In “Vegyn,” curated by K.O. Nnamdie for Anonymous Gallery, works by Darren Bader, Dan Colen, Rose Salane, Agathe Snow and Andre Walker find common ground in assemblage. Each artists’ approach to realizing their pieces offers pathways to consider in-between states of existence. As curator, Nnamdie took as his theoretical jumping-off point the sociologist Victor Turner’s theory of anti-structure—which, broadly speaking, asserts that rituals can be a means of transcending existing sociocultural norms and infusing them with a sense of communitas, or common good.
The motley forms in the exhibition take shape through fragments of texts, found objects, portraiture, sculpture, performance and installation. In an untitled silkscreen print by Bader, we see a “New Message” window in Gmail; rather than email addresses, the “To” field brims with dozens of invalid entries: “vengeance,” “Painkillers branded in bigotry,” “Whitmanian fever,” “Clanging clinging choices” are among the ostensibly nonsensical, though often evocative, words and phrases that appear. Snow, meanwhile, crafted the hanging sculpture Gabi (2010) out of a hodgepodge of materials, including balloons, parachute fabric, a mattress, tree trunks and strings of Mardi Gras beads. Salane’s Randomness in order of extensions presents a phone salvaged from a Century 21—a relic indeed, considering the mall chain declared bankruptcy in late 2020.
These eclectic visuals find cohesion through the intangible, iconic sound of Aretha Franklin singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in a minimalist remix of the audio clip. Dubbed R-E-S-P-E-C-T, S-P-E-C-T-R-E (2021), the collaboration between Colen and Brian DeGraw of Gang Gang Dance reverberates amid the physical works in the space.
On the opening night of “Vegyn,” five dancers, dressed in plain clothes, debuted Colen’s The Executioner, which takes cues from the looping R-E-S-P-E-C-T, S-P-E-C-T-R-E audio. The performance subsequently became memorialized for the remainder of the show through vinyl cut-out with each dancer’s likeness splayed out across the floor. This installation evokes the original choreography, wherein individual dancers collapsed periodically onto the ground while their still-standing companions would gaze at them forlornly, seemingly unable or unsure of how to help.
This routine continued for 90 minutes; many viewers, while listening to Franklin belt “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” again and again, grew incrementally restless, unclear as to how much longer the The Executioner would last. After about 30 minutes, audience members began to move about the gallery as the performance continued. This tension between endurance, persistence and confusion as to the social norms of watching The Executioner may have effectively given rise to a suspended state of anti-structure, sustained for as long as an onlooker could become immersed in the moment. —Rachel Small
Dan Colen, Proxima Centauri (Vegyn), 2021. Whoopee cushion, concrete and chair.