Magazine article Artforum International

Infinite Jest: Jan Tumlir on Eric Wesley's the Bell

Magazine article Artforum International

Infinite Jest: Jan Tumlir on Eric Wesley's the Bell

Article excerpt

ARRIVING FOR THE OPENING of Eric Wesley's survey-scale exhibition at the Los Angeles gallery 356 S. Mission Rd. in January 2015, visitors encountered a new Nissan parked at a rakish angle in the back lot, with its front doors ajar and music blaring from its speakers. That this was an artwork would surely never have occurred to many of those in attendance had it not been for the checklist, where it was designated Infinity Project (Black), 2015, with materials given as "clear lacquer paint on Infiniti." The added finish seals the deal on the car's integrity as a sculptural proposition--an assisted readymade--and thereby advances its merely promotional claim on the infinite to the condition of an aesthetic promise, albeit one that proves decidedly ironic on reflection. As a found object that was in fact rented, the vehicle could also be seen as a monument to transience and ephemerality. After the close of the show, one had to imagine the automobile undergoing a further turn in this Duchampian game of contextual transposition, mingling inconspicuously with all the other non-art cars in the rental fleet upon return. Moreover, once replaced within its original context, Wesley's Infiniti can only be faced with steady depreciation, the fate of all uncollected cars. This is the crux of the artist's joke on the world: The infinite, the endless, the eternal are only available to us mortals as time-sensitive concepts. Yet precisely by withholding the punch line--on either side of the art/life divide, his car operates invisibly--Wesley dispatches our thoughts toward a black star of cosmic inertia.

A quasi catalogue raisonne prepared for the occasion of the 356 S. Mission Rd. show linked the works on view to the artist's past projects, detailing an evolution of thought around a consistent set of themes--concerning the history of avant-garde art, relativity, and n-dimensional thought. Included in its pages is the self-published book West Camp Beans (1999), which is described in an introductory blurb as a "travelogue recounting the artist's month-long journey from Los Angeles, California to Nine Mile, Alaska and back during the last solstice of the millennium." This was a road trip accomplished in "one dimension," as Wesley explains it--driving through shortening days toward night, and then back again, at the close of the twentieth century. It opens a paradoxical perspective on the multidimensionality of his Infinity Project--as well as that of his latest endeavor, which involves the repurposing of a disused Taco Bell in Cahokia, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from Saint Louis), into a self-run and ideally permanent exhibition space for his art. The idea of commandeering a locale off the beaten track of the art capitals and depositing his work in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, occurred to Wesley on the Alaskan trek. And the site that he chose is no more incidental than his selection of a car named Infiniti for his LA show.

THE APPROACH to the space of The Bell, as the work came to be known, is critical to its function: Traveling south on 1-64 from the city center of Saint Louis into Illinois, one must first pass through the industrial outback of Sauget, with its hydroelectric plants, mining companies, truck stops, and strip clubs. Then one turns onto Camp Jackson Road, which cuts a wide swath through Cahokia and gives us a drive-by view of a succession of commercial outlets competing for the attention of motorists with gaudy signage. The route puts us firmly inside the "architecture of entropy," as Robert Smithson phrases it in his seminal essay "Entropy and the New Monuments" (originally published in the June 1966 issue of this magazine). Here, the ostensibly eternal momentum of Zeno's arrow collides with the dismally repetitive geometry of "discount centers and cut-rate stores with their sterile facades. On the inside of such places are maze-like counters with piles of neatly stacked merchandise; rank on rank it goes into a consumer oblivion," as Smithson puts it. …

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