The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues
MAY 2022 Issue
Art In Conversation

Louis Osmosis with Jason Rosenfeld

“To be an artist making objects, and have the objects operate how you want them to is to embed some level of choreography into the piece in and of itself.”

Louis Osmosis. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui. Based on a photo by Robert Banat.
Louis Osmosis. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui. Based on a photo by Robert Banat.
New York City
Kapp Kapp
PLEASE IT IS MAKING THEM THANKS :)
April 30 – May 25, 2022

Louis Osmosis, born in Brooklyn in 1996, is a sculptor and multimedia artist. His first solo exhibition, PLEASE IT IS MAKING THEM THANKS :) opened at Kapp Kapp at 86 Walker Street, Tribeca, on April 30. I spoke to Mr. Osmosis twice in early April amidst his recent work in his seventh floor studio in Dumbo where he is working during a one-year residency at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, as the B, D, N, and Q trains rumbled along the Manhattan Bridge.

Louis Osmosis, Installation view:<em>PLEASE IT IS MAKING THEM THANKS :).</em> Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp Gallery. Photo: Kunming Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Installation view:PLEASE IT IS MAKING THEM THANKS :). Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp Gallery. Photo: Kunming Huang.

Jason Rosenfeld (Rail): I’m here with Louis Osmosis. Not “Louie.”

Louis Osmosis: My mother named me after Louis Vuitton. But she always thought it was pronounced “Lewis” Vuitton. I only found out about this origin story in second grade when I asked her why my name was Louis. Technically, it should be “Louie,” but I prefer Louis. Louis Osmosis is all about the S's.

Rail: She’s a big fashion person?

Osmosis: Hugely so. She runs a glasses store in Chinatown. Canal and Mott. Anything dealing with the ocular realm, that's her.

Rail: So how does the second name come about?

Osmosis: Most people think it was from the movie Osmosis Jones (2001), which it has nothing to do with.

Rail: I never saw that one.

Osmosis: Yeah, it's my generation. Disney Toons type of energy. It was middle school biology class. I was learning about osmosis, a semipermeable membrane that a high-volume solution passes through to reach some sort of equilibrium. The diagram was one of my first moments when a visual aid really clicked for me—a squiggly line to demonstrate a membrane and then a bunch of dots. That day I went home to watch Iron Chef America, which I grew up on, and the host Alton Brown pulled out a sous vide machine, a water bath that maintains a constant temperature and there's no hotspots. Essentially, a form of osmosis.

Rail: Did he use the word in the show?

Osmosis: Yeah, he used the word osmosis.

Rail: It was fate.

Osmosis: This was when I was twelve. Then I changed my name on Facebook. And it's been that since. It affords me a certain level of anonymity. It doesn't come through with the racial identity that my birth name obviously does. And for people that do know me, it comes through with this air of a hypebeast informed mode of identity making me more grounded in this aspirationally heroic type of narrative of main character syndrome type of thing. Which I'm definitely a victim of. [Laughter]

Rail: You're a persona but not an invented one. Only the name is invented.

Osmosis: It's a persona in earnest. P-I-E, persona in earnest. PIE.

Rail: Is that a thing?

Osmosis: No. [Laughs] I just came up with it.

Rail: You know Dia means “through.” Osmosis has that same kind of idea. Dia as a term was meant to be very open. Heiner Friedrich wanted it to be something that had many kinds of interpretations. Your grandparents grew up in Hong Kong?

Osmosis: My grandparents grew up in Fuzhou in China, with my mom, my uncle, and my aunt, and my dad is from Guangzhou in China. They all moved to Hong Kong and then moved here. I was born in Brooklyn.

Rail: You grew up in Bensonhurst?

Osmosis: Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay. I'm a South Brooklyn baby. And when I started high school that's when I started going to the city and had a bit of a culture shock, which is such a funny thing to say as a New Yorker. To have a culture shock just an hour out. And then I went to Cooper Union.

Rail: How did you get interested in Cooper?

Osmosis: Originally, when I was in LaGuardia High School, I was pretty set on going to FIT. The middle school that I went to in Coney Island was also an art school, called Mark Twain I.S. 239. That was something I had to audition for, and then the same thing with LaGuardia. I auditioned for vocal too, but I went for visual art. I was pretty set on going to FIT until my junior year of LaGuardia when I took a sculpture class with William Jung. I credit him with putting me on the straight and narrow. And he went to Cooper. It was sculpture with a capital “S,” that class. We were carving alabaster and plaster, but he let me do my own thing. I was extremely privileged to go to Cooper and get the education that I did. I had people like Walid Raad, Sharon Hayes, and Adriana Farmiga. I really owe her everything. She changed everything for me. She’s my sculpture guru. I love her down. We also have the same birthday.

Rail: What is it that she did that built on your early experience in LaGuardia? That opened up ideas for you?

Osmosis: Farmiga put me on this path of conceptual rigor, the real work of making sculpture, just making work in general. But then also in the wake of that, and I thank her hugely for this, I left Cooper making work in earnest. Making work from a point of brutal honesty with myself. Which is not to be misconstrued as this emotionally drenched introspection, it's just if I feel something I'm going to do something about it. There was a heft to the material that I had an affinity for because my father is a construction worker. I had a certain literacy already with power tools and the like. But it's this mode of making that is more aligned with craft in a very DIY sense of the word. And tinkering, which is a sort of alternative mode of making that's kind of contingent on hacking the thing. I tend to think of my work in two veins. Either I make the thing from the ground up, and that tends to be the larger scale work. Or I have something or some things and then I modify them. The satellites are a great example of that.

Rail: Duchamp called such work “assisted Readymades.” A found thing that he helped along.

Osmosis: I'm a fan of using "reclaimed" or "modified." Most of the shit I work with is garbage or detritus.

Rail: Garbage into gold.

Osmosis: Garbage into gilded garbage or something. [Laughter] Because I think there is a bit of a blind spot in a lot of people's usage of the term “readymade” nowadays, post-Amazon, and especially post-artists like Claire Fontaine. That falls more in line with this neo-conceptual type of art making that's sparse. It has a certain air about it that postures itself, not in a fake way. It's not an artifice, but there is this air of posturing to it. And even though Duchamp’s urinal was bought, there's a different velocity to that bought-ness nowadays, post-Amazon.

Rail: I love it that you're working in the actual Sharpe-Walentas studio previously occupied by the Croatian artistic collective, Tarwuk. They go out on the BQE and they collect refuse and turn it into these amazing sci-fi works, alien-like constructions.

Osmosis: There's a bit of a schism for me, a cognitive dissonance about mining and excavating some sort of conceptual potential out of these things via site specificity. There's so much more to it. The way that I tend to go about these things is with found objects or reclaimed objects or eBay purchases. If I buy a tortoise shell on eBay, there's a matter of factness to it, "it is what it is." Which is why I prefer the mode of modifying the thing. With the satellite dishes, the impetus was that I didn't want it to be an additive thing, unlike Tarwuk. I do additive work, but with every piece that I do the next one I want it to do something different. With the satellites it took me months to think of a way in which I could subtract from it and—

Rail: —treat it like alabaster, take away from it.

Osmosis: And also have it doubled down on its relationship with the outside and as a point of vectorization via communication signals and transmitting. How can I do that and point to that but then also kind of dumb it down and have it act as like a sundial? To ossify it to an extent.

Rail: Turn it into something that responds to natural impulses that are beyond your control. But you collect these disused satellite dishes.

Osmosis: You get on a roof in Brooklyn and the wires are cut. Nobody's using them.

Rail: It's quite creative to think of one of the aspects of your sculptural practice as treating the found material as the matter and then approaching it subtractively. I'm trying to think of artists that have done this before, when it wasn't wood, or marble, or alabaster, or foam.

Osmosis: Gordon Matta-Clark is a great example. This is the methodology of representation via matter, first and foremost, before anything else. The whole representational paradigm as being the anchorage for a lot of contemporary art making is so trite and so futile, especially in today's ecology. But then there's also the flip side of that, which is the more thought experiment side of me, that led me to this notion of lack and non-aspiration, that adage of an exercise in futility. At one point, I just asked myself, "I wonder what that would look like if one were to exercise futility. I wonder how close I can get to that.” Gordon Matta-Clark is a forefather of that. Isa Genzken is a great example, especially how she treats material in this smooth brain type of way, as in her Twin Towers pieces where she dope-ifies them, like how Guston uses the word dope, as dopey. As a mode of representation, pictorializing the thing, and approaching form through that, too.

Rail: Matta-Clark’s idea is about incisions and cutting out and revealing, taking a form, and manipulating it in a way that is not additive, but that in subtracting elements of it actually expands it. Because now you see through it. And now things can come through it. It engages with its environment in a new way. Can you talk about Big Crate (2022) and the satellites that are going to be arrayed around it?

Louis Osmosis, <em>Big Crate</em>, 2022. Reclaimed shipping crate, modified satellites, screws,  64 x 25 x 37 inches. <em>Satellite</em>: 50 x 33 x 42 inches. <em>Satellite (Two Dancers)</em>: 26 x 21 x 30 inches. <em>Satellite (Stars #1)</em>: 51 x 33 x 43 inches. <em>Satellite (Stars #2)</em>: 41 x 21 x 40 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Big Crate, 2022. Reclaimed shipping crate, modified satellites, screws, 64 x 25 x 37 inches. Satellite: 50 x 33 x 42 inches. Satellite (Two Dancers): 26 x 21 x 30 inches. Satellite (Stars #1): 51 x 33 x 43 inches. Satellite (Stars #2): 41 x 21 x 40 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.

Osmosis: They are like gargoyles on the crate. There's nothing on the top of the crate. I'm treating the crate as a pedestal whose zenith is not applicable here. You don't need that top epidermis. I want the perimeter. I was trying to echo those brick mounds you see on top of a lot of houses in Brooklyn that look like chimneys but they're not, and they have a bunch of satellites all over them.

Rail: Sometimes it resembles bricks that were stacked there, and they never got around to using them in construction.

Osmosis: Literally. They look like termite hills or ant hills. And on one side of Big Crate there's going to be two satellites adjacent to one another, that are cut out with all the stars from Matisse's Icarus painting (1947, MoMA), arranged adjacent to each other so that they appear as a row. Whether or not this communicates doesn't really matter to me, but I want them to double as asterisks, because they're going to be on the side of the crate with the shipping label that says Jenny Holzer's name, because the shipping crate is a Jenny Holzer crate. I found it in the loading dock of my studio’s building.

Rail: It was just down there and empty, disused?

Osmosis: Yeah. And it's a gorgeous crate. There are metal vents on either side of it to control the humidity inside the box so that it doesn't warp whatever is inside.

Rail: Or the vampire that is living in there.

Osmosis: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. For real. Nosferatu.

Rail: You have no idea what was ever in it?

Osmosis: I do. I can say, because I think this is part of the gambit, too—the crate was for furniture. But in redacting all the sensitive information on the shipping label, including the contents, and leaving only Jenny Holzer's name, it automatically makes it seem a crate of the blue-chip vein, especially with its build. And it's also funny to redact a shipping label that has Jenny Holzer's name.

Rail: An artist dedicated to text.

Osmosis: Exactly.

Rail: It doesn't look like the way you get furniture. If you ordered it from Pottery Barn or wherever it would come in a box or wrapped on a truck. More significant—it's a MoMA crate.

Osmosis: It's hefty. It's like a capital M mass. On the shorter end of the crate is going to be a smaller satellite with the Matisse cut out of his piece called Two Dancers (1937, MoMA). And on the side opposite it I'm revamping this one, Satellite (2020), the Icarus one that was at Shoot the Lobster in 2021. Part of it, too, is that this piece was a turning point for me because it went extremely viral online. Including on Tumblr, too, which I thought was hilarious. So, I'm reanimating the piece a little bit, because before it was a freestanding satellite. Now it's attached to this crate. And this crate is attached to a name that is canon.

Rail: It now becomes part of a different piece.

Osmosis: It is its own piece. But now I'm just having it live in a different room of a bigger house. To be an artist making objects, and have the objects operate how you want them to, is to embed some level of choreography into the piece in and of itself.

Rail: Consider all the decisions that you're thinking about. Do you put it on the floor? Or do you put it on the wall? Do you put it on a crate? With five others?

Osmosis: And you want it to communicate successfully. I tend to navigate these types of things pessimistically because that's naturally how I am—to do that is to also make an object that appears already zombified. It's dead on arrival. And I think that that's a beautiful thing. Because it relieves the artist of having to birth things anew. If you accept that what you're making is but a corpse, then you yourself are but a corpse too, and that's a beautiful thing.

Rail: Even if the thing was alive before, it’s a zombie. The satellite existed in one element, and it's now moving into a different sect.

Osmosis: Yeah. For artists to make objects successfully is to accept the fact that you're just another object, making more objects.

Rail: And you're killing what you make. Or yourself.

Osmosis: Yes. One hundred percent.

Rail: Then success is something, it's not monetary in your mind. It's about how you brought a work to a state of satisfaction.

Osmosis: But also, let's be real here, artists have bills to pay. I'm very blessed that I have this residency, a free studio for a year. I'm very blessed that it aligned with having my first solo. But at the end of the day, how do you make a living as an artist? I'm not saying that I have the solution, it's just at the end of the day you need to make money in this world, period. And maybe this is some real smooth brain mixture of late capitalism and pessimism, but the success is suicide model really resonates for me. And the satellites point to that because I approach that Matisse painting as a thought experiment—there's so much doubling in it. And there's so much neither here nor there-ness to it, in the context of the original Icarus myth, which is about hubris and aspiration, and this failed vertical ascent. I like to frame it as why fly when I could sink? Sinking in and of itself is a great positionality. What is there to be gleaned from sinking?

Rail: An interesting thing about Icarus is, in terms of the story, the vertical ascent was successful. But it was the horizonal goal which he did not achieve, to get from A to B. He ends up in the middle, in the water. And that's what Bruegel paints [Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ca. 1560]. In Matisse's image, with the stars in the sky, you almost feel Icarus is at the moment of the peak, before the plummet.

Osmosis: Well, I posit that the out-of-the-tubeness of that blue of the background speaks to immediacy. Matisse was pretty much blind at the time that he made it. That tonal choice of color affords it this fugitive nature. It's neither sea nor sky. You cannot say concretely. And what those stars are I also see as coral.

Rail: Or reflections.

Osmosis: Right. And while Matisse's silhouette could be a threshold, it's a hole too. I think about Satellite’s relationship to light. Its shadow would invert what's happening in the background picture plane of the satellite proper, where you understand the stars, Icarus as a lit object with the shadow on the crate, or the floor as the sun moves through the day. The hole becomes the foreground of the shadow coming from the satellite. Over time, when the sunlight is coming in the gallery through the windows, the satellite itself is stagnant, the only thing that's moving is the shadow. I think of that as a gesture. It's the carrot at the end of the stick type of bait-and-switch, that horizon that you project but you'll never get to.

Rail: Yes, you keep moving towards it. It's also like the Pantheon in Rome. You stand in the Pantheon all day. You can watch the disk of the sun move across the dome. You become totally aware of your own place. The Romans thought that the Earth was the center and the sun moved around them. Positioning ourselves in that building, which is like a planetarium, you literally see the day progress.

Osmosis: To follow that thought, if I were to poeticize it, I would say objects don't move, their shadows do.

Rail: You're also using the sun in your drawings on wood.

Osmosis: I've always maintained that I don't know how to draw, I know how to render. Those came out of this desire to want to dope-ify my hand, so much so that I'm not even touching the plane that I'm making a mark on. It took me a long time to think of a way of how I could do that.

Rail: You're totally removed from the woodblock, which is quite small. To make them you just lean them on the wall of the roof of the building?

Osmosis: Before the residency I was doing them squatting in my backyard. I'm kind of actualizing what I just said. Objects don't move, their shadows do, because when I'm making them, I have to freeze. I'm moving ever so slightly. It's just in the wrist.

Rail: To keep the beam of the sun centered in the magnifying glass.

Osmosis: I was trying to echo the tactility that Guston's drawings have, especially the Nixon ones. Because those have this cadence to the mark that very quickly and immediately posits as parody, like the nature of the spoof of the political cartoon.

Rail: They're cartoonish, the figures.

Osmosis: Right. But then they also have this tremor to them that I enjoy, and I wanted to make that material. Most people when they look at the wooden panels from afar, they think they're done with a soldering iron. But then when you come up close to them you can see these blemishes. Each mark is not a line. It's one blemish after another. They're almost stippled, like gouges.

Rail: It's like etching and aquatint. The acid does the work. Here the sun's doing the work.

Louis Osmosis, <em>Kaila's Interlude</em>, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Kaila's Interlude, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.

Anyone ever done pyrography that you can think of? Have you ever seen it anywhere? I remember kids used to try to kill insects with a magnifying glass.

Osmosis: Which is why I made one called Cool Ant (2021). The ant doesn't care. That's another thing. Sometimes the beam flares on the wood.

Rail: It burns a little.

Osmosis: It leaves a wake of the mark where they look like they're glowing. The ant looks like there's raw sienna aura around some of its parts.

Rail: Like the burr in a drypoint etching.

Osmosis: Exactly.

Rail: Do you plan these out ahead of time?

Osmosis: No, no, I just freestyle them. I don't draw on them.

Rail: You don't plan to do a bedroom or the urine flow image? You just decide at the moment to do it.

Osmosis: I think they're pun forward, or pun leaning. Whenever I think of one that could do the pun, but also occupy a different cadence too, then I'll do it. Like Piss (2021). It's the filter from Instagram where it looks like you're getting pissed on. It looks like a Michael Krebber painting. It's my shout-out to provisional painting. Cristóbal Lehyt and Pam Lins were also my sculpture professors at Cooper. They ingrained in me another vein, one of brutal honesty in terms of thinking about how work operates. A lot of contemporary art is more concerned with this aboutness and the question of why, which is interesting, sure, but much more difficult to grapple with here is what does the work do? Is it operating?

Rail: Do you want to apply that to Shtick Figure (2022)?

Osmosis: Shtick Figure is a great example of that. Someone would see the piece and describe it as a stick figure, right? And this is the closest I'll ever get to figurative sculpture.

Rail: But what about the huge roach, Companion (Hachikō) (2022)? You mean human figure, then.

Louis Osmosis, <em>Companion (Hachik?)</em>, 2022. Reinforced paper-mache, polystyrene, epoxy clay, acrylic paint, armature wire, MDF, plywood, PVC pipe, acrylic paint, velveteen, studs, adhesive, and medical gauze. 40 x 40 x 59 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Companion (Hachik?), 2022. Reinforced paper-mache, polystyrene, epoxy clay, acrylic paint, armature wire, MDF, plywood, PVC pipe, acrylic paint, velveteen, studs, adhesive, and medical gauze. 40 x 40 x 59 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.

Osmosis: Exactly. He's a pet. The cockroach is a pet, sans owner.

Rail: And Shtick Figure is bodily humanoid.

Osmosis: It's like this emaciated sort of dandy pose in the Shtick Figure. It is literally wood that's been chewed up by beavers, driftwood.

Rail: It's readymade, beaver assisted.

Osmosis: And its patina has this wash of abandonment. There's this grayness to the wood, just eroded over time. That patina works in tandem with the figure’s very contrapposto-informed gait. I tend to think of it as confident in its own fatigue, it has accepted its fatigue. And in its acceptance of it, it's been arrested in development by this metal stand that's holding it afloat.

Rail: It's like a marionette with its feet just above the ground.

Osmosis: Somewhere between marionette and a taxidermy mount. And then I also think anatomical study.

Rail: Or those brackets that they used to put behind people’s heads in early photographs. It would hold your head still because of the exposure time so your face wouldn't get blurred. It's a confinement, for the sake of art.

Osmosis: Objects don't move, shadows do.

Louis Osmosis, <em>Shtick Figure</em>, 2022. Beaver-chewed wood, threaded rod, steel, epoxy, contact cement, threaded rod, rubber, stanchions. 23 x 32 x 82 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Shtick Figure, 2022. Beaver-chewed wood, threaded rod, steel, epoxy, contact cement, threaded rod, rubber, stanchions. 23 x 32 x 82 inches. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.

Rail: The art historian in me looks at Shtick Figure and thinks of both Donatello's Mary Magdalene (1453-55) and Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913).

Osmosis: Oh, I fucking—that piece! Every time I see a fucking photo of that fucking piece.

Rail: It's the best. It's the most charging object!

Osmosis: It fucking stabs me in the fucking gut, bro!

Rail: It's up at the Met. And the Modern.

Osmosis: It stabs me like seppuku. No, I love that fucking piece.

Rail: What about the honesty then? Because the way you're talking about it—it's not autobiography, that's trite. It's on a different kind of level.

Osmosis: Shtick. The titular pun immediately changes the register in which this thing operates. The cadence of the attitude, the tone of its gait, of its posturing, has been coupled with the whole idea of shtick-ness. In the context, the visuals, and the lexicon of the show there is no visual through line other than the fact that most of them are sculptures. There's no stylistic identifier. And that non-shtick in and of itself is a shtick. This is a post-neo-conceptualism mode of making. And I know that that type of making and artwork—think of people like Dahn Võ—for better or worse, it looks smart. This sort of sparse installation, a wide range of material, some prefab, some made by hand, a lateral vernacular of sculpture. That's something that I want to take to task because usually if it looks smart it also feels fucking sterile and dead. That's not to moralize it, because that's something that can be deployed. Me leaning into that is literally making something that's been corpsified, zombified. And the shtick thing is gesturing to this book that my friend Thomas Blair turned me on to, Theory of the Gimmick, where Sianne Ngai, this fantastic scholar and critical theorist, talks about the gimmick as an aesthetic category, and how it's entrenched in this colloquial value system of how we judge labor, in terms of the end result, the aestheticized product, whether that be film, sculpture, painting, clothing, whatever. A great example is Click (2006) with Adam Sandler, and the trope of a lot of movies where at the end you’ve been wrung of all your emotional investment, you’re on the brink of fucking tears, and then you realize the whole movie was a dream. You’ve been ripped off.

Rail: Right. Like every Adam Sandler movie. You feel ripped off!

Osmosis: I love Adam Sandler. Love him. [Laughter]

Rail: Oh god, The Wedding Singer was the peak. [Laughter]

Osmosis: Big Daddy (1999)? Was that the one? Love that fucking movie.

Rail: Big Daddy has its moments. [Laughter]

Osmosis: I'm a huge purveyor of schlock.

Rail: Schlock is different from shtick.

Osmosis: Schlock is fodder—shtick is gimmicky. Schlock is the bottom of the barrel.

Rail: We were talking about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Charles Ray show the other day. That exhibition really is about giving the work space, but also maintaining a kind of aura. Putting your works in these smaller gallery spaces is also doing that. It's smart, but it's not too smart.

Osmosis: Yeah, thank you.

Rail: It's not smart alec-y.

Osmosis: Yeah, cause I'm not Alec, I'm Louis. [Laughs] My favorite thing about the Charles Ray show is the installation. It makes that slate gray room register in the same way that the final scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) does. There's this weird, anachronistic register that it has where the slate now has a different type of weight. The chrome finish on the sculpture doubles down on the opacity of the figure, so opaque that it reflects, and that is literally the point of it. In regard to the material at play here, in my show, there's a flimsiness to it. When I say shtick, it is to point to artistic production and the artist’s positionality, and this is all for the sake of this precarity that good artists revel in. This conundrum is like Schrodinger's cat but from the viewpoint of the cat, not the person outside the box. Entrenched in this pitch-black darkness.

Rail: You have said that "I speak sculpture fluently." What does that mean to you? Or do you no longer stand by it?

Osmosis: No, I super stand by that.

Rail: That was from meep meep, your Cooper thesis show in 2018. And also, the idea of sculpture as vibes.

Osmosis: Sculptures are huge vibes.

Rail: So how does that come together in your head? Sculpture as vibe? And how is sculpture more vibe than maybe other media? Painting?

Osmosis: There's that Ad Reinhardt quote, “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” Obviously, sculpture takes up real space, and I say vibe in the sense that because it takes up space in the same terms that we do as viewers it can operate with the same sort of energy, for lack of a better phrase. It can transcend in the same way that we may aspire to, and ultimately fail. But when something fails it crashes and lands. That leaves a shockwave. And you feel that with good sculpture. The Charles Ray show, I walk in there, into the slate Pantheon, and feel the shockwave. This cold, hefty, intensive vibe. And the William Pope.L show at MoMA in 2019–2020, that fucked me up. That fucked me up! That. Fucked. Me. Up.

Rail: What direction did that point you in?

Osmosis: I went to that show fucking five times. The backpack. The artist is fucking present. Or he's fucking not. I don't fucking know. He was so good at—and this is me, sort of facetiously codifying it—leaving this vibe. These entrails of Pope.L-ness. All over the place.

Rail: Rauschenberg said he operated in the gap between art and life, but Pope.L's work collapses it.

Osmosis: Because he’s not precious about it. That's something I’ve been trying to ascertain, and I think I’m doing it. To rid myself of this preciousness. I realized that was working in tandem with how I approach sculpture. One of the moments in my new show is the cutouts from the satellites, the leftovers, or the scraps. I'm just putting them in a garbage can. That's the piece. I'm calling it Déchets, French for garbage. This was Blake Oetting's idea for the title. He wrote my catalogue essay, “When the Crack Precedes the Vessel.” And Pope.L has that piece, Eating the Wall Street Journal, where he climbs a pillar and he's on a toilet and he's eating the Wall Street Journal. He’s retching it out, regurgitating it out. At MoMA they showed the toilet with all these wads of newspaper on it. And I said, “wait.” Because I’m not tethered to any one material at all. The only one is papier-mâché. And I realized that this toilet paper with these newspaper wads on it was the most urgent type of papier-mâché I had ever seen.

Rail: With the bodily fluid.

Osmosis: Right.

Rail: When did you start using papier-mâché?

Osmosis: At LaGuardia.

Rail: Because in your hands papier-mâché is quite amazing. Up close you can't tell that the big cockroach, Companion (Hachikō), is papier-mâché.

Osmosis: The papier-mâché on Companion (Hachikō) is more aspirational in the sense that it operates under this guise of hyper-craft, in that it looks like a fiberglass sculpture, à la a big budget production, like Murakami, which is why it's colored like that. This is an aspirational piece. The more immediately urgent type of papier-mâché that's one-to-one ripped paper pieces, strips, is the Money Heart #2 (2022) with the $2 bills. I've made one before. That was just with single dollar bills [One Hundred Dollars (Money Heart), 2021].

Louis Osmosis, <em>Money Heart #2</em>, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.
Louis Osmosis, Money Heart #2, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp. Photo: Kunning Huang.

Rail: Much cheaper. Half the price to produce.

Osmosis: Yeah, this second one was 146 dollars. But more so than the first one, this one points to scarcity and superstition, to mythos, to pathos, with the two-dollar bills. I am trying to inscribe urgency within papier-mâché. I'm going to lean on the pun, where it’s two things. One, it’s a heart made of money. What is another word for money? Tender. Boom. Second, it's done with the age-old technique of blowing up a balloon, except this one is heart shaped, and then having the papier-mâché dry and you pop it. What is this a pun on? Inflation. It's me trying to say love, the lack thereof, the hollowness of it, the pastiche of it, the volume of it, in the same breath that I want to mention the market.

Rail: Pope.L, the toilet, and the Wall Street Journal and that idea of the blend of the bodily with the sculpture that retains the trace of the body makes me think of works such as Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998). It has a kind of similar element, but with sex.

Osmosis: He makes papier-mâché scatological on the exterior of a toilet, and if you stare at it for a little bit, it starts to look like a carved stone sculpture or at least had the same effect. With all this jaggedness that's been imposed onto it. It was fantastic to see that. That fucking aftermath of it. Now it's this object.

Rail: And it has the vibe.

Osmosis: It has all the vibes. Some pieces, man, either hit me like an eighteen-wheeler or make me jealous that I didn't think of it. And Eating the Wall Street Journal was both. Not to sound like some synesthesia cliché, here, but when I look at that piece, I see heat waves off of it in the same way that one does off of an airport tarmac. It leaves a wake of its efficacy within my eyes. I really feel something.

Rail: It's a good period right now for sculpture.

Osmosis: Oh, sculpture is fucking hitting right now.

Rail: It's not everywhere, but there's enough of it that it has a kind of critical mass.

Osmosis: There are cons ad infinitum to being an artist. But one pro is that I can say very confidently I've never been bored of it. That's not to say I've always been content and happy, obviously, but I've never been bored of it. And that's something I'm gonna fucking maintain. I'm gonna do my damnedest to maintain that. And that's why I've been approaching the show so gung-ho.

Rail: Kapp Kapp is your first solo show in New York. You had a two person show in 2019-2020 with Thomas Blair at Gymnasium, This is Your Captain Speaking, a three-person show in 2021, Freefall at Shoot the Lobster in Los Angeles, and then a group show in 2021, The Symbolists: Les fleurs du mal; at Hesse Flatow. And then you had work at Bungalow on Orchard Street in December 2021.

Osmosis: They're having another iteration at Westbeth.

Rail: So how does the Kapp Kapp show come about?

Osmosis: I love them. It's run by the twins Daniel Kapp and Sammy Kapp. And they cold emailed me what feels like eons ago before I even found out I had gotten this residency. Daniel came to my little nursery room sized studio, my proto-studio at my house in fucking Bensonhurst, came all the way out and then we just hit it off. I was into the idea of working with gallerists that were my age. An artist having a show at a gallery is but a guest in someone else's house. You walk in there with no leverage. And this was one of the handful of times when I met someone cold and left warm. They're friends first and foremost. It is an amicable working relationship. They were going to be moving to a new space at 86 Walker, which is more than triple or even quadruple the size of their prior New York location. It's a gorgeous space. It's Peter Doig's old studio.

Rail: I didn't realize that. Great man.

Osmosis: Great man. Everyone wants to paint like him. I'm their first sculpture with a capital “S” show. I'm a firm believer in if I'm going to do it, I might as well fucking do it. Let's make a book. Let's make a poster. Let's fucking go.

Rail: Coming out of your first show, what's the goal?

Osmosis: The reason why a central tenant of the work is aspiration is because I'm a very aspirational type. Call it main character syndrome, call it only child syndrome, call it first generation syndrome. But I want this to be a turning point. I also want the trajectory that I'm laying down for myself, and projecting outwardly, to be kind of funny. To be hard to pin down. I'm already thinking about my next solo, and it would be performance, not sculpture.

Rail: Not material objects.

Osmosis: It would be material objects, but it wouldn't be material forward. It would be performance forward. Installation forward too. I'm thinking of it as a singular piece, à la Mark Leckey, how he composes his sort of moments, his still lifes. I just see an obvious diagnosis of the current state of affairs. I'm not saying that I have the solution for it, but I want to see what can be gleaned from reveling in that precarity. And the emptiness of it all.

Rail: A lot of artists have retrenched and removed themselves or gone into a kind of solitary practice in the wake of COVID. And the result has been works that are either very hermetic or overly open.

Osmosis: Or overly disingenuous.

Rail: Also, overly about expansion into the world, which is not yet fully possible. The work that you're doing is not going to be able to fit into that. I think that's probably part of your aim.

Osmosis: I hope so.

Rail: It's so varied and surprising. And the scale is not consistent. I'm looking at Stack (Matthew’s New Museum) and the small Judd with the tumbler, Studio Visits, and for me, it will be interesting to see how you install it.

Osmosis: I have it pretty much one hundred percent laid out in my head. That Judd-ian piece, Studio Visits, is going to have its own wall, which is again to the scale or bait-and-switch moment that you're talking about—give that tiny little piece its own wall. In making the metal box I did want it to have a Judd sensibility to it, but also to excavate this psychosis that comes from looking into a giant steel box. That's not something that happens in the real world, that deep of a shadow box. And I double down on it with this resin, half-drunk whiskey on the rocks glass thing that's filled with bugs from my studio that I caught and just titled the piece Studio Visits.

Rail: As if someone just casually stuck it in the box thinking it was a shelf, and not a Judd, and then the bugs got in it.

Osmosis: A lot of the work relates to a word that we used a lot at Cooper. It is going to engage this ploppability that sculpture can do unlike many other mediums.

Rail: Ploppability.

Osmosis: Ploppability, where it's just like, "Plop!"

Rail: Put it wherever.

Osmosis: I don’t know about “put it wherever” but, ploppability in the sense that it communicates a type of immediacy in how it's installed. There's no fluff to it. There's no fuss. There's a matter-of-factness to it that a lot of the work will have.

Rail: A study in matter of fact. Interesting. I saw several shows yesterday in Chelsea, and in a lot of them there were just too many works. The walls are hung too thickly. It didn't let the pictures breathe or have enough elbow room. You're not talking about a series that must be together. It's just a body of work. Less is more. The impact of Studio Visits on its own wall will be a good thing.

Osmosis: It’s like arrested development. The trophy object is just a zombified accomplishment. The Jenny Holzer crate, the highfalutin shipping crate, to me always registers as a coffin because it's as if the object has done its job. Now it's being shipped out. I think that every time I see a blue-chip crate or an art crate in general.

Rail: A reliquary.

Osmosis: Exactly. Right. One hundred percent.

Rail: You use the term ossified. And that's a real ossified material inside of it, which ultimately is immaterial. Doesn't matter. It's the crate that's the thing. And now the crate has become the setting.

Osmosis: It's like a tomb prefaced by a successful trajectory. Which is funny.

Rail: Absolutely. Until a corpse comes out. [Laughter]

Contributor

Jason Rosenfeld

Jason Rosenfeld Ph.D., is Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College. He was co-curator of the exhibitions John Everett Millais (Tate Britain, Van Gogh Museum), Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (Tate Britain and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), and River Crossings (Olana and Cedar Grove, Hudson and Catskill, New York). He is a Senior Writer and Editor-at-Large for the Brooklyn Rail.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues