Justin Berry and Chris Coy at CUAC
The 20th Century Fox icon, decked with spotlights on the family TV, can mean only one thing: the feature presentation is about to begin. It is a universal cue for anticipation. It signals the beginning of a story, one that will bring us through the whole dramatic arc and deliver us to a satisfying, blockbuster ending. Role credits, and send the kids to bed. It is this neat, conclusive, and above all satisfying procession from desire to fruition which artists Chris Coy and Justin Berry nip in the bud with their dual exhibitions, Real Sex and Active/Idle, at CUAC in Salt Lake City.
A flat screen TV in the center of the gallery shows the 20th Century Fox platform; the icon is missing, and the spotlights rotate silently, without purpose about the empty platform. Non-starter is perhaps the semantic center of Coy’s work. The title Real Sex refers presumably to a series of large “Deformer” paintings, in which the artist presents a digital grid, painted in Chroma Key Green (used for green screens), distorted by an underlying pornographic image. Try as the viewer might, he cannot discern the erotic scene. Yet its presence beneath the grid exerts a strong attraction nonetheless, drawing our attention across the myriad bends and folds of the grid, always pushing and sliding and drawing the attention somewhere else.
As in his video installation (21st Century, 2012), there is nowhere to go in Coy’s images, and ‘nothing to see.’ Yet we keep looking. It’s obvious that we’re supposed to, since a desire has been clearly indicated. Lacan speculated that desire needs suspension and withholding, that it would be extinguished as soon as was fulfilled. But in Coy’s works, which include quiet and ambiguous images of neon, something concealed behind the white blinds of a window, desire dies for lack of oxygen. The object of desire is too remote, too obscure, and the suspension becomes empty.
Justin Berry’s work effects a similarly indefinite pause, as it were, at the far opposite end of desire. His video game installation God Mode 1 (2015) shows a fearsome Skyrim character standing in a dark and barren landscape, assailed on all sides by wolves. The attacks of the wolves go on and on to no effect, since the character is protected in the so-called “God mode.” Here, a supreme human desire (immortality) has already been reached, and the suspension occurs at its climax. Strikingly, this arrest of progress is just as deflating and depressing as the non-starters in Real Sex. There is, it seems, little consolation in immortality. The drama of the scene, its stark colors, rugged landscape, the strength of the character, are all annulled by this banal timelessness.
Both exhibitions recall current media phenomena such as GIFs and vines, indefinite loops in which an active element becomes implicitly static, since it can only be repeated. Berry’s title Active/Idle suggests not just the shifting back and forth between two states, as in his video feed of Sonic the Hedgehog resting and surging up and resting again. Rather, this binary describes the treadmill nature of desire, in which we are always moving towards yet never making progress. Simultaneously active and idle is also the status of the viewer’s gaze in Coy’s pornographic “Distortions,” where the restless eye can neither pause nor arrive at anything. Many of the works, especially in Coy’s display, seem mismatched in a way that brings interpretation itself to an active/idle pause. There is, for instance, alongside the pink and blue image of a cartoon interior, a realistic painting of the prophet Joseph Smith receiving a divine pizza. But then conclusion is not part of this experience, and so any conclusive statement about the show is out of the question.
Chris Coy: Real Sex and Justin Berry: Active/Idle are on view at CUAC in Salt Lake City, Utah through March 13th. Images courtesy of CUAC.