Kavi Gupta is pleased to present Project: Michael Joo. For more than 20 years, Michael Joo has worked at the vanguard of contemporary conceptual art. His New York studio is a liminal space, where hands-on experimentation and cutting-edge techniques empower a rigorous search for revelation. Guided by scientific method, shamanistic curiosity, and poetic wonder, Joo mixes natural materials like alabaster, antler, and aluminum with inorganic mediums like polyethylene foam, silver nitrate, and synthetic tears. It is a process of alchemical transformation, during which Joo analyzes what is perceptible for evidence of the unseen—like a planet hunter inferring the existence of celestial bodies by their influence on the stars.
Project: Michael Joo traces the connective ties that inform Joo’s innovative practice. Untitled (Antlers), a dissected antler reconstructed onto a stainless steel frame, is an Anthropocenic icon, expressing the balance between organic growth and human intervention, and embodying humanity’s quest to edit the biosphere. Hinting at Joo’s interest in animism, or the notion that abiotic things possess a living essence, it is an idealized amalgam of asymmetrical nature and artificial balance.
A selection of Joo’s 60” x 90” silver nitrate paintings mobilize the material legacies of photography and painting while interrogating contemporary sociology, chemistry, and science. Haunting layers of black, gold, and rust-colored hues revel in mysterious chemical processes, while cryptic data points (numbers stamped into metal, photographed then made into screens) express ominous statistics: the number of calories present in the average human body were it to be consumed, and the number of calories it takes for the body to consume itself during starvation. Bridging the visual languages of science, art, sociology and nature, these works suggest hidden power structures are at work, encapsulating Joo’s interest in reduction, both in an aesthetic sense, and in the sense of stereotypes that reduce humanity to measurements and physiologies.
A mirrored glass stanchion, a mirrored glass riot shield, and two cast glass shipping pallets offer poetic expressions of duality. The stanchion delineates territory, symbolizes exclusion, suggests insiders and outsiders; the riot shield conjures unrest, camouflaging itself with a distorted reflection of the oppressors and the oppressed; the pallets reference industry and commerce, producers and consumers, challenging what is recognizable versus what is functional. By endowing forms traditionally connected to strength with material realities that declare fragility, Joo exposes the gap between outer appearances and inner truths, and illuminates the contrast between what is strong and what can easily collapse.
Project: Michael Joo invites viewers to consider the verifiable presence of these artworks: their textures, colors, and formal compositions. Yet the mystery of Joo’s work is that it also takes us beyond the purely visual, into an inquisition of our own influence on the world – enticing us to question how these artifacts came to be, and to wonder about the hidden systems and mysterious truths that made their evolution inevitable.
Project: Michael Joo runs from February 9 through March 16, 2019, at Kavi Gupta, 835 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607.