Simone Subal Gallery is pleased to present The Devil You Know featuring works by Davide Balula, Sam Ekwurtzel, Witt Fetter, Sophie Friedman-Pappas, and Nova Jiang.
Borrowing half of the age-old cliché “better the devil you know than the devil you don't” as its title, this group exhibition explores the use of unconventional logic to make fun of, deconstruct, or contextualize systems that are no longer serving society well, yet somehow remain.
Davide Balula harnesses natural matter, as well as manmade structures and systems to generate his paintings, performances, and site–specific interventions. Farmed Painting (Sagg Creek, Kel Star Milk Drop), 2020–2021 retains stains and sediment from being exposed to the elements in a specific natural location for over a year. Celestial blooms of lichen, mycelium, and earth dance across the unprimed canvas, accumulating into a unique thumbprint-like representation of a small and delicate ecosystem. Performance and collaboration also pervade Balula's art; in A.I. Generated Instructions (Free Hand Vocalists), 2019–2022 Balula has fed a neural network with descriptions of his own artworks, asking it to generate ideas for new pieces. The resulting instructions often end up being poetic albeit nonsensical. This piece includes an original musical improvisation performed by Gelsey Bell, Sophie Becker, and Charlotte Mundy, intended to be experienced through visitor’s personal headphones.
Sam Ekwurtzel’s 95% aluminum, 5% magnesium, 2016–2022 recreates the unsolvable historical rabbit-duck illusion query. Attached below the aluminum animal head, an upside-down metal detector is reading the room. While the illusion itself cannot be “solved”, and both animal heads can be argued for or against, the metal detector does provide us with some factual although unhelpful information about the object. Inflated gloves are a recurring motif in Ekwurtzel’s practice, with Cupric nitrate patina / surgical glove, 2021 being his most recent iteration. Rendered in a bright teal patinated bronze, the classic schoolhouse gag is quickly brought to mind. Yet in this grouping, the act of rebellion somehow takes on the more sinister potential of workplace sabotage.
By marrying highly specific personal memories with fictionalized spaces, Witt Fetter’s paintings exist in a parallel reality that toys with a reimagining of recent current events. Binary Explosive, 2020 translates a video still of a “gender reveal” explosion that caused a devastating wildfire in Colorado into oil. The name of this cultural phenomenon is a misnomer (the explosion is intended to reveal an unborn child’s sex rather than their gender), and by freezing this ephemeral moment Fetter reveals its inherent and insidious absurdity. When a digital camera is used to take a photograph of another digital screen, the pixels of both screens overlap and misalign, to reveal a third moiré pattern that is created in-camera. Adopting this phenomenon as both an aesthetic and conceptual framework, the subjects of Fetter’s paintings (for instance, the bouncy castle net in Make Believe, 2020) exist in a middle space of misaligned concepts – floating somewhere between the real thing and its representation. Fetter likens this ambiguity to the reality of being a transgender person in America – always existing between two layers.
Sophie Friedman-Pappas’ diorama-like sculptures and graphite drawings provide tongue-in-cheek solutions for the increasingly pervasive issue of waste, both human and domestic. These propositions reimagine our present and ask piss, pigeon shit, animal skins, and garbage to be repurposed serendipitously. They will demolish buildings, tan leather, and bandage burnt flesh. City Full of Soil (One Chase Manhattan Plaza) and Tree in Perfect Circles Organized from the Top, both 2020, feature miniature bricks cast from sand collected at Freshkills Park in Staten Island, handmade animal hide glue, and phragmites reeds that are often found growing near polluted waters. These Frankensteinian conglomerates are based on real architectures in the Financial district, and Friedman-Pappas is attempting in vain to reunite these displaced materials with their original usage.
Nova Jiang’s intimate paintings reference historical Dutch still life painting, yet often emit an uncanny sense of morbid humor. Jiang’s brushstroke is supple, leaving the surfaces of her paintings with a feeling of rippling light. In Palm Reader, 2020, a worm wriggles out of an unbitten apple. Upon second glance, the worm is not only exiting the apple, but also entering the human hand through a small wound. The painting Probability, 2021 portrays an aging cluster of grapes rotting gracefully, in a perfect gradient. Through subtle details Jiang playfully conjures macabre themes of decay and dysfunction, while bringing some unanticipated lightness to otherwise heavy topics.
– Moira Sims