The Postmasters Gallery’s arched storefront entrance on Franklin Street in New York City’s Financial District conjures an era long gone, when artists inhabited the raw lofts of the area. High ceilings with brick and rustic Corinthian columns belie the sleek high-rise trend seeping into the city, which aptly form the setting of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s latest exhibition, BROKER.
Well-loved for their maquettes often featuring live video feeds, the McCoys bring viewers physically into the diorama with BROKER, a mediation on humanity and technology. The installation consists of three elements: a billboard-scaled projection looping, at turns, the hypnotic and suspenseful video BROKER (2016); a 5/7” scaled kitchen from the apartment in the video with motion-triggered live feed on monitors; and a radiant collection of cast glass sculptures. Exploring the semiotics of luxury cued from consumer-driven merchandising, BROKER discloses a suspicion towards the promises of perfection via technology.
The video BROKER opens with performance artist and theater actress, Gillian Chadsey, rehearsing her lines meticulously as a real estate broker, while subtly adjusting the furnishings in time for arriving buyers. She details its local milling and custom crafting with bespoke “design inspired by a vintage coffee machine.” As the film follows the broker’s constantly surveilled movement through the space, we enter a present that is the imagined future forewarned by science fiction films like Arthur C. Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca. She is a component of the luxury “sky-couture” apartment. Visual and audio glitches masterfully skid into a meditative spa soundtrack, mixed by Lori Scacco, and signify the suspicion of losing one’s humanity to reliance on Big Brother, homogeny, and robots, leading to the impeding break down of the machine. In an eerie auto-tuned voice, the broker begins The Mineral Water Song, explaining how to scientifically influence others directly to camera, which hovers through the open living room in a slow-float, tracking shot. Her enduring eye contact and unwavering slight smile are alarming and mesmerizing, perfectly blending an automatonic delivery with restrained responses of confusion and surprise. Chadsey’s android-like performance suggests an absence—the kind of distracted presence one might imagine of the people with the shells in their ears in Fahrenheit 451.
Like a love note passed during 1984’s mandatory Two Minutes of Hate, a drawing of two figures fused on vellum by Geoffrey Chadsey, the actress’s brother, floats in a corridor and jars the broker. She hides around the corner, unnerved, and intrigued. Gradually, vivid paintings by Angela Dufresne entice the broker to consider them closely. The paintings are the crack in the wall from Doctor Who alerting to parallel realities and materialize on the bedroom floor to disrupt the network that is completely running her life. They reveal the inhumanity of it all, and as the film implores, “let us look at the elements of luxury deployed here at this time.” The broker starts to examine herself, as if recalling that she’s human for the first time, and begins to unravel. Her actions are irrational, exaggerated, and uncomfortable. There is a momentary relief in her return to humanity, but she is in too deep, as she licks up a water glass circle of perspiration and scrapes up lint from the rug on her hands and knees. Her purpose is in service of the network, and the apartment dominates. Art, along with its individualism, inquiry, and wakefulness, are overpowered by Big Brother. The apartment is so blank it’s vapid and so custom it’s cookie-cutter, fulfilling an extreme of today’s lifestyle brands. BROKER takes homogenizing luxury for an economic elite to a logical extreme. It’s hard not to read this work in the context of millionaire real estate mogul turned reality TV star becoming the president-elect.
Turning away from the video, the viewer enters Five Sevenths (2016), the 5/7” scaled replica of the kitchen in the video. The piece is awakened by motion and relays images of people around the room onto nearby screens, amplifying and highlighting the unsettling omnipresent surveillance of a high-tech existence. Five Sevenths brings the intrigue of intimate surveillance to a bodily awareness for the viewer. It’s enjoyable to explore and observe while interacting with the piece, much like a child’s game as the scale suggests. Stepping back, it underlines the foreboding message in the video, as one imagines being under a constant eye while doing mundane home activities like taking a glass of water from the tap.
Greeting the viewer at the doorway of the show, the cast glass works, Onsro (2016), Adeline (2016), and Calloway (2016), stand as vestiges of the other two works. As Jennifer McCoy explains, the sculptures are the artists’ musings on what the glassware stock at Barney’s or in the ads of catalog glossies would look like in a post-apocalyptic crash of the revolution against the empty banality of cookie-cutter luxury and surveillance—when the conveniences of a fridge that is restocked with mineral water via a surveillance camera is out-weighed by the soul-crushing, deafening silence of the “lifestyle echo-chamber.” Broken and melted into the ground space and spot lit, Onsro, Adeline, and Calloway lure the viewer for closer inspection upon departure. They hold the beauty of finely etched geometric crystalline surfaces dispersed with the splendid, chaotic line of breakage: the beauty, the relief of a broken line.
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy: BROKER is on view at Postmasters Gallery in New York through November 26, 2016.