“A house is first and foremost a geometrical object.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
On ViewJTT Gallery
September 8 – October 21, 2018
Glen Fogel’s solo exhibition features the titular seven-channel video installation With You… Me (2014-2018) alongside new drawings of his first boyfriend. The video is a visually comprehensive record of the artist’s family home, made shortly before its demolition. Low-hanging flat screen monitors form a wide arc across the middle of the gallery, each exhibiting a different room of the house shot from a central point with a motion-controlled camera. The perspective of the shots—which tilt, pan, and spin in a slow but disorienting 360 degrees—is precisely calibrated across every monitor so that the rooms move as one. The camera measures and scopes the interior in a way that recalls the geometry of design and construction, and does backflips with the ease of an architect navigating a 3D model. Through this disembodied, machinic lens the house becomes an object rather than a home, making visible the depersonalizing process of abandonment.
Although slated to be demolished after being sold, the artist’s former home looks move-in ready. It’s illuminated with modern track lighting, among other working fixtures, and its cleanliness borders on sterility. A survey of such a house’s interior is typically reserved for real estate videos, which advertise, rather than memorialize. Seeing the house’s potential for a new life with another family in such proximity to its discontinuation is unnerving, particularly because the qualities of life and death are often one and the same (cultivating the appearance of life in a corpse is a component of death rituals the world over). In this case, the house has been returned to a state of near-spotlessness as if in preparation for the afterlife, only instead of a body, it’s a vessel containing the figurative lives of its former inhabitants. The video meditates on the erasure of family history as much as the loss of a home.
All personal details have been removed from the house except for one scrap of narrative: at one point in the installation’s loop, six of the seven monitors go black while the second from the right plays what seems to be footage of a starry night sky. Then the shot’s exposure increases and interior corners appear, revealing a ceiling encrusted with glow-in-the-dark stars. Besides disclosing that a child once lived here, the popularity of this decor undercuts any sense that we can glean meaningful information about the residents. The lack of information feels like a burden—the viewer is crushed under the weight of everything that has been removed. A deep rumbling of what sounds like layered room tones contributes to this pressure.
Accompanying the video installation in the gallery’s alcove are six graphite drawings of Fogel’s first boyfriend—whom we know as “Lucas”—rendered by a later boyfriend, the artist Benjamin Kress. The drawings are copies of photographs taken by Fogel for Lucas’s high school senior portrait. In three respective drawings, he sits on an unadorned stoop, rests his elbows on a wooden porch ledge, and hangs casually off a chain link fence. The anonymous outdoor settings within which he poses bring to mind the domain of teenagers, who leave their parents’ homes to wander public space in order to explore its offbeat crannies. If the family home is the insulating container of childhood, and the first apartment the beginning of private adulthood, then the outdoors is where teenagers live out microcosmic simulations of the real world. The youthful, innocent-looking Lucas models among the jagged imperfections of his environment, including exposed nails and shoddy construction. But these dangers are superficial precursors to the emotional hardships of Lucas’s adult life, to which Fogel alludes in the exhibition’s press release. In a screen captured email exchange between Lucas and himself that precedes the gallery’s statement, Lucas touches on his mother’s medical problems in response to Fogel’s heartfelt words of support. The tone of mourning mirrors that of the video installation.
Kress’s drawings collapse three eras in Fogel’s personal history: his relationship with Lucas in his high school years, his later relationship with Kress (the time of which is unmentioned) and his current relationship to both exes. The original photographs are reinscribed with these additional narratives and brought into the present. They highlight the fluid and evolving nature of human relations, in contrast to the static house object, which was outgrown, shed, and returned to the earth. Both the drawings and video remind the viewer that to move through time is to be in a continuous state of loss, as people, places, and ourselves transform. In this moving exhibition, Fogel traverses the timeless subject of space and memory with a rare formal elegance.