Rindon Johnson: Law of Large Numbers
March 25 – August 2, 2021
Queens, New York
The rawhide skin of a whole cow hangs from paracord rigging over the entrance to SculptureCenter. It sags in the middle, heavy with rainwater from the previous night that stains it with dark lines as a dingy residue settles to its bottom. Suspended beneath a cloudless blue sky, the dryer parts of the hide glow yellow and beige in the afternoon sun. Sourced in North Carolina, it arrived at SculptureCenter in January, and was left to age and react with the elements in the museum’s courtyard for a few months before being incorporated into Rindon Johnson’s 2021 work, For example, collect the water just to see it pool there above your head. Don’t be a Fucking Hero!. Standing directly beneath the installation, I weigh the possibility of the skin splitting, its contents bursting onto the pavement or perhaps a bystander like myself against its apparent ability to stretch and change, the way it softens into something pliant in response to the water it holds.
Water contained and lost is a unifying theme throughout Law of Large Numbers: Our Bodies, an exhibition of Johnson’s work which will be followed by a companion show, Law of Large Numbers: Our Selves, at Chisenhale Gallery, London, later this fall. Gathering materials that are aged, processed, transmuted, and repurposed, Johnson does not set his focus on fixed objects but in the way things evolve over time. Elaborately titled (the artist is also a poet and writer), the histories of what makes up each piece carry as much importance as their present-day forms.
Inside the lobby, the artist has replaced the doors that lead to SculptureCenter’s courtyard with panels of mouth-blown stained glass. Titled in part by a John Giorno poem, Floating through the canyon, through the canyon, through the canyon, the Peace of Martial Law, the PEACE of Martial Law, the canyon walls are 2000 feet high, 2000 feet high, 2000 feet high, some rose-colored glasses, some rose-colored glasses, it is only a matter of time. No, this thing and not the other thing either. CREEK! It’s only a matter of time. Find me inside, many of us were scared, but after they ate a pizza from the backpack of a man who was taking a swim, they were looking for dessert. They found the bag and decided to take it away (2021) takes its nuanced palette from variations in the skin tone of the artist’s friend Rose. Johnson intersperses what are literally Rose-colored panes with a cobalt blue mapping of the New York City Watershed, a system which purges rainwater and snowmelt from the Catskills to provide the city with clean drinking water on a daily basis. The cobalt blue zigs like a vein through the beige glass as the intimacy of the body folds in and around the knowledge of this system in which hidden sources of water are coaxed into the machinations of urban engineering.
In Coeval Proposition #1: Tear down so as to make flat with the Ground or The *Trans America Building DISMANTLE EVERYTHING (2021–ongoing), Johnson, a trans man originally from the Bay Area, reimagines San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid as a monument for the historically underrepresented community of trans Americans. Reclaimed redwood from an old New York water tower is reformed into two pyramid frames that stand one inverted into the other. The structure is joined by hand and the wood has been ebonized to a blackness said to reflect the artist’s skin tones in certain light. The work traces Johnson’s ongoing questions of identity and belonging, playfully asking, where are we from? Void of walls or floors, its open form carries a feeling of possibility.
Considering his dual exhibitions in New York and London, Johnson traced the midpoint between them to an area in the North Atlantic Ocean now occupied by a phenomena known as the “cold blob,” a growing mass of cold water from melting ice caps that increasingly slows down the movement of the gulf stream to the detriment of the planet. In Coeval Proposition #2: Last Year’s Atlantic, or You look really good, you look like you pretended like nothing ever happened, or a Weakening (2021), he translates weather data from this unfolding catastrophe into moving imagery of undulating waves. Screening on a large monitor laid plinth-like on the floor of a small, dark gallery, the video installation reflects atmospheric conditions from the previous year. On the day I visited, a birds-eye view showed white waves breaking over indigo water. Flashes of light—CGI rain?—fell like stars through the frame. The image cut to a view from an undisclosed point in which a silvery horizon line neatly dissected sea and sky. Standing in the quiet room, my awareness of the destruction of the data charts fell away; I was numbed by the lull of the image as the law of large numbers, the theory that many samples of the same experiment will lead to expected results, proved itself true.