Photography Flora Hanitijo

By Lanya Snyder

“The Nothingness of Personality” is the first text to appear in Selected Non-Fictions, a collection of prose by Jorge Luis Borges. The opening sentence declares the nature of the late author’s self-imposed philosophical parameter: “I want to tear down the exceptional preeminence now generally awarded to the self, and I pledge to be spurred on by concrete certainty, and not the caprice of an ideological ambush or a dazzling intellectual prank.” Artist Darren Bader noticed this book on the shelf behind the computer screen through which the following interview took place. “Fictions or Non-Fictions?” he asked.

You walk into “The Plastic Arts (Life Suffuses, Cells Amused)”—Bader’s latest exhibition at Andrew Kreps Gallery—and at first may be a bit bemused. There is text presented in various formats: through framed images, a large wall graphic resembling pages in an Adobe PDF, a bed in the center of the gallery—the sheets of the duvet covered in end-to-end text—on the tags of garments that populate a clothing rack, and among other collections of found objects. Maybe you have to physically touch the works, can you? The scene presents an aesthetic logic that finds cohesion under the auspices of Bader’s lexicon.

Borges' writings have been described as fictions filled with historiography, private jokes, and sarcastic footnotes—an apt comparison to Bader, the contemporary conceptualist. Borges' most imaginative scenes—those involving mirrors and labyrinths—take shape through relatively simple prose, albeit with clever undertones. He takes you to fictional places, ones you may never reach because they flirt with infinity.

In this exhibition, motifs are repeated throughout, like QR codes and all things iPhone and screen-related: at times explicitly—some require interaction through your own device—and otherwise coded. Several large silkscreen paintings on canvas replicate Gmail’s “New Message” window—the “To” fields awash in red clusters of invalid email addresses—the body of the e-mail, blank. Does each fragment represent a character, a word, a sentence, perhaps even a complete stanza of a poem? You find yourself immersed in an experience of verisimilitude, but at the same time, what does it all mean?

Experiencing Bader’s work, much like reading Borges, is like discovering the existence of a digit that’s not zero through nine, or perhaps an entirely new language altogether. Most of Bader’s works require time and patience as you attempt to put the pieces together—if you’re even able to, maybe the pieces aren’t necessarily supposed to fit.

LANYA SNYDER: In your bio for this exhibition, you describe yourself, among other things, as a literature brand.

DARREN BADER: I did my first solo show 17 years ago, and almost every show I've done, whether it's conspicuous or not, is always about the tension between objects and language, or image and language. Literature is a broad term. I don't mean to suggest that I'm a prose artist or anything. But I'm definitely using written language to attend to meaning, approximate meaning, conceive meaning. Language is very versatile.

My interest in found objects, in particular, has always been about, let's call it ephemeral qualities—certain intangible qualities. Because of that strange paradox of being able to touch or not [touch] often tends to designate the term, category, art. It's like if you can touch everything that's in a museum, well, shit, do we have any ground to stand on?

It’s really just a way of expressing my dependence on language and devotion to language. Written language, that is, verbal language.

SNYDER: Do you think that Instagram is a form of poetry?

BADER: One could always argue that anything's a form of poetry. It depends—I try to come up with a relatively consistent [Instagram] language. There are certainly aberrations. I try to not use it as social media, per se. I use it as an avenue of sharing information I find interesting, at least with my longest-running account that I still have access to.

I sold one, which is illicit, apparently. There's someone who now masquerades as me and has been for about two and a half years, maybe almost three years now. I recently started an account that's really just about my artwork, the stuff I present publicly. My personal account, I used to change the handle regularly

SNYDER: I did follow that, but honestly it was a lot of work to follow. Now, I guess you're back to the old name, so it's much easier.

BADER: It's a lot. Basically, I think it's clearly a germane medium. Instagram that is, as is Twitter to some extent, depending on what one requires from literacy, language. There's something about Instagram, something undeniable about it as an image broker. I don't know where that word broker came from but, in a way, that's kind of what it is.

SNYDER: I wonder if in the future, people will look back at screen grabs, especially of text messages, and see them as relics?

BADER: Screen grabs are cool. I don't know. You're right, though. It's like, will they be sought after artifacts or just noise? It's like finding those antique postcards in second-hand stores—who the hell cares?

I would prefer being analog generally speaking. Although I love screen grabs for whatever reason. I think it's so fun doing that key command and being able to archive and document with that degree of ease.

SNYDER: Emojis: do you consider them text or art?

BADER: I would like to consider them art, I think there are moments when they're just, I don't know, graphically, I'm drawn to certain families of them. In particular the animals, not the animal faces.

SNYDER: The actual animals?

BADER: Yes, like the giraffe and the orangutan, I noticed those today. I was just looking around for something to respond to somebody randomly—with an ice cube—which may have been [in the emoji library] for a while. I think there's a real graphic appeal to some of them but as far as a means of communication, it's not my language. I'm not fluent, nor do I aspire to be.

SNYDER: Are you studying another language? Or maybe I should ask, have you been trying to teach yourself a foreign language?

BADER: I hadn't really thought about French since high school in the mid-’90s. [Duolingo] was a refresher—I took a bunch of screenshots of some more ludicrous constructions that they asked me to translate [for '4 framed images (suite)']. I've been sitting on the screenshots for seven years, I began messing around with them again during pandemic time.

SNYDER: Do you prefer eBay or Etsy?

BADER: eBay undoubtedly, no contest.

In reference to this show you saw ['poem ((w/) sculpture)']. There was this baby candle that was presumably by me. It’s astride a cow, a wooden cow. Basically, by chance, I found those candles on Etsy—there were a few of them.

SNYDER: So you do Etsy?

BADER: You could choose both color and scent, you could choose strawberry or vanilla—really great stuff, I think that's the only really positive experience that I've had on Etsy—those baby candles.

SNYDER: There is memorabilia, maybe you bought on eBay, like the details in 'poem (Phone By My Side, I Can't Abide)', or maybe you collected.

BADER: Oh, I bought those. I have a series of work where I buy objects owned by famous people, generally the more mundane, the better.

SNYDER: Was that really Marilyn Monroe's check?

BADER: I believe so. It came with a certificate of authenticity. I can't quite check the provenance, the routing number, that typeface. Regardless, it became clear that I needed a variety of printed material that I could have people handwrite on in order to complete that work. The Marilyn Monroe check and Prince stationery were included, and then I added others to create a visual dissonance. Rather than make it nice, I thought I would make it less nice.

SNYDER: How many words or phrases do you think you Google everyday?

BADER: Gee, I don't know, two dozen?

SNYDER: In Untitled #3, I can’t tell if you were trying to email Richard Prince or Barbara Kruger.

BADER: I didn't write those names. Where did you see Richard Prince?

SNYDER: I don't know. I thought maybe one of those canvases intentionally said Richard Prince or Barbara Kruger?

BADER: Oh, I can see the spoonerism on both of them, but yes, I came up with a variety of options, and then one of them happened to be those Pictures people.

SNYDER: I was going to say, I probably still have his old AOL email address. I kind of wonder if it still works.

BADER: We should try.

SNYDER: I’ll give it to you.

BADER: In some ways, he's the quintessential contemporary artist to me: basically losing faith in what contemporary art can be, but at the same time being representative of consuming everything. It's kind of an all or nothing proposition—he's one of the best examples of it, I think.

SNYDER: Then I noticed some of the fields of the people that you were writing, they got cut off mid-word.

BADER: With the ellipsis at the end?


BADER: I just dragged the poems into Gmail and whatever the algorithm was did its work. They were casualties of that algorithm.

SNYDER: Do you monitor your screen time?

BADER: No, do you?

SNYDER: No, but I get the little notification that I never asked for every Sunday.

BADER: Yes, exactly. It's always welcome when my screen time is down—I'm not going to lie.

SNYDER: It looks as though you're getting into the NFT game, which is something I noticed when I interacted with stanza sculpture.

BADER: I think there's a lot to be said about the possibilities there, like what that technology portends in the positive sense of that word. For the past couple years, I've been working—not quite exhaustively, although it's exhausting—with augmented reality and there have been a lot of frustrations around that. I thought perhaps tokenizing, somehow using NFTs as a vehicle for packaging these AR sculptures would be good. But the technology isn't quite there because wallets can't really play anything.

What I did realize after being disappointed by the AR options, is NFTs provide materialization for dematerialized art. It's really like Lucy Lippard, kind of, it's everything I admired when I was quite young and I still do admire. You're able to objectify—I mean that word very ambiguously—and formalize. You create a form around a fleeting notion. There's an inherent paradox to that. Form and content collapsing upon one another, productively to some extent, with this new format is interesting to me.

There are all sorts of problems with NFTs. The fact that it's at times conflated with art is a huge problem because you don't understand what’s going on. It's really just a file format, ultimately—I think that there are a lot of possibilities.

SNYDER: Do you have an affinity for Teslas?

BADER: No, no, I work closely with an animator and he had his thoughts on choosing the Tesla [for stanza sculpture]. I mean, I think there's some nice design elements to a Tesla, but I think Elon Musk is probably out of his mind at this point. I'm agnostic about that kind of cult.

SNYDER: I wonder, do you think artists take themselves too seriously?

BADER: Judging by many of the artists I've met, yes. I think it's part of the character. Of course, I take myself too seriously. What's the point? There's only so much control I can exert.

Let's say it is infrequent that you'll meet an artist whose personality fits their work. It's a strange disposition that brings a lot of people into the fold. And I do think that there's a fashion to art, an opportunism that is undeniable.

For the most part, people, for good reason, take themselves a little too seriously. They may ruin their personal relationships. I can't speak for anyone else. Life is a pretty difficult thing. I don't know. Art is art. I think that pathological axiom is the best way to put it.

SNYDER: Art is art.

BADER: It's paradoxical as well.

Published: July 03, 2021

The Plastic Arts (Life Suffuses, Cells Amused)” was on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery, 55 Walker Street, through July 09, 2021.