Whether it's a stylish symptom of late capitalism or simply knowing the correct clay for the job, multimedia artist Seth Price makes swift, wise pivots between materials, mastering various modes of consumption. Part critical, part artisanal, Price offers up a nicely balanced diet—edgy essays via free PDF, vacuum-formed reliefs freezing things like rope in place, wood cut-outs glossy with acrylic and based mostly on what's not there, released, leaving just the cameo-like silhouettes of Google-searched images.
The recent show Folklore U.S. recycles some of these themes and techniques but refreshes the enclosure/exposure dynamic with large-scale homages to and dissections of the envelope—a shape ripe with the personal, the financial, and news in general—even as it becomes figment, disappeared from our daily more virtual world.
An aesthetic perspective on that very contemporary preoccupation with security too is exhibited, since business envelopes obscure the private by way of protective pattern (the typical design when enlarged looking quite Keith Haring-like). Endless repetition of the abstract in miniature as shield for sensitive information, identity even, is an interesting, perhaps very American, consideration.
Price's collaboration with designer Tim Hamilton on a fashion line presented at dOCUMENTA (13) cleanly complements the static drapes and folds of Folklore's soft envelope sculptures, activating these on the runway, in military shapes this time—the bomber jacket, sniper jacket, officer's trench, flight suit, infantry poncho.
Really Price is a conceptual artist but with accessories, incisive and beautifully made—gems and inspired germs of brave critique just a little market-tamed, if strategically so. With low-cost and luxury object lessons, Price heats up how we handle, read, know. What is pliable is textual and invites reevaluation. Here the artist talks motives, materials, and multiplicity of the marketplace.
On Artists Crossing Over
The title Folklore U.S. refers to the whole package—the work, its reception. I think I started doing this with Dispersion in 2002. It was supposed to be, not an essay, really, but a gesture that encompassed the rehearsal or performance of art-historical language and writing, the design of the booklet itself, and the way it circulates as an example of that which it is talking about. And Folklore US referred to the sculpture and the clothing, the idea of "crossing over," the American ideal even of crossing over. That someone is a musician who becomes successful and of course can launch a fragrance line or a garment line.
On Representing Meaning
I like to make things that I do not understand. The challenge is to do that when working with discursive forms that depend on recognition and reading.
So with these works, I was again trying to work with something hard to understand, but at the same time it is about the most common reading, it is common cloth. I don't just mean the form of an envelope, or the material of canvas, or even the particular logos repeated in a security pattern. I mean even the motions of analysis as it often is delivered in contemporary art: the way that we read the representation of banking to mean one thing, or fashion to mean another.
So it's dangerous ground, as the works can be easily understood in one narrow way—as a complaint about consumerism, for example, or luxury goods, or global finance. I'm just trying to make complex works that I don't fully understand, and I'm using the materials of the world around me, the things that I find myself simultaneously attracted to and repelled by.
On the Material of Concepts
Fashion was definitely interesting because it's material, it prizes the material in a way that art does not, in the sense that it's about how many buttons something has, where the fold is, et cetera. In art the "concept" is important. Canvas was a nice material for the project because it's common to all three areas: art, fashion, and the military. It could be a painting, a muslin garment mockup in the hands of a patternmaker, or a heavy-duty gaiter or pup-tent—but that's just a smoke screen.
On the Theme of Envelopes
On a formal level, one thing that unites the disparate kinds of works in the series (garment line, cloth sculptures, plywood paintings, vacuum-formed plastic works) is the theme of the envelope. The idea that you take a single surface and fold and distort it into a complex package, with multiple sides, which may then be a container for further items and information. Whether that's a jacket, which functions the same way, or a business envelope.
On the Material of Flesh
The materiality is important. The materiality is about the body, since when you deal with images it is easy to become flat and virtual, infinitely scaleable, reducible, algorithmic. And it's all about bodies! Flesh, fat. And the feeling—the brute feeling of plastic, as in the vacuum forms, or the hard metal of the kissing silhouettes.
And you need to use industrial fabrication to enter a certain popular vocabulary, the sort of thing that catches, like a flu. The wooden silhouette pieces resulted from my consciously wanting to make an industrial-quality design object, to invent a new process, in this case bonding high-quality rare wood veneers behind thick acrylic, a "look and feel" that one is almost familiar with but which has not existed before—coining a new design language. The idea is to make design ideas that have a real life, even outside the art world, so I needed fabricators for that.
On the different spheres of Production
Some of the work originates entirely in the studio, in the old craftsman art way—laying hands on the object. I would include video and writing in this description. And then some is made elsewhere but still supervised by me.
For instance, the large fabric envelopes, which are made in the garment district in Manhattan by shops that normally work on couture samples for the fashion industry. And then taking a step further, there are things that are made with my input but across the globe, like the garment lines, which were fabricated by a high-end outerwear company in Korea, using fabric I had woven bleached and printed in China, and using Italian zippers and buckles.
So, similarly with the online stuff, I like to have some pieces that circulate in the free economy...and some items that circulate in the mass consumer market...and then others that circulate in the art market. So you have the same work operating in different spheres.
Written by: Gracie Leavitt