A Broken Mule

Hugh Scott-Douglas

January 16, 2014 – February 14, 2014
Gallery Closed :
Sunday, Monday, Public Holiday
Reception:January 16, 2014 18:00〜

Statement From Artist

Broken Mule begins with the artist’s wish to explore value systems by authoring art objects from alienated and expended materials and images. Two new bodies of work perpetuate the artist’s interest in image as a container of value, investment of labour, relationship between materials and constellation of various contingencies.

More specifically, these new works embrace the images that arise through (re)employing, as binaries in their making, the contingencies of their materials and the directness of their industrial production. These (reconstructed) images stand at a distance from their original narratives, functions and authors.

As a result, they provoke a subtle shift in our perception of the contemporary media-scape and our understanding of an object’s value by calling into question: the mechanisms of communication; the material substructures that influence our understanding of images and objects; and the dynamic interplay of their means of production and distribution. Ultimately, the artist’s aim is to put in place an optical device – a reflective surface – that induces a contemplative scrutiny of the image object and of the underlying mechanics of its value structure.

Broken Mule explores the paradox of creating new value through the destruction and reconstruction of existing images and materials. It comprises two new bodies of work, both photographic, of which one is wall bound, the other sculptural.

The mule, an offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, is of particular interest to the artist because of its hybrid nature. Interestingly, mules have 63 chromosomes, a mixture of the horse’s 64 and the donkey’s 62. Owing to their different structure and number, it is virtually impossible to pair up chromosomes properly and create successful embryos.
Indeed, there are no recorded cases of fertile mule stallions and only a few female mules have produced offspring, and then only when mated with a purebred horse or donkey. Essentially, mules cannot re-create themselves; they represent a productive endgame. While the mule lacks the standing and trade value of the horse, it comes with its courage and vigor as well as the patience, endurance, and economy of the donkey; as a consequence, mules offer their handlers new use value, as the optimal tool of productive labour. Mules exhibit a higher cognitive intelligence than either of their parent species.

Both bodies of work, in their very means of production, feature the motifs of, on the one hand, unnaturally combining or cross-breeding images and, on the other, employing materials beyond repair. While the recombination of materials gives birth to new images, the process renders them spent forces – sterile ingredients, unable to be further repurposed.

The seemingly conflicting referents and inconsistent sources of the new images reflect the tension between contemporary and antiquated modes of production and communication. They are, in short, “mules”: hybrid images and materials generated by grafting together, in an organic way, matter used previously in an entirely different mode. However, in these “hybrid” works, while the original materials are irreversibly broken, the “mule” has been invested with the ability to “work” in new ways. Although the original images and materials have been successfully recombined to produce hybrids forms, their material’s value is spent through its employment. They are as useless and broken as the tether that was once used to tie a mule to a post, once the handler decides to set the beast free. Paradoxically, the mule image that emerges from this cross-breeding carries new creative value. Although they are the offspring of a forced combination, these new pieces are as liberated as the untethered mule – full of new potential, new purpose and new value, both spatially and visually.

The wall bound pieces in Broken Mule feature letratone, a product developed by the Letraset company, based in the Kindsnorth Industrial Estate in Ashford Kent, in the UK. Founded in 1959, the company is known for introducing innovative media used by artists and designers. Initially, Letraset manufactured manually-transferable typefaces, which met with success until sometime in the early 1990s when computer graphics software appeared on the market, making manual typefaces obsolete. The company struggled with a few software packages and only regained widespread success in the early 2000s, when they shifted their focus to the growing Manga market.

In these pieces, the (DIY) artist’s use of letratone is transformative: he draws a character on paper and then applies the transparent adhesive sheet, which features a variety of tones. These tones suggest the affect generated from modes of photomechanical reproduction, namely the 4-color printing process. Through the implied mechanization of the DIYer’s hand, the work is able to shift its auratic value through a process of alienation. In effect, the authority of these “mule” works is brought about through the alienation of the initial value of the image. Value in these hybrid works is re-established while the material is completely expended in their development. The letratone sheet is removed from its backing by the artist and adhered directly to the floor of his studio, negating the possibility of using it as it was originally intended to be used.

The medium is wasted through this application, as its adhesive picks up any detritus on the floor that finds itself in the letratone’s path. This union, in effect, inscribes the material with a layer of waste, stripping the dust from its original context and breaking it from its natural narrative. This wasted material – irretrievably broken from the point of view of its initial properties – is then scanned and inflated, literally, both in terms of its scale and in terms of its resulting value. This activity of (re)formatting removes the artist, once again, from the equation: it objectifies and gives normative value to the content of the new image that various contingencies have alone imbedded in the material. The objectification or alienation resulting from the use of these spent materials in this way mirrors the effect of employing letratone in the manner in which it was originally meant to be used: it creates a fracture between the artist’s hand and his work.

When things die and then decay, heat is produced: dying images are no different. In the sculptural pieces featured in Broken Mule, the artist appropriates an object’s image, tearing it from its original narrative, both spatially and materially. This appropriation results in a “phantom tool”, a new image, which no longer maintains its old use value.

As this repurposing occurs, decay happens: there is a loss that accompanies the re-contextualization of the image. We are left with a (re)produced image that is both vacant and ornamental (one might say, broken) and yet strangely alluring and seemingly viral.
In these sculptural works, heat is intrinsic to their catalization, representing, metaphorically, the by-product of the death and decay of the original image. In the mechanical production of these pieces, a scanned image of a canceled stamp is applied as a patina to a wood substrate. The canceled stamp represents a spatial communication: an image that has facilitated the transmission of a communiqué from one party to another. Peeled from its original frame, an envelope, these stamps are sold on eBay to satisfy the needs of the collector – an individual who assembles these small image objects as trophies. A .tiff file drives a print head, applying a thick layer of ink to the substrate, while two UV light sources bake the inks to solidify them. Images gleaned from DIY educational sites, which guide users at home through the steps of assembling simple electronic devices, are removed from the sites, ripping them from their narrative. These images allude to a process but present only one step; in the absence of the complete enumeration of the necessary steps, the original object cannot be created. In effect, the guides have been sterilized in their new form.

These appropriated images are then sublimated with fabric inks into the surface of a poly-silk blend, and baked in a kiln to set and to ensure their archival legacy. These two sets of images, now boasting a material form, are then effectively “cross bred” through the use of a polyester resin. This is a two-part epoxy, which cures itself through generating its own heat when the two parts are combined.

The epoxy is slathered on the surface of the first print on wood, and then the poly-silk sheeting is laid on top while the epoxy is still wet. The poly-silk becomes saturated with the epoxy, causing the material to become almost transparent, not to mention utterly unable to being reused. This melding equally obfuscates and reveals the underlying image. The heat produced represents both the decay of the original image and the (pro)creation of a new art object. These 4×8 foot collages are then sent to a pedestal manufacturer with instructions to re-employ designs that have previously been made for other artists. Ultimately the recombined object is a pedestal that lacks its original sculpture, similar to the stamp that lacks its original envelope. What we ultimately see is a ghost of two images, a “mule” image, in which neither its antecedent hierarchy nor its previous application is completely legible due to the material inventiveness of the process behind their making. While the process renders fully impotent the materials used, the resulting image nonetheless demands our full attention.

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