The exhibition ‘Radiohalo’ presents new works by the New York-based artist Michael Joo at Blain|Southern, London. Works across a variety of media incorporating themes of energy, nature, and technology form a complex and rich body of work exploring identity and the body, often by its absence or processes.
In Blain|Southern’s space the artist presents his new series of ‘caloric paintings’, and in doing so forms a conceptual dialectic with his earlier works, such as ‘The Saltiness of Greatness’ (1992), in which he calculated the consumed calories of historical figures during their lifetime. With this new body of work Joo calculates the calories burnt performing various actions, juxtaposing form, substance and action to create his version of painting, in a way that only Joo can.
The artist utilises a multi-disciplinary approach, working with painting, photography, print-making and sculpture, to ‘seed’ canvases with silver nitrate solution. The results are temporal in nature as the silver nitrate transforms, with caloric values being transferred to the canvases. The artist’s recurring methodologies investigate the meaning and value of the body and identity, and the viewer’s perception of the material used. Joo also adds a performative element to the works, the canvases serve as the result of an action mirroring the concern with caloric usage by the body in performing a process.
The artist juxtaposes aspects of science with art to document processes. Joo’s work continues to evolve in a way that includes his physical presence in much the same way as the shamanistic German artist Joseph Beuys. Beuys’ sculptures were the artefacts of an action performed by the artist. In this sense the works defy a traditional category. Joo’s current works are simultaneously signifiers of a concept and the very artefacts of an action predicated by that concept.
‘Prologue (Montclair Danby Vein Cut)’ (2014-2015), references Cameron’s Line, a tectonic boundary marked by a subterranean band of marble in northeast USA. Joo’s sculpture stands at 3 metres high and is made up of a broken slab of marble elevated in a steel frame, then clamped back together and treated with silver nitrate on one side. The piece is a signifier of the process of geological time as opposed to the fragile viewer who might stand beneath it, while the temporal journey of the material is reflected in the strata of the marble.
Joo’s works emulate a closed system within a system, operating metaphysically and alchemically, speaking of temporality and the nature of human agency. These ideas are explored through the artist’s series of endangered crane’s legs and the performative sculptures created from graphite, with which Joo has marked the walls of the lower gallery at Blain|Southern. The act and resulting forms suggest the fleeting physical existence of the endangered bird. Again the temporal and performative are present in the work – the temporary body, the graphite suggesting the carbon of carbon-based life – and the influence of human beings’ socially constructed boundaries.
The artist’s latest series of works feel like a departure for the artist, heading ever-more into the relationship between the performative and the artefact. Joo transforms the nature of the canvas blurring definitions and confounding traditional expectations. The artist’s sophisticated practice continues to operate metaphysically, alchemically and conceptually (not to mention, synthetically and politically), exploring the boundaries between human identity, given form and potential meaning via process, time and action. Joo’s work remains a fascinating journey for the viewer.