Humor and the Abject

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Tragicomic Multiplicity: David Kennedy Cutler's 1:1 at Derek Eller Gallery

View of Second Skin and Fourth Self (2017) by David Kennedy Cutler at his current solo exhibition, 1:1, at Derek Eller Gallery. Photo by the author. 

In his third solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery, 1:1, artist David Kennedy Cutler has gone gonzo so you don’t have to. See what I did there? Nice. In a series of sculptures made at one-to-one scale, he’s recreated himself, the tools of his trade, his clothing, and the very food that he eats. Imagery of the aforementioned is captured using a hand-held wand scanner, then printed digitally or transferred onto surfaces including wood, metal, and fabric. While those printed surfaces could have easily been exhibited as compellingly odd two-dimensional works, Kennedy Cutler instead opted to mercilessly pound and bend them back into the shapes of the original objects, resulting in uncanny works that look, in the round, convincingly like their source materials yet strangely off.

Installation view of David Kennedy Cutler's 1:1. Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery. 

David Kennedy Cutler, (L) Work Apron with Glove (2017), gesso, inkjet, spray paint, Permalac on aluminum, 42 x 23 x 6 inches; (R) Yellow Plaid Bananas (2017), gesso, inkjet, spray paint, Permalac on aluminum, 61 x 25 x 15 inches. Photos by Adam Reich, courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery. 

I am a fucking fool, and I missed his opening and the performance that activated the exhibition. However, between asking those in attendance and Kennedy Cutler himself I caught the jist of it, and it sounds totally bonkers. Wall works like the aprons and shirts had been installed, but the only floor works were a freestanding wall that divided the space and the two vitrines with hammers, gifts given to Kennedy Cutler by the artist Graham Anderson, suspended inside of them. For the first hour of the opening, he wasn’t in attendance and had instructed his gallerist, Derek Eller, to explain to the growing crowd that he was “running late.” Apparently, rumors circulated and people became convinced that he’d sealed himself in the wall.

David Kennedy Cutler performing, wearing Second Skin. Photo by Sara Greenberger Rafferty, courtesy of the artist. People who know Sara are like, "Wait, courtesy of which artist? David or Sara?" Well, this is the art world; you decide ;-)

Shortly after 7pm, Kennedy Cutler emerged from the gallery’s storage closet where he’d been hiding. Dressed in a comically horrifying facsimile suit of himself, Second Skin, he stalked around the room, contemplating his works. Upon “discovering” the Graham Anderson hammers hanging in the vitrines, inspiration struck. He removed them, began to circle the dividing wall, and without warning started wildly hammering at it, bashing out premeditated rectangular, door-like shapes until he’d broken through both sides of the structure. Moving the fractured chunks of sheetrock back inside of the wall, he entered it as the audience grew quiet.

Kennedy Cutler performing. (L) Photo by Melissa Huber, (R) photo by Josh Frye, courtesy of the artist.

Kennedy Cutler performing, removing Third Self and Fourth Self. Photo by Glen Baldridge, courtesy of the artist. 

A moment later, Kennedy Cutler stumbled back out carrying two dummies dressed identically as he was, Third Self and Fourth Self. Exhausted, he attempted to get the dummies to stand on their own, though they continuously collapsed. Awkwardly, they lumbered around the space together, falling over and over again. Undeterred, Kennedy Cutler took one and tried to stand it inside of a vitrine, then ran through the hole in the wall to erect the other dummy in its own vitrine. A Sisyphean task, they both fell as soon as he’d let go. He ran back and forth erratically attempting, and repeatedly failing, to get them to stand and occupy the space with him.

Kennedy Cutler performing. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Kennedy Cutler removing Second Skin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Eventually, inspiration struck a second time as he re-discovered the hammers that he’d previously tossed to the ground. Reinstalling the hammers in the vitrines, he was able to hang the dummies upright by their collars. Satisfied, Kennedy Cutler removed the facsimile costume revealing that he was dressed identically. He dropped it into the opening in the wall, exited the gallery, and did not return.

Kennedy Cutler "selling" himself on the street. Photo by the author. 

When I visited the show weeks later he was performing again, this time selling himself on the street in the form of an editioned foldout book replica of the three remaining skins/selves on view inside the gallery. As visitors arrived to the air-conditioned gallery, Kennedy Cutler invited them back out into the blistering afternoon sun on Broome street and demonstrated how to to unpack the book into a two-sided version of himself. When facing upwards, it reminded me of cartoonishly flat celebrity cardboard cutouts. As he flipped it over, revealing the backside, it became reminiscent of a violent cartoon where a character falls from a building and is immediately flattened on the concrete upon impact.

Kennedy Cutler "selling" himself on the street. Photo by the author. 

Kennedy Cutler’s recursive physical production, a mise en abyme practice that borrows from, but stands formally in opposition to, digital space, poses some germane questions for twenty-first century artists. We’re tasked with not only being the production line for our work, but also with building and maintaining our personal brand through multiple accounts and as multiple avatars. The exhibition’s press release states, “1:1 becomes 1 instead of 1, or even 1 against 1,” suggesting, poignantly, that the masochism of being an artist is increasingly exacerbated as we’re driven to post evidence of our productivity, of our relevance to exist, across myriad platforms. Kennedy Cutler’s work is alarmingly funny in its ability to codify these deep anxieties into comic objects that permit us space to laugh, albeit briefly.

Installation view of David Kennedy Cutler's 1:1. Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery. 

While the obsessive, compulsive works in this show certainly incorporate slapstick and a mirthful pathos, at their core they’re upsetting representations of the artist’s paranoia. Am I making enough work? Am I making work that’s any good? Am I posting enough to remind people that I’m still here? Am I posting so much that I look thirsty? In making himself the subject of these existential quandires, he’s employing the self-reflexivity present in much of good comedy. Pointing a finger and making fun is an easy way to score a disdainful laugh from an audience. What really connects the comedian, and in this case the artist, more deeply to the audience is a willingness to be the butt of the joke, even when the joke hurts.

David Kennedy Cutler's 1:1 is on view at Derek Eller Gallery, 300 Broome Street, through this Sunday, 25 June.