Want a balanced life? Try sorting work, family and friends – or, per the unsentimental title of Seth Price’s latest show, ‘Wrok Fmaily Freidns’. Like any serious artist, Price seems to favour the first. At the show’s heart is a maze of construction barriers made from railroad ties, two-by-fours and orange netting. In its rough-cut alcoves hang collages made from chunks of plywood, paint, and aluminium and vinyl offcuts. Titled ‘scraps’ and ‘tests’, all are provisional ‘works in progress’. Achievement Scrap (2015) is a pair of commercial plastic prints of skateboarders Price found in the trash and ‘tagged’ with the all-caps declaration: ‘WARNING: MAXIMUM BADASSNESS ACHIEVED.’ Cringe all you want; when Price rebrands ‘waste’ as ‘practice’ – packaging and selling discarded products as ‘raw’ art – such acculturated irony is the touch that makes it work.
Commercial imaging materials are never far from advertising. Flanking the show’s entrance are Disidentified Multinational (V1) and (V2) (both 2015), which the checklist calls a pair of ‘UV-cured prints on wood-fibre veneer’. Repeated across their surfaces is the sans-serif word ‘Alphabet’ – not merely a bland placeholder but the corporate moniker of Alphabet Inc., the newly formed parent company of Google. The text’s watermark grey evokes the security patterns printed inside sensitive mail – one of Price’s staple motifs. Nearby, mounted to a plywood sheet, is the polymer image of a flayed business envelope (Design for Multiethnic Envelope, 2015), the interior of which is silkscreened in a full range of skin tones. Elsewhere, in Skin Color Test Scrap (2015), a smear of acrylic polymer on board is patterned with a finger’s blotchy whorls. Price’s stylistic signature here comprises the fine-grained identifiers of white-collar drudgery – prints, brands, patterns – on a blue-collar ground.
‘Wrok, Fmaily, Freidns’ – who can have it all? The show’s title adopts the bad but legible diction of junk mail, perhaps to cram the wholesome trinity into one body and then slip it past the filters. Price has also created his own grinning, multitasking Mascot: a pencil-bearing, hermaphroditic glob. Like any good logo, Price’s Mascot can self-reproduce. Versions of the doubly ‘graphic’ drawing recur on CNC-routed aluminium furniture (such as Mascot on a Table, 2015) and among rough paint swatches (as in Logo Test Scrap, 2015). In Interior Life/Hot Dog With Mustard (2015), tiny Mascots populate a taupe and yellow security pattern inside another oversize, splayed envelope.
Beyond the barriers, sections of PVC pipe are laid out as neatly as a pack of hotdogs, their bell ends alternating (Waste Pipe Overflow Stock, 2016), joined in a cross (Waste Pipe Test, 2016) or stood on end (Waste Pipe Vertical, 2016). Each length or elbow is covered with a black-on-white vinyl wrap densely patterned with leering Mascots. The sculptures are a cruel metaphor for the human condition: fetishized surface on the outside, and inside, a glorified tube. Recuperated as vaguely minimalist sculptures and comprehensively branded, these works are both trash and commodity, casual and calculated, cynical and desperate.
Price’s take would be grim indeed, if not for a quartet of panoramic light boxes mounted to the back wall, showing the magnified skin of (and titled after) respondents to a Craigslist ad – ‘Freidns’ of a sad sort. The images have been digitally stitched together, patch by tiny patch, from thousands of hi-res photos of each person’s arm: a fractal composite whose forking peaks and valleys coldly recall the show’s CNC-routed furniture and orange mesh. Yet, their affective finish makes these works seem almost tender, as in Danny (2015), where the top edge of the skinscape slips, beachlike, under inky waters. Such emphatic beauty weighs down the easy pretensions of ‘Wrok, Fmaily and Freidns’, as if to merge these categories within the fecund sociality of art. Price’s Mascot wants to be everything to everyone – but is human, after all.
First published in Issue 179