(noun) nonchalant absurdity with a dash of embarrassment.

(verb) to be shark bitten.

(adverb) in a manner that is nonchalantly absurd and embarrassing.

13 November 2013

Between Death and a Happy Place

Love, Photo Courtesy of the Artist  
I walk into the gallery and the first thing I see is Love. I spy the bats and forgo any art world kiss-kiss hellos. Standing before it for quite some time, gazing closely at the delicate wings of the once living animals, their spidery fingers, thin as paper. The free-floating creatures of the night are beautifully daunting, able to stir up the dark places in the psyche if you let them, even if the bats form the shape of a heart, generally a symbol of comfort. Comprised of 122 taxidermied bats on wood, Love is the second generation of this type of work for the artist––same materials, different subject matter, equally as eerie. That moment, standing before Love induced a flashback. Rewind two years ago when artist Joseph Grazi was first beginning the original bat piece Legends. It was in the experimental stage, you know, no big deal, just getting taxidermied bats shipped in from the other side of the world. The studio became a cave––bats hanging throughout the room, from some sort of prototype web, an early version of what we see throughout the gallery in his current show Happy Place. Anything but normal, the studio visit had me temporarily crazed. I was convinced these bats carried some sort of disease . I successfully avoided the studio until the piece was complete, safe behind glass. The scenario sounds much like Joseph and his work: subtly shocking.

Altar Cats, Photo Courtesy of the Artist
Happy Place: New Works by Joseph Grazi explores fear, contemplates the many ways of seeing and thinking about death, and ultimately celebrates death’s certainty. Fear, the feeling or one's questioning of the emotion, we find in Love. The symbol of the bat alone forces our perspective into the nocturnal. In Altar Monks, the existence of the roses activate feelings of love and lightness, the rose representing the complete opposite of the bat. But is the flower convincing? Does it have the power to bring the spiritual realization of death and its darkness into a full bodied reality? Do you now regard death as a happy place? Ultimately, it is up to you.

Altar Monks, Photo Courtesy of the Artist

And are these works luxurious or cruel? Whatever your cup of tea, animal lover, vegan, carnivore, they do hold their weight in aesthetics. These modern mummies are elegant, refined and evocative, even if one is completely offended by, let’s say, a cat’s skeleton behind Plexiglass. Altar Cats is placed high upon a pedestal: boxed within Plexi, atop 3000 red marbles, crouched in a Sphinxpose, over a delicately placed living red rose. Here, death, or the process of, becomes visible in the show. The flower that is now a crisp, red will soon dry out, showing the fragility of a lifespan be it human, animal or plant. Once dead, the rose will be replaced, thus repeating the process––a sacrifice of beauty.

Smile, Photo Courtesy of the Artist 
Red, the color of life, dominates the show. The web installation, similar to that in The Seeds That Release, frames individual pieces and connects the drawings in one room to the sculptures in the next. From the rope to the marbles, the attractive quality of red, conveys vitality and warmth, creating a harmonious balance in the space.

 Photo Courtesy of the Artist

In Happy Place the past is in conversation with the present. In 2012, for the Fountain of Youth, Grazi filled an entire room with plastic toy balls, inviting his audience to jump around and play in the ball pit as if they were 7-year-olds at Chuck E. Cheese. Repetition, for Grazi, is key. Thousands of balls for Fountain of Youth, thousands of marbles for Happy Place. Not a coincidence, a running theme. Remember the chair made of plexiglass and 76 syringes, lined up in perfect rows? If you don’t, you should look it up. Find the time to see this show. See for yourself if it makes you want to celebrate death or that it just simply freaks you the fuck out. Happy Place is up at ArtNowNY until November 30, 2013.