Like the episodic Richard Brautigan novel from which the show draws its name, Franklin Street Works’ Kool-Aid Wino is a playful yet sincere riff on the slapdash, crooked, and obscure virtue of errors. Recalling the loose-leaf errata once inserted into books post-publication, the show’s checklist of artworks was tucked into the brilliant catalogue essay exhibition curator Claire Barliant wrote to accompany the exhibition. She sets out, in eight parts, to take stock of errors, willful omissions, and mistakes; a triangulated effort between language, historiography, and aesthetics.
“To him the making of Kool-Aid was a romance and a ceremony,” Brautigan wrote in Trout Fishing in America of the show’s titular Wino. And such a ceremonial elevation of the mundane — a sculptural performance piece — forms the physical anchor of the show, Aki Sasamoto’s, “It’s hard to relate to you (indoor version)” (2013). Though the work was produced on-site at the show’s opening, its artifacts dominate the narrow gallery’s main floor: a chaotic tower of wooden furnishings astride the sly monumentality of two drawers filled with poured cement. Each is topped with automatic aphorisms: “infrastructure embarrassing tourism,” reads one. The other: “distance witchcraft suicidal cult.”
The central conceit at play here draws an easy parallel to the effortlessly profound ethos, so deeply unstudied as to appear dumb, espoused in Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent essay, “Being Dumb.” Goldsmith wrote there that: “Dumb doesn’t go out of fashion because it is never in fashion. Dumb is stalled and irredeemable.” And irrevocably flawed is not far from irredeemably dumb, a topic that permeates the show but finds its fullest manifestation in a 1920s Ikat-dyed Uzbek wall hanging included in the show, a representation of a practice wide-ranging in world folk traditions to insert “intentional” errors into handmade textiles as a gesture to the perfection of divinity, or at least the imperfection of humans. The fluid intentions behind such “mistakes,” of course, turn the supposed genuflection into a sort of aesthetic Pascal’s Wager.
By liberating the act of creation from the strains of perfection, an artistic intelligence of a different order is achieved, and here Barliant’s essay is again instructive. She borrows from the critic Howard Bloom the concept of the clinamen (which Bloom, in turn, borrowed from Lucretius). This, she explains, is “a way of creatively interpreting an existing work of art, in part because the artist misreads this precursor, and takes it in a new and unexpected direction.” The works of Rotem Linial and Jenny Perlin take up this charge in earnest, systematically rescuing the original from the rote.
Linial’s intricate machine, “Fortuna” (2013), layers and pulls apart monochromatic slides all depicting Giorgio Vasari’s “Battle of Marciano” (1570–71), a machine that sort of inverts the premise of the Victorian stereoscope, delivering in a single channel endless ways of seeing. Jenny Perlin’s three-channel video installation, “Sight Reading,” delivers a similar experience, substituting the composer Schumann for Vasari, with three pianists, one in each projection, sight-reading the score until they err, at which point their screen goes dark for several seconds.
The exhibition’s scattered attentions are themselves an embodiment of the endlessly fractured canon Barliant proposes. But these many digressions, attuned as they are to this intellectual core, find further unification in the literally errant work of Frank Heath, which appears haphazardly throughout both floors of the exhibition space. The structurally ambiguous proto-furniture he constructs and mails to himself come out firing on all cylinders, a mockery of the dull modernist furniture whose “easy” assembly has forged its own common tradition of flawed handicraft in vast swaths of the developed world. If Sasamoto’s work most directly channels the liberating potential of the creative act inherited from the Surrealists, then Heath brings us handily back to earth, staring at the USPS tracking screen he reproduces on the wall, reassuring us that the package has been delivered. But there’s no consolation in that confirmation, the piece was lost, carving its own aleatory path through the wide (postal) world.
Kool-Aid Wino continues at Franklin Street Works (41 Franklin St, Stamford, Connecticut) through September 22.