Considering the Difference

Installation view of Gary-Ross Pastrana’s 99% at Silverlens, Gillman Barracks (Sg)

Gary Ross Pastrana’s 99% consists of two complementary components: a video documenting the process of selling a broken car for scrap, then using the earnings from roughly 99% of the parts to buy gold, which was then fashioned into an object, seen in the other component of the exhibition. Atop a pedestal at mo___, the golden object, no larger than the tip of my finger, is seen dangling from the 1% that is left of the car seen in the video. What Pastrana presents however is not commentary, but a narrative: a parable about the value assigned to objects which have lost their function, its subtlety eliminated in being re-imagined or reinterpreted within the space of the gallery.

Put simply, 99% forces the viewer to consider the difference between two different lumps of metal. Given the air of reverence, the quiet room, the shared pedestal – apparently, not much.

In another frequently cited parable, Marcel Duchamp took a porcelain urinal and called it Fountain (1917). A more conventional contribution can be found in a painting by Rene Magritte, telling us “This is a pipe.” Like most of Pastrana’s past work, 99% is a conceptual gesture – one that falls into neither the Dadaist or Surrealist categories, yet maintains their legacy by considering not only the distinction between objects and things of value, but through probing the difference between poetry and a practical joke.

The joke though is that there is no logic. Like most of the stuff we see in galleries and museums, Pastrana’s work appeals to aesthetic arguments. The work of a conceptual artist is no simple task, especially upon surveying how much is cynically passed off as “art” (or created for the sake of taking a jab at Art).

In the case of the aesthetic argument, consider the difficulty of using a visual medium to point out the immaterial. In attempts at reason, this is not a matter of validity, but of privilege or of coming to define reason as a product of logic – and not just any logic, it has to be scientific logic. Consider the difference again – the difference between art and science being less than we think.

Considering…I didn’t even really want to talk about 99%. I wanted to talk about shoes. No really, let’s just talk about shoes. Let’s talk about high heels! If we were to appeal to reason–to science!–high heels make absolutely no sense. There is no logical argument for wearing high heels. Looking at that statement however, I’m not saying wearing high heels is stupid, just that arguments for their necessity are stupid, precisely because–unless you live in 15th century Venice–they’re unnecessary.

The problem when it comes to aesthetic arguments though is that they have become so esoteric. Unnecessarily so, especially with the amount of unnecessary objects in our midst. When I say “I don’t like wearing high heels but I like the way they make my calves look. My high heels not only set me above the average height by about 8 inches, they have physically deformed my legs, and your average fashion magazine says it’s for the better.” this is not considered a valid argument, precisely because it appeals to aesthetics rather than logic–even if it is not without reason. While that is not the best example, it only serves to point out that the two require a different way of thinking. Unfortunately, even the act of “thinking” is automatically linked to logic.

This is not to consider the difference between aesthetics and scientific logic though, or gold and car parts, or high heels and flats and other things that give science a bad name. This is to point out the privilege granted to one and not the other that voids the immaterial of value, as if there is only one path to reason.

In which case, to hell with logic and the privilege it is automatically granted.

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