daily observations. Amidst this stew of loaded excerpts are snapshots of commercial signage proffering “authentic memories” and “advocates of authenticity”—evidence Gulick’s grappling with the present-day fragility and commodification of “the real.”
Megan Mueller’s small rectangular panel, Untitled (2020), hangs directly across the room as if to counter Gulick’s semantic chaos. Mueller’s wall sculpture weaves a single photographic scan of a scrap of lace through a regimented grid of tiny neon levels; if the rows of levels are the warp, the image of lace is the weft. Sometimes called “spirit levels,” the simple tools take on a mystic flair in Mueller’s arrangement, and their spirit-bubbles all float upwards as a result of the work’s installation at a jaunty 45-degree(ish?) angle—a wholesome joke about cosmic balance.
Renée Reizman’s Ode to Lithium series (all works 2022) echoes Mueller’s playful invocation of the metaphysical with three votive candles that incorporate earth from the Salton Sea. In lieu of real fire, flickering battery-powered LED flames underscore the work’s theme: each candle is emblazoned with simple representations of batteries, electric cars, and lithium, nodding to the recent news that lithium brine in an underground Salton Sea aquifer may be a key resource in powering American electric vehicles (EV). By adapting a familiar object, Reizman casts speculative news about the EV industry, often relegated to the proverbial business pages, into the realm of the domestic and the spiritual.
Brian Bowman’s Babel (2022) is a modular “tower” of four square drywall panels mounted vertically to the wall, each bearing a hazy cyanotype that riffs vaguely on an architectural blueprint. Eerie and, well, cyan, the scenes show cattle behind a fence, electrical meters on plywood, sprawling scaffolding, and an indeterminate building. The fusion of photography’s simple science-magic with one of construction’s most banal and impersonal materials is surprisingly affecting, a poetic collapse of fresh building materials and the aging built environment with the artist as interlocutor. Samuel Scharf takes the merging of art and architecture even further with “Where am I at right now?” (2022), a site-specific installation that maintains its indeterminate boundaries through camouflage. At its most apparent, the subversive work is a matrix of pipes installed in four equidistant rows and painted to blend in, as if the Bendix Building’s plumbing metastasized in an orderly fashion.
Though a low-level anxiety about mass production versus individuality permeates Infrastructure Lovers, ultimately the concept of infrastructure is posited as a relationship filled and shaped by very human interactions. The artists use photography and everyday materials to reveal myriad opportunities to interact with infrastructure both literally and poetically, finding autonomy in pushing up against rigid structures. Overall, the show’s directive is to frolic through the bars like a playground, a gentle whisper that there is still room to dramatically bend and build our physical and psychological environments—and hopefully find some joy doing it.
Infrastructure Lovers runs from January 8–February 20, 2022 at Monte Vista Projects (1206 Maple Ave. #523, Los Angeles, CA 90015).