Sam Ekwurtzel’s exhibition refers to an 8 minute period occurring on the morning of March 30, 2016. 10:35 am – 10:42 am to be exact. This is the period for which Ekwurtzel was able to acquire a small group of building materials manufactured by United States Gypsum Corporation and National Gypsum Company, Charlotte Pipe Foundry and Tyler Pipe Foundry. The materials were not generated specifically for the exhibition; rather they were synchronously pulled from the four independent production lines or purchased from distributors. There is a melancholic sentiment looming over the show as it explores three aspects of time: systematized time demarcated by the logic of industrial production; the incomprehensibility of geologic deep time; and the feeling of biological time, the changes that occur to one’s body as it ages.
These materials can be found in every building in New York City, hidden and enmeshed beneath and within a building’s surfaces and utilities. Cast iron drainage pipe is used to quietly convey wastewater from innumerable tributaries toward sewer mains. Cement board is used as a planar substrate for tile in moisture prone areas such as washrooms and showers. Although different companies produce cement board and cast iron pipe, the final products are essentially the same because they must satisfy common building code regulations and third party testing requirements. To facilitate quality control, each company time stamps each manufactured piece with its specific moment of creation. Ekwurtzel has synchronized, in the pieces on view, cement board and pipes made at the same time but by competing manufacturers; twins that meet for the first time and become inextricably linked once reclassified as art. The rarity of this meeting cannot be overstated, as well as the humor and absurdity of the gesture. But the experience of looking at things that are technically identical (but commercially distinct) reveals a wide variety of differences: individualism lurking in the bowels of automated, industrialized production.
Taking a cue from the time stamps, the sculptures are arranged chronologically, with 10:38 and 10:41 accounted for by photographs. The photos show these particular sheets being installed in aging-in-place renovations- reconfigurations of washrooms to accommodate independent occupancy for individuals as they age. Fully incorporated into the renovations, these boards are forgotten, punctured by utilities, and buried under tile. Both the cement boards and the cast iron pipes are composites. The cement board’s ingredients are listed on its surface. The pipes are cast from melted down automobiles. These objects have a history even before they “begin” with their time stamp. Each product also has a warranty, a demarcated lifespan. At a certain point the boards and pipes are no longer expected to function as designed.
Ekwurtzel contrasts the temporal specificity of the building materials with a large, stone arch whose blocks are held in place not by mortar but by plastic grocery dividers. Discreetly obtained from the Fairway Supermarket in Red Hook, Brooklyn, these dividers are repurposed as shim stock, facilitating the construction and suspension of the arch. Ekwurtzel sheared each block from a slab of granite into equally sized pieces. He rotated the cut rock ninety degrees when assembling the arch, ostensibly confronting the exposed stone to light for the first time in hundreds of millions of years- a realization that is humbling when considered against the backdrop of our era’s celebration of the new and the now.