Virginia Woolf walks into a room. Alone, she has space to breath. And to write.
In a series of lectures presented at the women’s college of Cambridge University in 1928, subsequently published in 1929 as A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf famously wrote: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” In 2017, as the monetary divide between the wealthiest eight (formerly the 1%) and the rest of the world becomes greater,and the gallery system begins to suffer alongside artists, this statement can easily be amended to, “any artist must have a trust fund. Period.” Latham Zearfoss began from this position by feeling and acknowledging the effects of all these conditions as he attempts to unravel the entanglement of the artist in late capitalism. How can the artist maintain radicality and enact anti-capitalist principles within the double bind of the commercial art world? Guided by this question, the objects, pictures, environments, and installations Zearfoss has created for INTENTS & PURPOSES insist on a place for political content within a market context.
Chelsea Manning walks into the room where she will live for the next thirty-five years.
Zearfoss conjures both Woolf and Manning in his installation, A Room of One’s Own Making. Composed of individually crafted bars of lavender and bergamot-scented Shea butter soap stacked like bricks into a room the size and scale of an unfinished prison cell. The installation charts the trajectory of value within the same experience of space along the spectrum of reward and punishment. The idea that one could own one’s space, secluded from the material world, is held in tension with the forced isolation of solitary confinement, where space conversely owns a person. One person’s haven is another’s trap. Formally, Zearfoss implies the continuous rise of the prison wall within the structural outline to offer visual access to the cell. Like the juxtaposition of the figures of Manning and Woolf, this tragi-comic object theater near by also operates through opposition in juxtaposition. A pedestal that appears to melt in the manner of Lynda Benglis’s pour sculptures is the base for a pile of candles wrapped like dynamite. Subbing birthday candles as dynamite
holds the joy of revolutionary potential with no bang.
Octavia reunites with Judith at the Butler Family Reunion. At this interdimensional meet-up, they finally resolve feminism’s intersectionality dilemma and retroactively reprogram the logic of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington to account for the concerns of women of all races, genders, classes, sexualities, abilities, religions, and nationalities. After much debate, they do not change the election results as a Republican government hastens the fall of imperial capitalism and creates solidarity amongst “minority” factions across the world.
In the video, The Butlers Did It, Zearfoss again matchmakes across time and place to bring together acclaimed science fiction writer Octavia Butler and gender theorist Judith Butler as inadvertently played by two actors in the role of doctors in segments of stock footage. The Butlers Did It plays on the only functioning television that is the smallest and last, following a line of four handcrafted facsimiles that decrease in size in scaled steps before it. Each sits on an appropriately titled Sculptural Object To Put A TV On, which like aforementioned Dynamite, appear to melt in contrast to the structural solidity of the fabricated monitors. Beyond their shared surname, Zearfoss teases out an ideological kinship between the two Butlers: both thinkers posit a futurity that is inclusive of difference. Judith anticipates a future in which gender diversity is recognized and understood, a positive perspective in contrasts with the shadow future Butler imagines in her dystopian narratives. Identifying the problems of structural oppression across many stages of capitalism--from the early trade of people in the early stages of colonialism thru the fall of empire into a post-apocalyptic ruin, Octavia cites human nature as the cause for humanity’s inability to move beyond hierarchical structures. In addition to the image, the script has also been lifted from the internet. Zearfoss cobbled together the most popular quotations by each writer as cited by users of GoodReads.com, an online platform for readers to rate and review books to construct the script. Taken out of their larger context, the passages register as commercial soundbytes for selling products and are a nod, to be sure, to “Feminist Ryan Gosling,” a popular meme that paired images of actor Ryan Gosling with feminist quips to manifest a collective popular imaging of the ideal feminist partner. The witty back and forth registers how complexity is reduced and reproduced for the effect of humor.
Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History and Mark Wallinger’s Angel meet at the bottom of the escalator at the Angel Underground Station in London. (This station is not wheelchair accessible.) The pair meditate using methods designed to make one more productive in the workplace by alleviating toxic effects of stress, ultimating making employees more machine-like. The escalator cries out in pain. The Angels join the chorus.
How long after something breaks should it be fixed? At the first sign of unease or on the verge of disrepair? These questions apply equally to the discrepancies of the economic system in the world market as they do to the squealing escalator in Zearfoss’s immersive sound and video installation, Dirge. Certainly the escalator expressed smaller signs of breakdown before launching its orchestra of screeches. Zearfoss enlisted a team of singers to match the mechanical song with their voices, the distinction between human voices and machine sounds are blurred into a haunting, atonal cacophony that confuses the machine’s experience as human and the worker’s experience as mechanized.
Chelsea Manning walks out of a room.