Simone Subal Gallery

Erika Vogt


May 10 to June 21, 2015


I first saw Slug in the studio while visiting Erika in Los Angeles. I opened the door and immediately encountered a line of clothes racks that acted as both frames and support structures to a series of sculptures. Initially read as a single image — a dense tangle of material — they expanded to become an assemblage of objects as I moved into and around the room. I experienced Slug first as a nod to the theatrical, given that the last project we worked on together, The Artist Theater Program, involved not only similar racks to move the props on stage but also a presentation of artworks sequentially in the progressive time of a play’s scenes. In addition, that project had required the scaling-up of her sculptures from the somewhat hand-scaled to full-bodied, a quality that Slug seemed to turn on. In that regard, I was struck by how the theatrical had transposed itself into these actor-less works, from the literal use of the clothes racks to its logic of staging and sequence. Now was the time for them to move into the spotlight, racks, ropes, and all.

On reflection since that viewing, it has become clearer just how much Slug simultaneously invites opposing readings. Initially we read them in series, dramaturgically in the successive sense, but only up to a point. The density and relation of the “sculpture-racks” to each other certainly points towards a unified object, one to be read as a single multi-layered sculpture, as with the flurries of superimpositions in her moving image works. However, in resistance to this narrative there is certainly no obvious sense, progression or advance. The unifying motif is all we have: the slug. The slug who not only provides the title of the exhibition and this particular series of works but whose quite literal image is presented as a real photographic likeness inching across the monitor and as a hand-drawn image in print. It is this emblem with its polyvalent meanings and reproductive doubling that takes our hand and provides the key.

Just what are those meanings? There is the oblique reference to the interval, the black space you add in video editing programs between frames, but a slug also engenders a form of resistance: a heavy blow, a bullet, a defiant sluggishness. Yet, this challenge is paradoxical. Take a turn around the sculptures and behind the highly finished, confidently boisterous facades (be it shiny rubberized blue or a dense Tàpies-esque ground). Each has a verso that betrays its material production, the other Janus face marking its past, the artist’s hand and means of production inscribed in its material. The racks and sculptures enclose the slug. They care for it, even monumentalize it. We encounter the slug as if behind a gate, the frame and surrounding objects acting as a barrier to a malevolent salt-wielding child.

After our first meeting a few years ago, Erika sent me a copy of Anne Carson’s Economy of the Unlost, the last of the author’s books I was yet to read and which signaled a comforting common sensibility. Like most good gifts, the book seemed to be not only a gesture of thanks from my guest, but equally a lens through which to understand her thought and her work. The book tracks the transition of the ancient Greek gift economy to the rise of currency-usage through the Marxist perspective of alienation, one that transforms the object from non-objective and reciprocal to a capitalist commodity. Through the gesture of the gift, Erika communicated this fundamental connection, one that prefigures commodification or resists the underlying social structure that colors artist-curator interactions, closer to what (as Carson explains) the Greeks called a “symbolon” or “a sign of mutual obligation between friends.”[1]

To read Slug through this gift of words (albeit someone else’s) as “an extension of the interior life of the giver, both in space and time, into the interior life of the receiver”[2] allows us to perceive the slug in its dialectical sense: as a $50 gold coin, for sure, but also its opposite, a counterfeit, a token used to subvert a slot machine’s understanding of exchange value. We experience Slug as the implicit trace of productive activity, but it also transforms us (the viewer) into the slug, the interval between things, the breath or gap. “But blank lines do not say nothing,” as Carson writes.[3]

Through her work, Vogt attempts to gesture towards community. Not in the educational sense or what we conflate with “social practice” as an institutional turn, but in the old way, the way it used to mean friendship, comradeship, living and working together. The sculptures shade, point, protect and interact with each other, creating new perspectives on and for one another. Bringing to mind Shelly Silver’s Things I forgot to tell myself, in which the filmmaker’s scrunched up hand forms an aperture through which we see the city, we should read Slug together. It is through their implied social relation that these objects reveal sincerity. Vogt refuses to take the stance of either cynical embrace or pseudo-rebellious anti-art, meaning there is instead an untypical openness to the work. It yearns to protect, to support.

Vogt’s artworks resist metaphor, and they certainly resist categorization. They demand us to move around and through them, to curiously encounter them as if passing through ornate metal gates. They demand bodies. They manage to present process, production and transformation within a single space and in one viewing. We must activate in time the ambiguity of value in the sculpture and/or prop dilemma.

At the time of our first meeting, Erika was making Darker Imposter, a tightly layered and rhythmic video that combined animated and hand-drawn images with footage of hand-manipulated objects. Although impossible to divorce from the structuralism of her moving image works, one experiences Slug not as flattened and fast but rather in real time and in ever-expanding space. Slug is opposed to the proscenium stage and its captive audience with its props and illusions, as it turns our value-experience on its head. You “see” them differently here. Together.

— Victoria Brooks, 2015

Victoria Brooks is curator of time-based visual art at Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

Vogt was born in 1973 in East Newark, NJ and lives and works in Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions include: EMPAC, Troy (2014); Hepworth Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK (2014); Triangle France, Marseilles, France (2014); New Museum, New York, NY (2013); Simone Subal Gallery, New York, NY (2012); Overduin & Kite, Los Angeles (2010); Room Gallery, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, CA (2010); and Daniel Hug, Los Angeles, CA (2008). Selected group shows and screenings include: The Drawing Room, London (2015); University of California, San Diego, CA (2014); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (2013); Simone Subal Gallery, New York, NY (2013); Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, OR (2012); MFC – Michèle Didier, Paris, France (2012); Foam, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2011); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (2011); Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA (2010); Wallspace, New York, NY (2010); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2010); Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY (2009); California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2008); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO (2008); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2007); Centre d’art contemporain, Bignan, France (2007); Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (2006); Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2006); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2006).

[1] Carson, Anne. Economy of the Unlost (Princeton University Press: 1999), 18
[2] ibid, 18
[3] Carson, Anne. “The Glass Essay,” in Glass, Irony and God (New Directions:
1992), 20