For his first solo show in Seoul, Daniel Arsham presents a series of new pieces inspired by daily objects shown through the prism of destruction—a recurring narrative in his work—with the use of precious materials.
Creation of the Fictional Archeology series began in 2013 with rebus-like references to technology, music and sport. The exhibition of these sculptural pieces in September-October 2016 at Perrotin New York marked an important milestone, as « Circa 2345 » inaugurated a bolder and more vivid use of color, thanks to new eyeglasses designed with the help of a scientist to correct the artist’s colorblindness. The brilliant blue and purple tones are seen again here in Seoul to accompany this new concept unfolding around the world of animals and children’s toys. Jeff Koons had also worked with balls, stuffed toys, puppies and America’s iconic model trains, a tradition globally evoking the prominent icons of Pop Art, while Daniel Arsham makes more reference to Minimal Art.
Let us reconsider the serial nature of his approach, which begins with the recuperation of a type of object within a well-defined theme. “I spend a lot of time in the studio,” he explains, “trying to understand how these objects work and what they mean.
While I cannot deny they are iconic, I am interested in what we associate them with in our contemporaneity and how they reveal a given moment of our era. In fact, I choose them in such a way they can be understood universally, as much in America as in Europe or Asia.” Then, in his work with the materials, he likens himself to an “alchemist” who transforms one substance into another, totally new substance, beyond the limits of time.
For the question of time is essential to Daniel Arsham, constantly wavering between past and present. Close examination of his sculptures reveals clues in his treatment of the materials, particularly for this new series of Fictional Archeology, in which the use of amethyst points to a geological scale, without providing a specific time period. “This work,” he continues, “lies between a veneer of aesthetics and of construction, referring equally to the crystallizing quartz as to a finished piece, just as it could be the fruit of a societal rejection. I am working as much with the idea of formation as of decrepitude.” This new corpus deals less with the obsolescence inherent to technological or musical objects, but fuels this reflection on an archeology of the future, imagining how our descendants might discover our era. He still seeks this poetry of ruins, strongly brought to the fore in 2010 when he drew inspiration from 18th-century etchings to create gouaches combining architectural structures with animal figures.
“I had observed a floating temporality in these landscapes, by how few characters were depicted and with clothing to provide any indication of time. I wanted to introduce the animal kingdom, while retaining this ambiguity between a world crumbling and a world being rebuilt, with a sort of eroded quality.” Indeed, Arsham’s forms are hollowed out, interlocking, overlapping, selferoding, as if they added a third dimension to the theme of ruins, a favorite of Hubert Robert, the gifted painter, draftsman and printmaker of the Enlightenment. More personally, surviving a hurricane that swept through Miami in 1992 is what made Arsham want to delve deeper into his exploration of finiteness.
The animal—the focus of this new exhibition and already the subject of Animal Architecture with the aforementioned paintings exhibited at Perrotin Paris—is an obvious reference to the Theory of Evolution and Darwinism. Daniel Arsham gives it tangible form here with a Teddy Bear that seems inoffensive at first glance, one might be tempted say, but is actually almost dark or even sardonic.
The work is uchronian—if the past had been different, what would the present or future be like?—, although he strives more to look beyond the cursor and into the future. He likes reading science fiction and biographies of people with a passion for forecasting. He romanticizes and poetizes everything around him and often constructs installations that create links between architecture, a source of fascination, and sculpture. He immerses himself and invites the spectator into a temporality made highly personal.
Daniel Arsham is currently writing a screenplay set in the future with flashbacks to the heart of the 1990s, following on from his 9-part science fiction film series Future Relic. Daniel Arsham builds a bridge between the visual prominence of iconic objects and an introspective nature, the examination of one’s self, one’s past and one’s choices, also found in the writing of authors such as Philip Roth.