Joe Cassan and Matt Martin’s Assumed to Exist, currently up at Wedge Projects in Rogers Park, maps the fluctuating and volatile relationship between space, absence, and recognition. Cassan and Martin’s exploration depends upon the inherent evasiveness of that relationship’s parameters; as they write in the show’s program “locations shift, with or without you, becoming nebulous; their boundaries warping into tangent spaces, real or otherwise.” A conception of a paradoxical space is the crux of the exhibition as it encourages one to read Exist’s excavation of presence and absence of clear semantic markers as a disruptive encounter with the meaning of subjecthood.
In other words, Cassan and Martin propose a subjectivity that is infinitely reflected and refracted back inward so the experience of existing is no longer stable but an activity marked by its own indeterminacy. They then question how can and should one live when such ambivalence is boundlessly intertwined with life? Martin’s two-dimensional collages of galactic imagery and geometric forms line Wedge’s walls while Cassan’s sculptures of miniature, mundane living spaces create a chessboard of territories to navigate. The installation is immersive, no piece is titled but all are connected within a network of items.
The walls are also lined with blackout fabric, a move which animates the images of nebulas and star clusters like beacons, a stark recontextualization of their actual enormity. While Martin situates the unknown with humankind’s attempts to shape it through mathematical order, there is also the sheer inescapable power of the formless (in Rosalind Krauss’ conception). The intricacies of each collage up close, reveal detailed natural phenomena (galactic images, light, and sound in space, etc.) and their synchronicity with their mathematical counterparts seems heavy with an impenetrable, undeniable logic. However, from a distance, the darkness of the walls dominates and produces an emptiness; a void where detail and surety collapses. This fluctuating emptiness plays with one’s perception of boundaries that shift and change in response to malleable objectivity; in other words in the void, the math doesn’t matter.
Cassan’s rooms generate the crushing ambiguity of formlessness, the “tangential space” of which he and Martin wrote, on a highly personal and intimate level. The installations themselves are detailed tableaus of the abject; window curtains are torn, remnants of neglect and violence lay undisturbed, floors are upended and a lone chicken bone rests in the corner of a long forgotten living room. The focal points of Cassan’s setting are the corners. Cassan creates each space through a single, defining angle – the corner that is generated when the planes of two walls meet. The eye is drawn to the corner because it is at once a sharply definable, delineated space but simultaneously an arbitrary point within an endless system of meetings and departures.
While math also girds Cassan’s experimentations, through this conceptualization of planes in space, there is also the horror of illuminating such instances of the void within a banal, recognized setting. Cassan’s rooms could belong anywhere and belong to anyone, and this possibility of belonging or ownership settles uneasily with the rooms’ featureless, unmemorable aesthetics. The abject nature of the rooms also lends itself towards this uncertainty. Vaguely recognizable through the semantic markers of aged wallpaper and area rugs, their dilapidated state puts them mostly beyond recognition. Several of the rooms also feature door frames leading into blackness, a void so encompassing as to be akin to galactic enormity.
However, this is not to assert that Martin and Cassan’s interplay of absence and presence only generates anxiety. While there is apprehension there’s also a mutuality; uncertainty is experienced together. They succeed in creating, as they describe in the program’s materials, “a space where the impactful and the incidental are conflated together, and the absent and the occupied are equivalent terms.” Through Exist’s consideration of the slippery, and sometimes mutable, nature of recognition within collective and individual spheres viewers will exit the exhibition questioning the demarcations of their own perceptions.