This summer we’re subletting our apartments for the weekend. We’re reading biting critiques of the “sharing economy” on our phones in the backseats of UberXs. We’re bartering with our leftovers. We’re just relying on the kindness of each other, mostly, and hoping for the best.
This emerging urban climate, perhaps best described as the “peer economy” for the way it monetizes social interactions among strangers, is worthy of examination as the spawn of failing public infrastructures and Silicon Valley startup culture. Yet the peer economy also complicates social relationships while eroding the boundary between work and play. Brian Kuan Wood’s recent essay “Is It Love?,” published in e-flux, describes this historical juncture, where the private domestic sphere is increasingly becoming a site of casual labor, as an “era of profound love.” Bound by mutual debt and facing an unstable job market, we’re looking toward each other for a little corporate-mediated support. “Under the auspices of love, a generalized generosity form has emerged within the private and public sphere alike,” Wood writes. “Through the family, the lover, the market, the street, a machine of reciprocity now stretches horizontally from horizon to distant horizon across a flat landscape converting labor into love and love back into labor.”
Gordon Hall’s exhibition Middle Double, at Night Club, a Bucktown apartment gallery stuck between train stations, literalizes both the conviviality and the precarity of the peer economy. It presents us with a microcosm of love and asks us for our attention, which is to say our love, in return. Hall’s two-week residency at Night Club has culminated in an exhibition that amounts to an interior renovation. Unlike most shows in apartment galleries, Middle Double turns the apartment gallery back into an apartment, but forever changed. The gesture initially seems a little too simple. Don’t engage and you’ll notice only paired objects: two workbenches, Shaker pegs, and painted balsa wood blocks (which, if you did your homework, you recognize as a continuation of Hall’s Set sculpture series). But give yourself over to the room and you’ll start to notice that every wall is an accent wall and that the fluorescent light creates strange shadows between the objects and the walls. You’ll realize you wouldn’t sit on those small benches in the center of the room for fear they might collapse. You’ll start to empathize. Reclaimed wood has feelings, too. Middle Double is a complex network of correspondences: between viewers and the space, between the space and the objects, and among décor. Hall’s sculptures, most painted in subtle pastel hues, are minimal yet unstable in that their appearances change as viewers move through the space. This atmospheric instability inspires a sense of empathy that anthropomorphizes them. Have you ever felt like a Shaker peg? A workbench cast aside? It avoids the cynical assertion of art as furniture by figuring art-furnishings as bodies, which in turn reminds us that we too may be transforming into conceptual furniture, smart yet purely functional.
Hall’s objects are referred to here as “material doubles,” but maybe they’re more like couples. The form of the couple is vexed for any number of valid reasons, but it is still the atomic structure of love and, perhaps, a pragmatic form of resistance in the face of a highly individuated society. A political concept like “solidarity” seems elusive when everyone is a casual entrepreneur, but the couple is “a private commons within society,” as Wood notes in “Is It Love?” It’s hard out there, and if we can’t incorporate, maybe we can at least declare a cuffing season. The couple that stays together shares secrets, conspires, and begins to look interchangeable, like acrylic pegs cast from the same mold. In Middle Double, the coupled sculptures mingle and tell us about their temporary home. They offer us a brief reprieve, a short staycation. As would a nice couple on AirBnB, Middle Double invites us to come in, stay awhile, and feel something like social love.
Gordon Hall: Middle Double is on view at Night Club, 2017 W. Moffat, Suite 1 through August 3, 2014. Hours by appointment, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-442-2697 for more information. www.nightclubchicago.org