In the 1970s there were television commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that featured different kinds of people bumping into each other and contaminating each other’s snack. They can’t decide where to assign blame and eat the chocolate and peanut butter together anyway. Then, they agree that “the two great tastes go great together,” and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is born. A candy for the times.
It is a bid of optimism suggesting that people can come together out of struggle to create a better tomorrow. In the 1970s such sentiment was a little late in arriving as many people were already turning inward, away from the sad condition of the government, the military, the economy, and the nation’s major cities and institutions, all of which had been going like gang busters a generation before. The contemporary parallels are obvious and dire.
Evan Desmond Yee is a New York-based conceptual artist and sculptor. Work from his App Store series, which he showed this summer at Gallery 151 in Chelsea, is currently on view at the non-office offices of the Fueled Collective in SoHo, located at 568 Broadway, on the 11th floor of the Prince Street building.
The moment of uneasy pluralism in the Reese’s commercial, while the two people are still trading blame, is the balance point on which Yee’s installation at Fueled Collective is positioned. The two parties hashing it out over snacks are art and commerce. They are old sparring partners, and Yee’s installation has it’s roots in the first wave of New York Pop.
Yee’s App Store is comprised of sculptural works that employ the familiar aesthetic language of digital space and the technological devices whereby it is navigated. The work comments on the pervasiveness of such technology in shaping our daily existence and our expectations of the future.
Fueled is a company that makes sophisticated mobile apps for such distinguished clients as Porsche, Ducati, Proctor & Gamble, the Chicago Bulls, and Barney’s as well as various start-ups. Fueled is owned by a guy named Rameet Chawla who will definitely be getting a call if Wes Anderson ever remakes El Topo. Like the hirsute psychonauts and gurus of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, such as Ram Dass, Father Yod, and The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chawla’s look suggests visionary zen and transcendence of the corrupt material world.
An ancillary business run by Chawla and Fueled director and chief strategist Ryan Matzner, the Fueled Collective is 18,000 square feet of co-work space that houses approximately 35 start-ups. For 800 dollars a month, and a three-month minimum, you can rent some space, thus joining the Collective, one of the most expensive of its kind. According to their website, the fee grants 24-hour access to the space, which is described as “a mash-up of old world aesthetic, high-tech nerd chic, and SoHo style,” and all its amenities, including “free ice-cream, snacks, and drinks… gourmet coffee brewed throughout the day,” a “totally rad ping-pong table,” and a “dope chillout couch.”
They pride themselves for their fashion sense: “Antiques meet with digital equipment to create a style that is all our own.” Chawla himself designed and hand-built some of the Collective’s lighting fixtures. Chawla’s persona and the style of his Collective express the character of the future in the language of 1970s fatalism.
By the mid-1970s the promises of modernity, as embodied in modern mid-century design, had not panned out. Not only had Viet Nam and Watergate been major bummers, the economy was bad, and there were regular shortages of resources and commodities. Years of scarcity and failure resulted in a desire for nesting, gathering, and collecting. Then as now, salvaged items and antiques are associated with security, authenticity, and a resistance to depersonalizing mechanization. Business Insider gushes that even “the candy choices reflect the vintage feel” of the Fueled Collective.
Into this earnest, comforting, and self-consciously adolescent context comes Evan Desmond Yee’s dark sarcasm, to borrow a phrase from 1970s pop music doom sayers Pink Floyd.
Works from Yee’s App Store series that are on view at Fueled Collective include iSimilate, a replica of an iPhone frozen on its home screen, and #Filters and #NoFilters which are Wayfarer frames cast in brass with and without lenses. Kaleidogram, is a kaleidoscope that is designed to fit over an iPhone camera lens and can also be worn as a pendant. Replica is a painting of a QR code that requires a mobile device to reveal its image.
Nocuous Rift is another interactive work that dramatizes the act of looking and requires not just one, but two iPhones. Made of hot glue, cardboard and duct tape and then cast in heavy aluminum, the crude looking apparatus “creates a 3-D retina display version of our own,” according to Yee’s website.
In other works, familiar tech icons related to waiting and loading are given kinetic sculptural renderings suggestive of clocks and indicate the link between technology, time and mortality. Chasing Eternity and Fallen Cloud are direct reminders that while we passively tend to digital devices, life passes by. iFlip is an hour glass in the shape of an iPhone; the sand is made of ground up iPhones. Yee’s solid metal objects confront and undercut the comfortable space where digital tools shape the ephemeral yet everlasting miasma of “content.”
The App Store is described plentifully on Yee’s website in the SEO-savvy syntax of marketing. It’s very easy to find explanations of the work- how it’s made and the ideas that inform each piece. This marketing includes professional photography of Yee eagerly discussing his work with people, and deadpan, satirical promo videos. Such tactics are part of the conceptual trappings of the work, but the blurred lines erase some sense of what’s at stake for Yee personally.
In late 1961, Clause Oldenburg rented a store front on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sold his sculptures, which were replicas of mundane retail items. The exhibition was called The Store. It wasn’t just about objects and stores, it was about consumption and the artist as self-promoter. Yee’s art historical lineage extends at least that far and includes such contemporary pitch-men as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
The commercial art gallery business, like the leasing of office space or any other free market enterprise, is predicated on exploitation and the assurance that the house always wins. It is ironic that Chawla’s money, made in part by facilitating start-ups, affords Yee a venue for his critique of start-up culture. However, the Fueled Collective isn’t a traditional commercial art gallery, and it doesn’t even call itself an office. Whatever it is, go there, and look through the magic glasses and grab some snacks while there’s still chocolate and peanut butter everywhere.