Gray Wielebinski: Mayhem in Mayfair
A Dog Pees on Things for More than One Reason (2018) is Gray Wielebinski's most recent installation, presented as part of the artist's MFA graduate show at the Slade earlier this year and recently adapted for Gazelli Art House's exhibition, Window Project 2012-2018. The latter showcased a selection of art chosen from an international open call for graduate work over the past six years, presented in partnership with AucArt. Amongst the motley cast of exhibited art, Wielebinski's made the strongest impression, not least for its daringly prolific use of objects and materials: soft-sculpture, ceramic cups (abdominal guards); underwear; baseball cards; baseball bats; textile; video; performance.
Gray Wielebinski, A Dog Pees On Things For More Than One Reason, Gazelli Art House, London (3 August–1 September 2018). Courtesy Gazelli Art House.
At street level, the installation's titular video played on an old style CRT television set located in Gazelli Art House's window. In this 23-minute-long video, performers Chester Hayes and Ted Rogers cavorted, gyrated and embraced, dressed in little more than a pair of custom jockstraps by the London-based stylist, Hannah Hopkins. The duo channeled that much-loved gay archetype, the go-go dancer, in a performance pitched between hypermasculine parody and queer role-play. Like Carolee Schneemann meeting Holly Blakey by way of Dalston Superstore, theirs was a seductive, riotous affair. (Unsurprisingly, Hayes and Rogers, both dancers for the aforementioned Blakey, are regular entertainers on London's queer nightlife circuit.)
On the evening of Window Project 2012-2018's opening, it was this boisterous pair that I saw first at the gallery's entrance, again in custom jock straps and not much else, providing a seductively louche counterpoint to the starched formality of Mayfair's porters and doorkeepers. In both video and performance, Hayes and Rogers pour luridly-coloured liquids from plastic bottles onto a tower of champagne glasses; the tower eventually collapses in the live performance, transporting us from the party to an aftermath of spilled mystery-concoctions and trails of broken glass.
The rest of Wielebinski's installation continued to exert its own unruly energy long after the performance. On Gazelli Art House's first floor, a patchwork denim 'quilt' hung from the ceiling like an outsize, makeshift curtain for the gallery's window. The view from street-level belied the work's detail: rough-hewn edges and zigzag stitching rendered in bright orange thread by the artist's own hand. And in amongst its many pieces of denim, baseball cards—collected by the artist from ages seven to fifteen—had been sutured to the fabric. On certain cards, parts of the players' bodies were obscured by stitching, on others, decorative touches of paint served as embellishment. These totems of a typically 'American' sport had been repurposed as kitsch and sewn, badge-like, onto a hard-wearing (read: masculine) fabric in a conflicted nod to the cult of masculinity. Nearby, in the adjacent rooms on either side of the main first floor gallery, two baseball bats—one cast in resin, the other in concrete—were suspended from the ceiling, parallel to the floor. From one, a red baseball catcher's chest plate hung insouciantly, and from the other, offcuts of fabric crudely sewn into a loose triangular formation.
A Dog [...]'s overarching conceit reaches the height of its expression in Wielebinski's floor-to-ceiling vertical piece downstairs. This lively profusion of objects—jockstraps with tufts of candy floss-coloured fibres extending from the crotch; baseball cards sewn onto more jockstraps; metal carabiners; ceramic cups; shoelaces; denim; fur - encapsulates the ragtag spirit at the installation's playful, anarchic heart. In our email conversation, Wielebinski drew my attention to an earlier video (not included in this show) in which Chester Hayes destroys the artist's childhood baseball card collection, 'first by shredding them on screen and then [...] lighting them on fire.' Wielebenski further notes:
It is, in some way, Chester taunting, 'emasculating', and repulsing me while at the same time being sexual and alluring; I was thinking about my own relationship to white masculinity. [...] I am having my prized possessions destroyed [but] I am the one still "in control" and directing Chester. And since these baseball cards have become art objects, there is the idea of value and the fetish object being played with as well.
It is perhaps the four stuffed toys, made of baseball jerseys, that best embody the intractable challenge central to the show: exorcising the accoutrements of a masculine sporting culture while retaining the personal, filial connection that these objects carry for the artist. In his writing on 'transitional objects'—items to which infants attribute value and psychological comfort—the child psychologist D. W. Winnicott notes how '[they are] affectionately cuddled as well as excitedly loved and mutilated'. For the stuffed toys in this exhibition, made of variously collaged textiles, mutilation is more a precursor than a destiny; only through destruction have their constituent parts been brought together to make a new object.
In a recent interview, Wielebinski describes their original installation at the Slade as 'a dream-like queer locker room setting' built with an aim to 'reconsider ... how the locker room occupies our cultural imaginations.' Looking at the Texas-born, London- and Los Angeles-based artist's website, you get the sense of a skilled bricoleur reveling in the ambivalence of pastiche and the queer art of excess. And their most recent presentation—in all its irreverent, stylised glory—is no exception. —[O]