Plastic cities, plastic landscapes and in a not too distant future, plastic pseudo-humans: this is the theme of Davidson’s exhibition. A denunciation, but also the statement of an irremediable fact: our life is made of plastic. Is what we see around us the product of our evolution? And will our evolution inevitably lead to a world where our origins will disappear, to be entirely replaced by plastic and its derivates? This is the dilemma Davidson poses himself, and us. With whom and what will we have to deal with in the future? With what will the future generations have to wrestle?
Will we still have flavours, odours, forms and colours as we know them today, or will all this be replaced by new generations of flavours, odours, forms and colours? The world will change, and we are the product of this transformation. We become what we eat, we generate what we absorb. Joe Davidson reproduces worlds which are only apparently non-existent: whole cities and landscapes made exclusively from plastic materials: cities and landscapes of scotch tape or empty plastic bottles that used to contain everyday consumerist products. Technically, plastic has been chosen as a material due to its pliancy and indestructibility. On the one side the possibility to shape it at will, on the other an unconscious attempt to render the work immortal. Plastic may break down, but it is not destroyed: is this a way to get beyond the concept of death? Empty forms made of plastic: is this the fate of human beings? Indestructible for all eternity, but void of contents? The world seems to evolve in this direction: the myth of eternal youth, magnificent bodies, perfectly sculpted through the introduction of silicon prostheses; a perfect exterior without interiority; appearing, not being; plastic surgery as a necessity for survival (sic) because it introduces the amount of “plastic” indestructibility which is necessary to hide, better and better, the emptiness which lurks behind a merely aesthetic perfection. An inability to feel and to be, hidden behind a beautiful appearance: surface beauty which eventually becomes the only beauty there is, accessible to everyone, without efforts; fake, and not inner, beauty. These are the themes underlying the research of Davidson and his artistic expression; it is no coincidence that the artist lives and works in Los Angeles, the place where this evolution/involution (?) of the contemporary society is most clearly perceptible.
MOUNTAIN landscapes: “Bucolic” landscapes, whole mountain chains, all moulded by an expert manipulation of countless layers of scotch tape: apparently natural mountain landscapes where one feels as if one were immersed in the purity of a rarefied air, only to discover that even they are made of… scotch tape, a mere derivate of hydrocarbons.
CITY landscapes: Whole metropolises of plastic, overcrowded and submerged by plastic: cities made of hydrocarbons. The standardized city, without identity; modern cities all look alike: a grid of nameless streets, names are useless anyway! Buildings that are all the same: the heights and forms vary, but there is no identity, spirit, or soul. Our contemporary lives are an immense mass of plastic.
“My body of work consists of sculpture and large scale installations made up of cast everyday consumerist objects. The objects are produced in multiples with mundane materials such as scotch tape, paper pulp, and plaster. I try to achieve a level of mass production in the objects, though all have been handmade. Most of the work is monochromatic, driven largely by the inherent quality and symbolism of the material used. I have been working as if on an assembly line, churning out the same image, looking for eventual meaning/’ (Joe Davidson)
STILL LIVES: they feature an obsessive and compulsive reproduction of consumer objects. The shapes of the objects are reproduced with precision, but all of them are covered by the same substance, rendered monochrome. They thus lose their identity, becoming distorted and impossible to identify. Cans without a label, as faceless personalities, men without identity: the object is not identified by its label, its name, only by its outer shape. Anonymous beings, just as we ourselves are anonymous, in a standardized and globalized world. Human beings whose needs have become standardized and levelled. And this standardization of needs makes individualities useless. A false equality between human beings, originating from the identity of their false needs. Equality in consumption, because consumption makes them HUMAN BEINGS: I consume, therefore I am: the new Cartesian paradigm. I consume anything, even if I do not really need it, without name and identity, I only need to consume in order to … exist.
The man who lacks personality is the one most easily manipulated, in whom one may create new needs for consumption, new needs, identical for all men, who are becoming more and more identical and lacking in personality. Is this our destiny, our future?
“My repetitive and seemingly meaningless actions are explored symbolically as reflections of the passage of time, emotional isolation, and escapist fantasy. The compulsive or obsessive acts required to create the pieces necessitates the omission of other perhaps more traditionally meaningful or useful activities. (…) There is a qualitative gap between the original and the cast object, however slight. There is a peculiarity, a lack of life, to a cast object that I find meaningful. (…) I do not attempt exact replicas of an original object; I create shadows of the original…. The work I make responds to the sometimes overwhelming stream of daily chores and consumerist choices we experience in our domestic lives…
Whether the product is a still life created in Scotch tape or a bouquet composed of plaster flowers, I look to the fantastic as a goal in my work. The work is intensely representational in content but without clearly assigned meaning, thus creating a disquiet In this way I think in a surrealist vein, looking to traditional figures like Eva Hesse and Piero Manzoni, and contemporary figures like Robert Gober and Matthew Barney….
The juxtaposition of the seemingly simple streamline objects with this disquiet adds a powerful force to the work, again symbolic of the contrast between the emotional life which defines us as humans and the compulsions and minutia that compose our daily lives/’ (Joe Davidson) The distortion of an everyday product influences the way we see our existential condition of quasi-automatons who mechanically repeat every move. The language of mechanical gestures is explored, fragmented and interrupted and creates a slower, more profound reflection. This leads to a sense of alienation and disquiet because one abandons the certainty of the automatism. The obsessive and mechanic repetition of the actions creates a sense of certainty, it is habit that instils security MM When the automatism of living has been interrupted, Man is alone before himself, and
forced to reflect on the meaning of things and on their essence, and that of life: this gives rise to alienation, uncertainty, a feeling of emptiness, lack of safety nets.
In his Still Lives the young artist has not been afraid of measuring swords with personalities of the calibre of Calzolari and Pavlos, without “inconveniencing” Morandi who belongs to a period that is even remoter, from every point of view. In these artists the attention centres first and foremost on the Form as such, but only as origin of the composition or rather, its inspiring principle. In Pavlos the focus on the form is combined with an even more accentuated attention to colour. Pavlos manipulates paper to create an aesthetic effect, with an attentive eye to how the spectator who moves before the work perceives it. On the one hand, therefore, a scientific interest in the aspects of optical perception and, on the other, the poetics created by a perfect balancing of form and colour, which gives the work an aura of great lyricism.
In Calzolari the form is only a pretext for the concept. His work contains an exclusively “conceptual” approach to the work. His “still lives,” like those from 2005, are places where concepts meet and undergo transformations. The work contains and transforms, elaborating the inspiring concept, to then take a distance from it, becoming “something else”, a new artistic place, a new and different entity. The fact that both artists use poor materials and share a similar approach to the work as such make them much closer than the distances in terms of space and age might suggest. Davidson borrows a form (or thousands of forms) to experiment the concept of time and action. His research centres on the relationships between time and human action, how much of the time allotted to the human being is wasted in automatic actions without any focus on the I, and on the essence of things.
The poetic which Davidson shares with the two masters lies in the delicacy of the arrangement and composition; the poetic of Davidson is not lyricism; his work is child of its time and it is also forced to denunciate: If art reflects reality, Davidson is all the more so a child of his age and society, and he cannot but denunciate the profound malaise of the society in which he lives, and in which the loss of identity and the levelling of men without personality represent the greatest danger faced by usali.