Inspiration Superhighway closes tomorrow!
Jacob Ciocci: Inspiration SuperHighway
Video installation and video paintings, cube videos and drawings.
The first question that comes to mind when seeing Jacob Ciocci's most recent show at Foxy Production is how, if at all, it differs from the work he has made with the collective Paper Rad. Were it not for the proliferation of independent comics, music and web projects by Paper Rad members Ben Jones, and Jessica Ciocci the viewing experience might be a kin to watching an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm for the first time and wondering what the hell Jerry Seinfeld ever contributed to anything. In this regard, a more appropriate comparison for the trio might be the painters Drew Beattie and Daniel Davidson, a now defunct West coast collaborative, whose paintings were so seamless it was impossible to know who painted what.
Since Jacob's art at least initially appears to have very few points of departure from the work he makes with Paper Rad, I naturally wanted to ask him about his first solo effort. “I actually don't think I am really working outside of the collective.” Says Ciocci, “Paper Rad is made up of my sister and my friend, and because of that, our ideas and motivations bleed into each other really naturally, since we are always hanging out or communicating or sharing. So half the ideas for my show are result of indirect collaboration. Because I work with a group, I have to think about what makes me unique within that group. This show is an example of that uniqueness, although there is a lot of crossover.” Jacob continues, siting specific examples in the show where his sister Jessica contributed work of her own to the show such as fake get-well self-help poems, and a care bear introduction to narrative that plays within large box/bedroom installation. “I like the idea that the story of the box character is somehow both wildly imaginary and autobiographical, and that those get-well cards are gifts from both an imaginary and a real sister…”
The narrative Ciocci references lays within the center piece of the show, a large box with an interior bedroom and various video panels, whereby threads from a loose story line are spun out and left for viewers to cobble together. Like much of the work in the show, the piece works with the concept of trying to find meaning within the chaotic. Inspiration Highway, the title of the exhibition, suggests a vaguely religious experience is part of this chaos. It is also, obviously a play on the term Information Superhighway, a term used in the '90s to describe the Internet.
“I like the idea of a character misunderstanding the term, and in his memory remembering it as inspiration“, says Ciocci, “or trying to use the absurd, retarded medium of the Internet for some sort of deep, real, even spiritual inspiration.” Certainly, if there is one thing the past tells us, it's that people getting things wrong can have just as interesting results as when they get them right. From the invention of penicillin, where the accidental spillage of some mold on an experiment saved millions, to some dude remembering information highway incorrectly and joining a yoga class, history gives us countless examples demonstrating the profound effects of reckless behaviour.
While the characters in Ciocci’s piece may be getting it wrong, the art itself is successful in drawing meaning from the excess it depicts. Exploring chaos is by no means a new to the art world, but there are a number of emerging artists who are producing interesting work with this concept. Matthew Ronay uses extreme sports injuries and porn imagery as a spring board for his work and recent Hunter graduate, Tara Giannini, has spent the last two years integrating taxidermy, gold Cherubims, and Mardi Gras beads into vanity boxes. While Giannini's paintings are much more about locating beauty within the grotesque than the work of Ciocci, (a tired topic were it not for such innovative investigation and successful execution), both use mass produced decor to create bizarrely iconic imagery. There is something absurdly funny about the mass of junk these artists manage to put together. Giannini presents stages for ridiculous raccoon and squirrel narratives to unfold, and Ciocci is busy lighting a large collection of trolls for posterity. Obviously, the work of both artists is as much about making fun of the idea “leaving a mark” as it is with creating work meant to be remembered.
Putting aside the mocking aspect of the work, the piece that will have the greatest longevity in Jacob’s show (conservation issues aside), is the large installation box. It is the most complex and layered work in the exhibition, and it also happens to be the most distinct from the collective, as the narrative is in part, built around Jacob's personal experiences. The cube is a bedroom adorned with trolls, knick knacks, six video screens, and a talking Christmas tree with evil eyes. Much of the video within this space is too complicated to draw a coherent story from, but that's the point. The working idea is that there is more knowledge and information presented than one person could possibly absorb or make sense of. The box concept introduced in the installation is contradiction similaneously representing all that is good and bad in the contemporary world. Ciocci creates a world so full of answers, the only truth that can be discerned is the one you locate for yourself.
Perhaps more interested in reconstructing ways people come to conclusions, the artist tells me,“I am very drawn to narratives that are about characters trying to sort through trauma or suffering by trying to apply some sort of puzzle logic, as if life is a riddle that has an “answer” or that there are certain secret messages you can remember that will solve your problems. This is like my experience as a kid playing fantasy video games and dungeon and dragons—the answer is out there if you climb the right ladders or open the right doorways you will find and, and get to “the next level” of life”
Short of integrating a game of Axis and Allies into his work I think it's safe to say that it doesn't get much more “boy” than this.
Even with the dreaded “boy art” title, the show is by all standards a success. Given Paper Rad's reputation for putting together smart and engaging shows, it's a surprise to no one that Jacob's show is excellent. The question in fact, was never if he would succeed, but to what degree. And what's great about this show, is not only meets, but exceeds high expectations. As it turns out Jacob Ciocci is among the select few, where the term ambitious project isn't also followed by gone wrong.
Update: Tom Moody has posted some great insights on the work here.