Eric Mack, 2014–15 AIR
In the second of a series of three blog posts, Curatorial Intern Mallory Cohen writes about her studio visits with each of the current artists in residence. Read Mallory's first post here.
Eric Mack’s works shuttle between humor and a heady abstract expressionism, and his art offers neither legibility nor instant gratification. The payoff that sustained engagement with his work yields, however, is more than enough reward.
A 2012 work titled Electric Blanket features a microfiber blanket covered with acrylic paint and attached to a wall, its center drooping downwards. A plastic fan sits on the ground, its white cord strung through a hole in the blanket to attach to an outlet. The work is self-sufficient, and its circuiting allows it to be powered internally. The cord stems from the blanket, which in turn powers the fan, which directs wind at the blanket. Yet Mack’s work digs much deeper than mere mechanics. During our conversation last week, Mack suggested that the blanket’s human counterpart is already included: “It’s an electric blanket,” he explained, “so it gives itself warmth.” But the machine also stands as the blanket’s spectator—a literal “fan,” and thus a built-in entourage of one. Ultimately, Mack’s art comes to raise questions about seeing in our modern age. If the viewer is already included in the installation, where does this place us, the work’s real-world audience? Do we become the fan? Or is it possible that contemporary art has finally come complete with its own spectator, shutting out living, breathing viewers?
Over time, Mack has begun to approach his tools as artworks as well. He notes that he likes to treat the canvas not as a platform for paint, but as a material to be acknowledged in his final works. His website, for example, features a photo of a paint-splattered piece of pegboard leaning against a wall, the canvas beneath it held in place by cans of paint. The painted pegboard seems to have just touched the canvas on which it sits, its mirror image imprinted on the cloth. The title beneath the image is the only hint that this isn’t a shot of Mack’s studio, or of a work in progress. If it’s initially unclear as to whether the pegboard is a tool or a canvas, one is also lead to speculate whether the canvas on the ground is a work of art or a drop cloth. The answer, of course, is that the entire thing is art: producing a piece that comes to visually approximate a colorful Rorschach test, Mack cleverly blurs the boundaries between the act of making art, and art itself.
Mack’s current projects employ pegboard, but to a heightened degree. During our meeting last week, he showed me a pegboard structure in his studio that had been tied together with string and zip ties. Standing at around fifteen feet tall with two levels and an open front, the paint-blasted pegboard approached the habitational, albeit impractically so. A polyester, furry blanket was lying on the ground. Mack had used magenta fabric dye and a stencil to leave circular marks on the material. As our meeting drew to a close he layered his stencils on the blanket, looking for the best arrangement. Mack’s current dappling in new territories will be on view this summer at the Studio Museum, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.