“All things resist being written down,” Franz Kafka writes in an October 13, 1913 diary entry.  Joey Versoza’s 2011artworks survey that resistance – objects refusing to go along with meaning, and meaning finding its way out of the experience of seeing.  It’s hermeneutics in reverse:  what’s in the gallery space is a visual language divorced from imagery, and imagery trying very hard to eliminate interpretation, both literal and figurative.

There are moments in “Do You Make Work?,” his exhibit at Aisle Gallery (closing June 25, 2011) in which Versoza accomplishes incredible feats of mystical nonsense.  This is the highest praise I can give him.  He uses “things” to philosophize about where meaning ends and poetic purity begins.  “Nonsense” is his elegant endgame.   In fact, “poetic purity” and “nonsense” in Versoza’s case are about relinquishing the propensity to make things “mean,” and to push his visuals toward a point where seeing is alien and experiencing the world becomes a whole new (and freaky) enterprise.

Case in point:  “Slimeless Portraits,” digital prints of kids on a Nickelodeon game show from the 1980s in which slime is being poured down on them.  The slime in Versoza’s prints (and world) has been erased, but the expressions and the slime’s impact remains.  The erasure has an amateurish sweetness to it.  You can see the edges of the invisibility Versoza impinged, metallic and corny.  Poignancy shines from the kids’ splashed faces:  they don’t know there’s no slime there.  All they seem to understand is that they’ve been slimed and everyone is laughing, kind of like when Carrie gets hit with the bucket of pig’s blood at the prom, except there’s no pig’s blood.  That’s their whole universe in the moment Versoza has chosen to represent them.

Versoza isn’t playing an existential prank though.  He is trying to let us in on a secret.  This secret is about reality losing its omniscience, its power both in art and in life to control perception, and in that secrecy is where the kids on Nickelodeon, and all of us looking at them, live.  We live through a constant trauma of slime that no one else can see.

I just applied my own meaning to Versoza’s meaninglessness, even though the “Slimeless Portraits” “resist,” in Kafka’s words, “being written down.”  They have such an essential absurdity they graft onto your thoughts like telepathic tendrils from a David Cronenberg film (Videodrome and Scanners come to mind):  odd, original and real, fulfilling a creepy, intricately imagined prophecy that yields only doom and distance.  But the “Slimeless Portraits” are also pregnant with promise – and, like those Cronenberg movies, addictively ontological yet beautifully lowbrow.

“Eclipse,” an installation in Aisle’s main gallery space, is a pointblank foam-core eclipse of the windows.  Rectangles shoved up against the glass leave slight edges of daylight that gleam through.  The elegance and simplicity take art away from “art,” and the functionality becomes a source of repose.  The main gallery houses two other pieces by Versoza:  “All over at Once,” a digital video, and “Defeated Warhol Pillows,” deflated silver Mylar balloons.  “Eclipse” gives the room a claustrophobic vibe, allowing the video to glow, the Mylar to glimmer.  The end result is that all three pieces become one moment.

The video is a sideways look at a tree blowing in the wind; perception itself is turned on its head, giving the tree super-powers as it transforms into a hydra, or internal organs, or just some abstract organism panting into life.  The “Warhol” piece is large litter, the tinfoil residue of two giant pieces of Wrigley’s gum, or ripped-off silvery wings (maybe Andy’s).  The space does not turn into a dream as much as a collage of a dream.  It feels as if you’re inside someone’s head as they desperately try to re-imagine a dream while the dream itself fades and becomes eclipsed by its own inertia.   All the objects coalesce and conspire.  This isn’t a funhouse.  It’s a sad little flotilla of objects cruising to a stop, refusing to be in the same fleet, but coexisting in dreamland long enough to cause seasickness.

From that same Kafka diary entry:  “I notice that I am afraid of the almost physical strain of the effort to remember, afraid of the pain beneath which the floor of the thoughtless vacuum of the mind slowly opens up, or even merely heaves up a little in preparation.”

Versoza’s art gets rid of the metaphorical floor Kafka is writing about, and while his aesthetic is not Kafkaesque (what an overused adjective anyway) it does allow for Kafka’s fear to be realized to the point it is no longer fear but a method:  take the thoughtlessness of the world and  re-imagine it as necessity, the fuel for a philosophy.  Take the slime away but the pain remains.  There’s something completely truthful, yet completely menacing, in his approach, like a lot of Kafka’s oeuvre.  In Versoza’s world, however, Gregor Samsa goes to sleep and wakes up transformed into a bug, and then the bug hits the alarm and goes back to sleep.  The all important metamorphosis is sublimely erased.

– Keith Banner

Joey Versoza’s “Do You Make Work?” is on view at AISLE.  424 Findlay St. Third Floor. Cincinnati, Ohio, 45214. 513-241-3403  Closing reception to be held Friday June 24th, 2011 6-9pm.



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