“Hydrate and Perform,” one part of a two-part solo exhibition of the work of Tobias Madison at the Swiss Institute, features sculptures and prints which function as synthetic visions of the natural world.
The sculptures in the exhibition are divided into a pair of categories:
1. Translucent horizontal cubes which are filled with a variety of colors of Vitamin Water.
In approximately half of these tanks the artist has placed artificial bamboo shoots which poke out of the tops of the tanks.
The effect of these bamboo shoots is to both frustrate the strict cubic linearity of the sculpture and compound the sense of artificiality introduced into the work through the use of the Vitamin Water.
2. Translucent vertical cubes which are filled top-to-bottom with claustrophobically-confined, paint-splattered artificial plant arrangements.
These cubes are supported upon minimal vertical bases–the surfaces of which are combinations of various faux wood patterns.
The prints in the exhibition, likewise, are divided into a pair of categories:
1. A series of large, framed scans of compact discs which have been digitally-manipulated to appear as though they have melted and spilled down the page like paint spilling down a canvas.
2. Several un-framed prints of similarly digitally-manipulated imagery which is no longer legible as the representation of any particular object–it reads not as a melting CD, but rather as the melting effect itself.
In combination, these sculptures and prints frame not just the artificiality of natural elements and phenomena, but–through their aestheticized/fetishized presentation—frame the desire for artificiality itself wherein artificial water is more desirable than actual water and the effect of “liquification” overruns the effect’s functional representational application.
However, there is another (perhaps unanticipated) formal element occurring here which is worth mentioning.
In the tanks of Vitamin Water, one views blocks of colorful, über-artifical water–yes; however, one also views the accumulation of dust and debris which has gathered in the corners and walls of the tank, disrupting the vision of total, almost evil, artificial cleanliness.
This trace of naturally-occurring entropic process is, like the dust “breeding” on Duchamp’s Large Glass as photographed by Man Ray or Smithson’s vision of crumbling cinematic apparatus, a death mask—a reminder that even the hyper-virtualized quality of contemporary experience is always already a ruin.