When I began this body of work, my wife, Em, and I had just purchased a couch. Because our cat Disco sheds indiscriminately, it seemed smart to find a couch that would be easy to clean. Fulfilling the mandate of a newly married couple, we created a comfortable and conventional environment that we could call home—an apartment (instead of the barely legal live-work space that we inhabited in our days as an unsanctioned social unit) that we furnished thoroughly and beautifully. Through the online wedding registry Zola, we chose several items that would accommodate our new apartment life which included a Hamilton light brown leather couch. After moving it became clear to us that our chosen couch was a bit pricey, and that we could redistribute the money into other much needed items. We looked online for comparable couches that were more economical and settled on one located in Morningside Heights. We rented a UHaul for the day and picked it up. After getting it down four flights of stairs with the guidance of its previous owner, and putting it in the truck, Em realized that the couch was made of bonded leather, not genuine leather, a fact that diminished our excitement about our newly acquired item. I didn’t know the difference between the two. I turned to Wikipedia for an explanation:
Bonded leather, also called reconstituted leather or blended leather, is a term used for a manufactured upholstery material that merely includes animal hide. It is a layered structure of fiber or paper backer, shredded leather pulp, and polyurethane coating embossed with a leather-like texture.
For the past several years, I have been preoccupied with things that are generated through blending: MDF, smoothies, fruit salad trees, genetic engineering, to name a few. Blended things have serious implications for the contemporary notion of identity. In the hierarchy of values, purity continues to have precedence. The real—whether or not it is a construction or a blending itself–trumps the manufactured. As a result, our lives will continue to be furnished with objects and realities that adapt to an ideal “real”, a troubling and troublingly plastic notion that we currently see deployed in the service of racist political platforms. Misguided slogans such as “Make America Great Again” implicitly refer to a real and total past and this by extension, signals purity. Social progress has its own problems, but ideas of purity and the “real” that mythically precedes blending is always barbaric.
That said, our couch was uncomfortable.
Like many industrially produced surfaces, bonded leather is fashioned in the likeness of a material that requires fewer materials and processes for production. Bonded leather passes as leather. It has co-opted the language of leather as a means to position itself in proximity to the notions of value associated with it. In this method of production, real leather is not exactly absent (it exists as pulp), nor is it simply an invisible ingredient. Bonded leather is a material constructed of fertile tensions: the ‘real’ leather is both invisible component and hyper-visible, the final blended product aspires to and assimilates itself to the ‘real’ that it has materially incorporated and physically altered. Leather, the “real stuff,” is a positive absence in this configuration.
I grew up in the suburbs, a place that first existed as an idea. Community, neighborhood, house, lawn… all of these characteristics were determined before people came to each place; before they created their own terms of what constitutes place. The planning approach adopts a system of signs and a set of cultural ideals and translates them into spatial realities. A lived-in space is, by constrast and definitively not ideal. It is process-driven, influenced by whim, idiosyncracy, and problem-solving. The perfect and planned place therefore physically evolved in an unplanned manner and this changed landscape, in turn, is lived in again. I’m interested in the consequences of this dialectic for the construction of identity.
The body of work that correlates with the couch deals with the methodological approach of defining the terms of an object from within and from without simultaeously. I’m using the ‘framed drawing’ and the ‘countertop’ (made with industrially manufactured laminates) as stable semantic references that house idiosyncratic gestures.
In other words, expressionism is couched in utility.
This work addresses the semantics of tactility; it explores the haptic characteristics of materials and signs as the by-products of our late-industrial landscape. Like bonded-leather, these materials refer to a mythically familiar other that is always already absent. Like “leather” it now exists as pure referent. And like an aging couch, these objects are never as “pure” in terms of their mass-produced sameness either. As objects of use, they bear individual scars—the inscriptions of a now absent body.
Was our mistaken acquisition of the bonded leather couch a symbol of our inadequacy as homemakers? Is this alleged failure merely a manifestation of my own anxieties about nesting? We held on to the couch. We went to great lengths to create the ideal configuration of furniture in the living room (I see the organization of furniture much like the organization of marks and shapes in a picture). As time went on, our perspective changed. What had been our shared albatross transformed into a source of energy. We soon took pride in the absurdity of the object: its ugliness, its unruly and robust presence. What might one do with a fancy couch anyway? Isn’t my bad taste a unique characteristic of my petty-bourgeois, suburban identity? My judgmental and fancy friends don’t come to my apartment anyway.
This phase lasted for about 9 months. Then we got rid of it in exchange for an older, more modern looking cloth one. This body of work was produced between the arrival and the departure of the bonded leather couch. The couch forms a temporal parentheses around the work, both a literal container and a metaphoric referent. Since its departure I have imagined the couch as the pedestal for a large sculpture that resembles sunglasses, but was initially conceived as a double-sink. Since the couch now belongs to someone else—is now literally absent rather than a metaphor of absence–this sculpture remains on the floor. The absence of the couch informs the presence of this work.
I now prefer to use the word sofa.
Masters of Fine Arts, Hunter College, NY
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tyler School of Art, Temple University
Temple University Rome, Italy
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS AND PERFORMANCES
(forthcoming) After the Sun (in collaboration with Em Rooney), The Vanity East, Los Angeles, CA
Coriolis (performance in collaboration with Alina Tenser), fOOTERING nOTES , Galleri Mejan, Fylkingen, Stockholm
Color Me Calm, curated by Stuart Lorimer and Emily Davidson, Torrance Shipman, Brooklyn, NY
ramapo et cetera (performative lecture), Staging Sex/Staging Self, Skowhegan Project Space, New York
On Discipline: An Evening of Short Performative Presentations, Regina Rex, New York, NY
Headaches and Mysteries. 5 Artists, 5 Poets, 5 Forms. Organized by Jen Currin and Becky Brown, Brooklyn, NY
You are Apple/Pear, Recess Activities, New York
SkowheganPerforms, Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, NY
ABNORMCORE, ROOM EAST, New York, NY
Antithesis, curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Present Company, Brooklyn, NY
Two and Monuments Two, Center For Experimental Lectures, Curated by Gordon Hall, Hosted by The Shandaken Project, Shandaken, NY
Breaking Night, curated by Becky Suss, Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Wet.Lobby.Luxor, MFA Thesis Exhibition, Hunter College Art Gallery, Times Square Gallery
A Study of Interruptions, Curated by Natasha Marie Llorens, Pascal Gallery, Ramapo College
Parenthesis, Louis B James Gallery, NY
the loneliness of the middle-distance runner, Curated by Sam Perry, Flux Factory, Queens, NY
Sculpture Show, Curated by Chris Manzione, Bermont Lab, Skowhegan, ME
A Valuation, Curated by Alexander Clark and Friends, Nexus Space, New York, NY
And Nomad (solo), Wilson Gallery, Anderson University, Anderson, IN
Play It Again, ACE Curatorial Collective, Hunter College Times Square Gallery, NY
Shifting Communities: Action Club, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín and Elizabeth Hamby (collaborative project), Bronx River Arts Gallery, NY
Vox VII, curated by Melissa Ho and Hennessey Youngman, Vox Populi, Philadelphia, PA
Grant v. Lee, curated by Sophie Lvoff, Good Children Gallery, New Orleans, LO
Double Session, “In This Hello America”, collaborative project with Douglas Paulson, Ward Shelley, Rancourt/Yatsuk, and Kerry Downey, CCS Gallery at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
YOU ARE HERE: Projects in (de)tourism. ACE Curatorial Collective, Hunter College Times Square Gallery
Wassaic Project Summer Festival, Wassaic, NY
Saturday Sun, Capricious Space, curated by Karen Codd, Brooklyn, NY
House Blend, Recess Activities, New York
Empty Vestibules: Pictures, Pictures, Pictures, Spaces. This Red Door, Galapagos Kusthalle, Dumbo, NY
AWARDS AND RESIDENCIES
Rema Hort Mann Foundation Nominee
Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program
Recess Activities, New York
C-12 Emerging Artist Award, Hunter College
Graf Travel Grant, Hunter College
Millay Colony of the Arts Fellowship, Austerlitz, NY
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellowship, Amherst, VA
Ox-Bow Residency Program, Saugatuck, MI
Vermont Studio Center, VT
Picks: Sharpe-Walentas Open Studios, Two Coats of Paint. May
Becoming That, curated by Levi Easterbrooks, on-going online project, http://becomingthat.com/
Interview in Bomb Magazine online with Natasha Marie Llorens, July http://bombmagazine.org/article/1000181/chris-domenick
Review: Chris Domenick by Patrick Guntert, WOW HUH Fall
Contributing Artist (Video), The Nicola Midnight Sinclair, Online Publication, December
Review: Chris Domenick and Anne Pearce: Drawbridge. October Issue, Brooklyn Rail