The Absolute Comic, on view at sophiajacob through March 30, addresses caricature and humor in relation to the curatorial process. Sam Korman, current assistant director of White Flag Projects in St. Louis, presents a collection of aesthetically clean works along with an exhibition catalog.
Together, the works by Zoë Clark and Chase Biado initially convey an earth-bound gesture and weightiness. With the added context from the exhibition catalog, it becomes evident that curator Korman is serious about humor, but it isn't entirely clear how funny any individual piece is.
Korman's commentary, which echoes the opening to Charles Baudelaire's essay "On the Essence of Laughter" (1855), is juxtaposed with descriptions of Clark and Biado's work, small pencil drawings, and photographic images of raw oysters interspersed through the essay. The juxtaposition highlights the nature of an academically critical approach to humor-the humor is immediately lost when placed under the formal lens.
If the pieces do not all come off as grotesque and comical, they do at least share some of the same qualities that Korman attributes to humor: They feel mysterious, inscrutable, automatic, unconscious.
Zoë Clark's "Balls in Hand" tapestry slouches against the far wall and onto the floor, hung by two nails in the top corners. Clark's piece takes on an ethereal quality-the woven image is a peachy hand holding a pile of cool, gelatinous-looking orbs. The image is rotated 90 degrees so that the open hand is pointing down toward the floor.
This downward gesture is echoed in Chase Biado's "Pierrot" pieces. Light gray and pink sweats suggesting limbs are layered on cardboard cutouts and held together with brass fasteners. Hands and feet dangle toward the floor. In the spirit of Pierrot, a guillotine victim Baudelaire discusses, there is no visible head. The pieces suggest a surrender, or an absence, of bodily control. This is not an uncomfortable surrender though; it is a relaxed state where the forms are let be with gravity, without tension.
The dismantled figure reappears in Biado's "Head Gag" video of green-screen studio mischief. A lumpy, homemade mannequin is presented on a chair, while Biado dons a green body suit, attempting to blend into the background. The limp mannequin is subject to the will of Biado, who fusses with the character, assembling and dismantling. Two-by-fours emerge from the cloth-covered torso. With another nod to Pierrot, the figure is decapitated. Blood comes out of the neck.
Clark's "Untitled" aluminum prints are tricky. The small square images show two spheres each; they look heavy, like marble. The surfaces are smooth, but the coloring is splotchy, with hues of natural tones and purple. The images, hung at waist height, actually show ping pong balls that were steeped in liquid to attain their coloration. Maybe the level of the images on the wall is meant to correspond to average crotch height. Maybe it's the height of a beer pong table. Maybe they are falling.
The works as a whole and their apparent gravity convey a feeling of release, a feeling that is shared in the act of laughter. Is laughter inherently satanic as Baudelaire argues? Many may disagree, but perhaps viewers will be able to appreciate Korman's personal devotion to both the themes of the work and the philosophy of the catalog.