Who among us hasn’t raged against a loved one, then tended those wounds, shamefully, silently, perhaps unnoticed? What acts of care elude us; what excesses? “Senseless,” an exhibition of new work by Mitchell Charbonneau, riffs on the prosaic objects of the world—the folding chair, the car freshener, the wall supports—to draw attention to the loveliness and banality of the everyday.
The folding chair, that cheap, ubiquitous, utilitarian, and utterly unremarkable object of contemporary life, is a staple of Charbonneau’s practice. An object that tracks its function to the human body—it has arms, legs, backs—it appears here to have also soaked up a human psychic content. See: a pair of girlish chairs that, despite their lack of arms, seem to have them interlinked, one with a back leg coquettishly raised, as if leaning in to share a juicy bit of gossip or to extract an answer from a more hesitant lover. Elsewhere, one seems to raise up another like Rafiki holding Simba; a pair stomps another violently to the ground; and a duo are locked in a wild, scissoring embrace in the corner.
The chairs’ anthropomorphic quality is not only formal but emotional. All are damaged, as if a sledgehammer has been taken to them, as if they have been bounced off the walls, the floors or each other. A set of three in a row becomes a catalogue of hurt—each seat is progressively more dented, until the third leans upon the others as if it could not possibly stand on its own. At the same time, each work is entitled Senseless, reverting the chairs to object status, as if there were no reason to differentiate them. And the title, too, takes on a different connotation when one takes a closer look at the medium line: each of the chairs has been meticulously cast from urethane, epoxy, and fiberglass, then painted over with matte acrylic. The act is both caring and futile—most viewers won’t even notice the switch-up.
“Senseless” might also pun on “scentless.” Also on view are a number of cast-bronze car fresheners, carefully painted to resemble the real thing but lacking, of course, the dimension of scent. Only a couple inches tall, the mimetic skill it took to render these utterly banal objects is, well, breathtakingly senseless. It lacks the sole utility the cheap object provides. Though it would be reductive to read this entire body as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, it does take on a particular valence given that anosmia is a side effect of the disease—and certainly, we are all of us battered, physically and emotionally. Charbonneau’s work implores us to look a little closer at the things around us, revealing them as objects of unbeknownst care and emotion—or, of course, of absolute, savage, senselessness. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Mitchell Charbonneau, Senseless, 2021. Cast urethane, epoxy, fiberglass, stainless steel, acrylic paint, 53 x 25 x 32 inches. Courtesy Off Paradise