The Stolbun Collection is pleased to present PHANTASMAGORIA, an exhibition featuring Stephen D’Onofrio and Darren Bader. Like the first PHANTASMAGORIA, this second iteration is staged as two solo exhibitions, which juxtapose two distinct bodies of work. The exhibition includes three new complimentary paintings by D’Onofrio—a monochromatic site specific painting that nearly matches that of the Menil Collection’s iconic Gray, as well as both a large scale painting, and a small canvas. The two works on canvas are made in the artist’s laboriously rendered, kitsch and home décor inspired representational style. The exhibition also includes a participatory, performative text based tattoo piece by Darren Bader, represented by a copy of Jane Eyre from which the tattoo’s text is derived.
PHANTASMAGORIA takes its title and central organizing theme from Walter Benjamin’s seminal Arcades Project, an unfinished work of cultural-criticism, focused on the conditions of Parisian life in the 19th century. Benjamin’s idea of phantasmagoria references the 18th century form of Parisian theater that used a rear projected light display—famously called a magic lantern—to project ghostly, often menacing, shapes and caricatures to form hallucinatory and shadowy images for a captive audience. This process, a precursor to film, and now, video, was a compelling metaphor through which Benjamin critiqued the growing commodification of 19th century European society. Benjamin’s Arcades Project examined the many Parisian iron and glass covered shopping arcades; he likened these engrossing bazaars to Marx’s notion of the commodity fetish with shadowy allusions to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. More specifically, Benjamin appropriated the term and idea of phantasmagoria to connote an important cultural moment and a kind of hallucinatory human state in which commodities were glorified on a large, seemingly ever present stage, untethered to use-value or practicality. It was a shift in culture at which time our desires of and for ourselves were sold back to us via a phantasmagoric hall of distorted mirrors. Two examples of this are the Parisian Arcades and the emergent World’s Fair style exhibition.1
Benjamin’s focus on phantasmagoria has been written about and interpreted by numerous cultural theorists, writers, filmmakers and artists—Edward Bernays, Guy Debord, Harun Farocki, Susan Buck-Morss, Jacques Lacan, Chris Marker, and Cindy Sherman to name a few. PHANTASMAGORIA extends Benjamin’s ideas by examining the proliferation of constructed and fleeting images that pervade contemporary culture through the social and commercial applications of our personal digital devices, which are then projected onto the world through an incalculable number of screens.
In our current moment, social media, and in particular image based services like Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine, play a role akin to the 18th century phantasmagoric images of the magic lantern. With the fleeting, and often hyper-constructed, posed, edited and even simulated scenes, actions or appearances, applications such as Instagram offer a shadowy glimpse into the worlds in which users wish to live and the selves they desire to be. These devices offer a steady stream of micro-fictions, part fantasy and part reality, as a series of self-projected illusions.
This exhibition approaches Benjamin’s phantasmagoria and the current state of digital image (mediation) based information-sharing by juxtaposing two distinct bodies of work. First are Spencer Carmona’s paintings, which seem to be made with an indifference to how they appear in images and more specifically through digital images over social media. This indifference seems to promote the traditional process of in-person looking, which leads to various interpretations and associations. In stark contrast, Troemel and Citarella’s work through @uvproductionhouse is mostly concerned with the process of collective idea formation and is an implicit critique of consumer culture with a keen awareness of how digital media represents and proliferates images of artwork and consumer goods. The two have set up an Etsy shop which offers editions of custom objects, some of which are seemingly impossible to realize and others that are entirely unpractical and verge on the absurd. One such critical yet humorous object is Renounce Citizenship and State Affiliation emancipation government ID cards into guitar picks (Sovereign Citizen) revoke worldly government – a guitar pick made out of a valid ID card, which in turn renders the ID card invalid, and the guitar pick highly symbolic. Other works, like PINK HIMALAYAN sea salt MASON jar hourglass (time equivalent to one npr hourly newscast) which is comprised of two mason jars put together, top to top, as an hourglass, are both feasible and strangely practical. All the pieces are sold, on demand, via the online market place of Etsy. Each work comes in the form of a certificate and boxes, which contain all of the necessary materials to, or at least attempt to, construct the conceptual object. What is important about these works is that they are created, through an assemblage of readymade product images. All of the materials for these conceptual products that @uvproductionhouse compose are real and easily accessible and can be found on Amazon.com (or equivalent warehouse based shipping companies). The images of the @uvproductionhouse objects present as though they are authentic and useful, but in reality these products are, in most cases, consumable only in visual form as images rife with all the potential to go viral and as such the works present as a series of anti-readymade objects, constructed through a readymade conceptual practice.
In a reflexive twist, PHANTASMAGORIA is not publicized through images. There are and will not be any images issued of either the works in the space or of the installations. Visitors are not allowed to take or make image-based documentation of the exhibition. Should a visitor wish to post anything visual about the exhibition on social media, The Stolbun Collection will provide promotional documentation. This promotional documentation is an image of downtown Chicago taken from the 15th floor window of the gallery space with the exhibition’s graphic identity and title superimposed on the view.
With no visual documentation allowed, text, through a series of commissioned essays, is the only form of documentation. This strategy serves to frustrate and highlight the viewer’s expectations of an exhibition that pits social media friendly work in juxtaposition to relatively traditional painting. PHANTASMAGORIA asks viewers and participants to consider these questions: How do artists engage with digital image based forms of social media and does it affect how and why they make new work? What does dissemination mean and how does it change traditional notions of interpretation?
PHANTASMAGORIA, as part of an ongoing series of exhibitions that examine the tensions between emergent forms of artmaking and traditional practices, challenges viewers’ and artists’ notions of both artmaking and exhibition making and offers at least a glimmer of light behind the shadowy curtain of caricatures and fantasies that are contemporary society’s obsession with image based social media.
- A. Will Brown, Curator
1. Benjamin, Walter. “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century (Exposé of 1935).” The Arcades Project. Pg. 7: “World exhibitions glorify the exchange value of the commodity. They create a framework in which its use value recedes into the background. They open a phantasmagoria which a person enters in order to be distracted. The entertainment industry makes this easier by elevating the person to the level of the commodity. He surrenders to its manipulations while enjoying his alienation from himself and others.”