Acid yellow light creates an amber hue that glows from a large exterior window at PEEP. Inside, tire tracks mark the floor. The smell of rubber, buzzing noise—seemingly coming from the overhead fluorescent lights—and scattered tires transform the gallery into an all-night garage. The all-night garage typically looms in the distance, the only beacon of light in an otherwise dark Northern Philadelphia landscape. In Jonathan Santoro’s “garage” there is a sense that something is being dismantled, rather than being repaired.
In Praise of Folly is the artist’s first solo exhibition at PEEP. The artist depicts a range of emotional states with meticulously casted and modified tire sculptures titled The Four Horsemen (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired). At the center of each, a hubcap rim contains a small cold-case urethane face expressing a distinct emotional state. These depictions go beyond mere representation. The first sculpture in the gallery titled The Four Horsemen (Lonely) pours tears from its doll-like glass eyes, and those tears form a puddle that has grown so large that a small clutch of taxidermied ducklings has collected at its edge, as if waiting to take a swim.
Walking further in the jewel-like gallery, The Four Horsemen (Hungry) has a crazed look in its green eyes, seemingly licking its chops awaiting its next meal. The Four Horseman (Angry) is positioned on a spinning motor, forever in a cycle of rage and for the first time, it becomes apparent that the words HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONELY, TIRED are embedded within all of the rubber tire treads.
In Praise of Folly levels levity at aggression and animalistic affect by breaking it down to the simple acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). HALT is a tool used in recovery to start a practice of self-care and self-awareness. This method of checking in with oneself can help an individual determine if their basic needs are being met. By attempting to meet these needs, the hope is to prevent future harm by misaligning desire and outcomes. The faces in the hubcaps have facial qualities that are reminiscent of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz: an amalgamation of metal, plastic, and flesh in a joyful, painful grimace. Each wheel is caught up in its own personal cycle, stagnant and stuck in the place of their feelings. They are broken from their connection. A tire with nowhere to roll. Just a cog in their “feels.”
Santoro’s work addresses the conflict at the heart of a masculine spirit in America as the imagined world of its making crumbles before its eyes. The work asks all of us to HALT and check in. Are we brave enough to get in touch with the feelings that drive our actions and behaviors? If we do that, what is the potential that we can make better choices? As we are thrust back into a world of high-octane consumption and all that comes with it, including emotionally flattening behaviors, let’s not forget what being forced to HALT allowed us to do: check in with ourselves.