David Flaugher: Weekends and Holidays
January 24 – March 8, 2020
In his first solo exhibition at Lomex, Weekends and Holidays, David Flaugher presents an austere scene that manages to feel at once delicate and confrontational. The sparse installation consists of straightforward combinations of found objects and a suite of oil paintings depicting the faces of snowmen. A swath of decorative silver plastic on the floor forms a path that leads to a heavily worn set of steel patio furniture with rust eating away at its white paint. Three empty chairs flank a round table, each one at a slightly different angle. The place feels recently abandoned; a moment of leisure upended by an unspecified event. Nearby, a lawn ornament resembling a reindeer hangs unceremoniously by its head from the top of a free-standing metal coat rack. A single black coat hanger dangles from the deer’s foot. The room that Flaugher has assembled could almost pass as the quietly poetic aftermath of a house party in a suburban college town.
Flaugher leverages the power of ambiance to sensitize the viewer’s gaze, using trance-inducing lighting effects as a central component of this transformation. The enchantment begins as soon as you enter the exhibition with a flurry of pale-bluish light that unfurls itself across the wall facing the gallery entrance. The source of this hypnotic effect is a small light fixture lying face down on the carpet of patterned silver plastic. The beam of this snow light—a piece of holiday decoration designed to project the image of falling snow—scatters slowly across the room as it strikes the textured surface of the mylar below. This distorted reflection produces wispy ribbons of color that resemble the undulating movements of water, and dark film applied to the gallery windows allows these swirling bits of light to fill the room with a churning motion that is gorgeous and ominous at the same time. This atmosphere of precarious elegance becomes inseparable from our experience of Flaugher’s sculptures.
The reindeer hung from the coat rack is outlined with a white strand of Christmas lights that create a warm aura against the wall. Under this luminescent spell, I began to consider how the curved armature of this holiday creature echoed the contours of the rack it is mounted on. The yellowish glow of the lights softened the haphazard juxtaposition of the two objects that make up this work, allowing me to focus instead on the uncanny affinity that seemed to have developed between them. Despite their radically different uses, both reindeer and coat rack exemplify the unadorned efficiency of mass-market manufacturing. That the deer’s head had been separated from its body and hung askew felt mildly violent, but not particularly menacing. The implied pain of hanging it by its head felt like the necessary cost of the object’s elevation to the realm of sculpture. Suspending this seasonal decoration several feet above the ground reads as an act of care, venerating the broken ornament rather than disposing of it.
An accompanying text written by Flaugher raises the stakes of this installation’s eerie mood. The artist describes how his experience of cleaning out foreclosed homes in Detroit irreversibly altered his relationship to sculpture. Implying that these sculptures could be the abandoned possessions resulting from an eviction is a weighty gesture to make in a Chinatown art gallery, but it does not feel trivializing. The artist implicates himself by including references to his own family’s brush with foreclosure and alluding to his need to work a side gig on top of three teaching jobs. Flaugher’s project seems to be rooted in his sincere reverence for transient, discarded, or otherwise precarious objects. The sparsity of the installation allows him to bestow an abundance of attention on each element.
Another snow light sits atop the metal table, and projects its pattern at close range onto a patio chair. Dots of light move gently down the back of the chair and some continue onto its legs. Watching the slow journey of this pattern as it repeatedly traced the contours of the chair, I noticed myself savoring the simple shapes of steel. The moving light functioned as a guide, helping me to appreciate the subtle eccentricity of a rather unremarkable piece of furniture. This moment made me reflect on the logic of the readymade and wonder how exactly it operates in this work. The coat rack with the reindeer conforms to Duchamp's model: here Flaugher elevates everyday objects to the status of art by displaying them in a gallery. My moment of reverie with the patio chair, by contrast, comes from Flaugher’s choice to transform the gallery into a site charged with the looming threat of personal catastrophe. Bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, deportation, or any number of disruptive events could serve as the catalyst for a shift in perception. Imagining the decision of what to take with you in a moment of upheaval clarifies the role played by our possessions. Holiday decorations and patio furniture are the stuff we turn to in the hopes of being happier, together. The image of the snowman, the most temporary and modest of sculptures, stands as a reminder that the tenacity of ritual objects does not depend on the quality of their materials.