"Floating Chain (Hi-Res Toni)" is Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe's latest exhibition up now at Marlborough Chelsea. For their second show at Marlborough, the duo reappropriated the gallery space and created a whole new world: half labyrinth, half initatic path. The exhibition encapsulates different times and spaces, some intertwined, and directly linked to the show's centerpiece: their video entitled "The Floating Chain."
Justin and Jonah took us for a private tour through all the different rooms of the show, which runs through November 29th.
Jonah: You may or may not know about Superstudio... They were an Italian architecture collective from the late 60s, early 70s. They had this idea called the continuous monument, which was a theoretical concept for total organization. They reduced modernism to its most logical choices: systems and rectilinear forms. People lived inside the houses. We appropriated that.
There seems to be a whole collection of Artichoke Magazines dispatched here and there. Are you playing with memory and also from show to show?
Jonah: There’s a lot of self-referential repetition... It is something we’re definitely using. Objects appear in each room, these mirrored ducks and rice sculptures. The books, the designs and titles have changed, but we’ve been using books in a lot of the shows (almost all of them), by taking covers off of existing books and turning those into collages. It’s a bit of an uncanny experience -- “did I see this before?” really triggering these manufactured memories.
Justin: And repeating motifs really.
There is also a sense of having access to different spaces and time?
Justin: It's a bit of deja-vu. You sort of see where you’re eventually going to be, but by the time you get there, you have forgotten where you actually saw yourself going. So there is a sense of a psychological “smoothie” going on here [laughs].
You’ve had pieces (objects that are part of the installations) stolen before?
Justin: Every show, yeah! We’re really "generous."
Jonah: Or just really open.
Tell us about the centerpiece, your movie.
Jonah: [It is] One thing we wanted to bring in as a disruptive factor. We wanted the film to be one of the first things you saw as opposed to it being the last thing, which I think is often the case.
Justin: You see the elements early on, that are eventually going to be in the movie. There’s one brief section in the movie where there’s this wallpaper and some of these props. It’s another way to play with time and order.
Jonah: We’re creating a sequence. A video installation is a pretty common context for an art exhibition. So it’s [a way] to move out of that into something really dramatic. You come into the art gallery and then it starts to digress into really extreme, different spaces.
Justin: I actually looked back to the show since we opened it, and it’s all been so crazy leading up to it that I forget to really experience what it’s like. It feels good.
Mineral stones seem to be an important influence for you.
Jonah: These are sheetrocks, what you make walls out of. We were always breaking through walls, to make a transition from one room to another. So this actually, in some way, is a picture of the wall break through. The mirror represents the negative space, and then that represents the material. These works are cactus crystal collages. As we were getting into the theme of the show, with Superstudio and this idea of hypergeometry and reductive modernism, we got this dot pattern and [began] superimposing the cactus crystal collage on the dot pattern.
Justin: And the dot pattern comes from the beginning of this book called “Radical Interiors.” This is another one of these self-referential moves, bringing into the whole lexicon of the show.
How did you come across the idea of making a rice sculpture?
Justin: It started with the Punjabi Kitchen, that restaurant on the Lower East Side that we tried to recreate. Cheap food, open all night. That was a section of the "Artichoke Underground" show in Basel, Switzerland. At Punjabi Kitchen they have all you can order by the number... One says "I’ll take a number 5," and it’s a certain rice dish. We thought why not just make some sculptures of those because one, it would be kind of funny and two, kind of interesting. So this just evolved from there.
Architecture-wise, do you come with a plan?
Justin: Very much so. You have to be pretty specific.
Jonah: The content of each room can be evolving, but you have to create a genre and attitude towards each interior.
Justin: Almost always there’s an interstitial space that acts as a transition between one extreme room and another extreme room. There’s a bit of breathing area. We use this industrial hallway as a motif. It’s always useful.
Jonah: This long list of potential titles for books is part of our ongoing archive. We have an ongoing list of text and imagery and things we’re always pulling from. So we printed out the archive of lists and titles. The inspiration for that was when you walk by makeshift construction sites and they have the plexiglass that covers all the permits that says that they’re allowed to build, what they’re doing. So in this case, being in this half built environment, these are de facto permits.
Justin: A lot of this list is the result of drinking in Hollywood. You can see where the nights start to get loose eventually [laughs]
Justin: Here are a lot of the props from the film. Here is a bit of a recreation of an East Los Angeles swap meet where we would go to find inspiration.
Jonah: The silkscreen ended up being the image for the show, we never ended up using that work before. I believe it’s based off world on a wire a science fiction movie that used to be a TV show. It’s about this parallel reality where you get into your gridspace and imagination-land.
How do you manage to give this feeling that there was a life in this cubicle?
Jonah: It gets really about display. Part of our inspiration for the swap meet was that there was cubicle after cubicle giving massages or furniture or mattresses, and so this is the idea of a cube in which we are selling a lifestyle.
Can we buy the cubicle?
Justin: I think it’s on the pricelist, yeah.
Did you design everything in this room?
Jonah: In general, you want to have a scale shift so it makes you more aware of the space as opposed to a Chelsea gallery with 15 foot ceilings where you’re moving through. It’s all kind of the same thing. Here, we’re alternating both the apertures and light. In this case, it was based off of a hotel in Palm Springs we went to. The hotel was a very wooded, dark, low ceilings, and they had a lot of psychedelic art, whether it was Tom Wesselmann, or things from that era. Pictures of The Beatles, inverted colors, a weird psychedelic steakhouse kind of vibe. It feels like you want to have a brandy and smoke. It seemed like a good genre for a room. It was hung salon style, where things are kind of just placed around, which I guess is a restaurant move. This idea that we can take all the genres of work that we’re doing and mix them up. It was a very open, airy hotel. Then you go into this restaurant and it was very dark. We had this nice scale shift.
Justin: The more you look, the more there is. It’s all there for you if you want to dig deep. But there is a certain flow to everything too which people get caught up in. They tend to move quickly, but its better to spend a little time, certainly with the film. There’s a very durational aspect, with how long it is, it’s very considered. There is a beginning and end despite it looping.
Does it lead us to someone or something, some sort of an answer? Are we at someone’s house?
Jonah: We want to make a narrative. There are different elements that might build this narrative, but we’re not sure. It might be just visions. We’re inbetween.
Justin: It's a bit of a dreamscape. We’ve referred to it as a "fever dream."
Jonah: There’s these paintings we did last summer at Willem de Kooning’s house. Three genres of work.
There is no character at all, you’re focusing mostly on the objects and playing with the objects to try to give more ambient feeling.
Jonah: Because we really wanted the film to be the central component. There’s a lot of content there, a lot of narrative.
Justin: It’s the center of the cyclone and then it spins out. The further out you get, the more calm it gets. This last room is really more meditative, very ambiguous, abstract paintings which are in fact scans of liquor store bags. But there’s [almost] something beautiful and poetic about them.
Jonah: I think it's trying something different. We are known for making these really intense environments. Now it is more: let’s bring it into the object, shift the focus, a slow-bleed between the two. The [intense] environment remains, but now you really get into the object.
Spreads: Courtesy the artists, Copyright Marlborough Chelsea, Greg Kessler. Portraits: Alexandre Stipanovich.