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Kristina Johnson, Director
Jehra Patrick, Founder

Surfac(e)(ing). A desire to move away from a verbal preloading of gesture and action, a move away from unidirectional hermeneutics of surface to interiority.

Sometimes it feels impossible to say anything. And what’s the sense in contriving something to say? There’s a rush within gestures that I can’t get from language, unless I’m kind of buzzed or something and I’m getting too old to be like that all the time. In recent years, I’ve lost my sense of preciousness. I've been having a lot more of those days where I change outfits two or three times and shower around 2pm. Even images begin to feel gestural, near ready-made, something like an armature in their own right and less of a final product.

There’s a progressive conversation happening between my works but not one of  “deepening” in the sense of content begging for reception from a studious and disciplined reader. Maybe it’s not even a conversation, and while I have aspirations– it's nothing as delicate as a dance. It’s akin to drawing a bath, pulling out the plug, and getting in while the water is draining.  Pretext evacuates and you sit there, shell on shell slowly drying.

Some of the works may be one-liners, but I’d hope, if you try to reiterate the punch line to a friend you’d find yourself at a sort of banal loss for words. Smack them, kiss them, give them a hug, rub their shoulders, turn away and sit back to back on the floor. “Social technology.” Pretext evacuates and maybe the thing to do is be there quietly, not even necessarily looking at each other.

–Calvin Hafermann

Just For Us is engulfed between the shimmering, far-off beauty of one’s ideals and the inarticulate banality in the succession of our days. The title is both deeply, viciously self-mocking and cynical, but also earnest in its intimate suggestion. The artwork on display captures a demeanor that resembles an aloof geniality, preserving aesthetic ties to Fine Art and Design as much as cosmic hyperbole. Once you delve deeper, past the aesthetics, it's hard not to wish for a few more distinguishing moments to hold onto. Maybe that’s an aspect of the artists, Sam Dirck and Calvin Hafermann’s well-developed gaze toward abstraction: one that sees the futility of overcrowding meaning, both personal and political, acknowledging that prescriptive interpretation is an unbearable alternative.

According to Ludwig Wittgenstein, in principle there can be no such thing as a private language, an untranslatable lexicon of which only one person can make sense. The exhibition’s title, Just for Us, signals at the back-and-forth of languages' undoubtedly intimate nature of understanding. Mainly, who is “Us” that is being referred to? The work on display carries a physical ambiguity that stems from the slippage of language as it is in the production of objects. Dirck and Hafermann hyperfixate on cryptic gestures only they can truly understand while we are left pondering our own distance to intimacy.

Hafermann’s daily surroundings act as setting and inspiration for drawings which are then translated into molds and cast in stoneware. Untitled (baby feeling you like that) (2022) sits grouted comfortably within the framing of the basement walls. Mesmerizing patterns found on each tile echo around your brain as if a spiraling chorus hook. If you caress the surfaces of the tiles (which you can), you feel the imprints, as a haptic metaphor of memory. These surfaces are charged, full of intensity and rollicking instrumentation; a tangible display of digital delay swirling in every direction. For Hafermann, the characteristics of materials and their construction are incorporated in an interweaving of analog and digital processes. However, constructing meaning through process is as slippery here as the interpretations we might choose to imagine or prescribe upon the work itself. It would be pointless to try and come away with a conclusion. These sculptures not only resist such containment but, moreover, celebrate the enjoyment we may get from the dexterity and pleasure found in Hafermann’s visceral creations. Two large vertical pieces of styrofoam hang off armatures which are fastened to brick and stone walls. Directly across from one another, they look as if they shed material in the process of arriving in formation. Distorted by misuse and rearrangement, they feel like the posture of a minimum-wage employee molded by the unrestrained hands of the city. In the pink room, situated on the floor and nestled between two of Dirck’s smaller paintings,  a fake rock sits sliced in half. Each half of the rock leans on the other for support. One interor of a rock is covered in blue paint chips scraped off the basement hallway wall. I imagine this piece is about rigor and being honest with materialst. But the sculptures intended to constitute—in my experience, illegibly and therefore solipsistically—Hafermann’s deeply personal vernacular.

Given the specificity of Sam Dirck’s hard edge style of painting, it's hard to overlook the significant ways his approach drifted since his first solo show at Waiting Room in 2020, Boredom Fantasy Mimesis. Since then, too much weird shit has happened. Now, he unveils an organic, childishly simple and precocious hand. If one sees it first as an inchoate whole before worrying about picking it apart, his surface-level structural complexity adds up to an overarching simplistic formula. A visual code activates across Dirck's work. His employment of “simultaneity'' refers to multiple layers within his paintings. Every composition functions off of a reciprocal formula, where individual layers oscillate between static representation and a variant of lustrous surfaces. For example, one layer built by abstraction is to be opposed by a layer depicting a sign or symbol, vice versa and so on. Every coating of the surface working to reinforce and oppose its previous. Dirck injects recognizable shapes to cause a friction between layers of abstracted color, mark, and pattern. Recurring shapes such as circles, rectangles and stars hover between surfaces. Confusing surface tensions create points of access into Dirck’s convoluted modes. The formula gets trickier when his painterly hand works to camouflage, and we lose the ability to discern where the fore, middle, and background sit. Bricking (2022) depicts an opaque stack of rectangles sitting on top of a vibrant blue expressionist background. If you stare at it too long the grid will distort your perception of space, as will the painting sitting across the wall, Dancer (2022).

Together Dirck and Hafermann reflect an ambivalent relationship between a down-to-earth blend of minimal, found-objects, figurative and formalistic idioms. The work from each artist is a desperate response to the dilemma facing visual artists who utilize semantics and semiotics: how to reconcile art’s physical objecthood with the immaterial abstraction of language. Despite the best efforts of artists and poets, from Lawrence Weiner to Susan Howe to On Kawara, the problem has thus proved irresolvable.  Yet still, there are powerful shadows of meaning, where even the darkest moments feel perversely comical. Just For Us is a whirlwind affair centered on often incomprehensible subject matter that nevertheless, due to Hafermann and Dirck’s commanding delivery, becomes compelling regardless of whether one can follow its intimate narrative.

Notes from the Director

Words are placeholders for ideas, or conduits to link these placeholders, and in this case…literature surrounding a show is just words–it’s not like this big, interesting transference is taking place: it’s just visual art making literate art.

I’ve spent most of the past decade working on various creative pursuits, and though they differed greatly in form, setting, and merit, all of those projects shared one goal: get recognized, ideally with money and fame, but hopefully with at least critical acclaim among peers. This is not to say I don’t pursue a “pure” artistic end. I think nearly everything I’ve produced contains some truth, the ultimate expression of what the world feels like from inside my head. But persisting in the back of my mind is the idea that someone who might see the work, inwardly experience it and in turn decide they like me, and that “liking'' might provide me with a connection to validation that I cannot provide for myself, alone.

I suppose this is craven, and it’s certainly vulgar or taboo to speak of art this way. You might argue that this needy desire ensures that my work will never be worth validating, and I’d be quick to agree with you. But this is obvious territory.  What I’m more interested in is this: I know, intellectually, that the work can never actually provide me with security or validation, yet why do I keep pursuing it as if it might?

I have listened to countless writers, directors, comedians, actors, and musicians discuss at length the ways in which success and money do not solve one’s problems, the disappointment that follows achieving a long-held goal, the way they miss the days when they were back living that era of the push-pull trainwreck hustle we’ve all boogied to. I’ve learned enough through my own therapy and intervention to know that even when approval has been offered to me–I rarely accept it, much less take it as a form of validation, or feel okay in the world because of it. And when someone asks me, “So why continue?” I just shrug and say, “Well, because I gotta.” I continue making things because I don’t really believe that I, myself in particular, won’t be validated by an external marker of success. Whatever I may tell myself, my actions prove that on some level, I might experience the right praise.

What I’m trying to say is, the work in Just For Us makes me feel less alone in the face of my own awesome stupidity. Or the sneaking feeling that I am complicit in a grand scheme of stupidity. To judge, and be judged, in the same moment. I was just thinking something, about a half an hour ago before sitting down to write: all cities are becoming the same; at least, the world-cities that attract artists seem to be producing very similar, hilarious, self-strangulating conditions for artists and people who infuse ideas into objects. But perhaps these spaces where the mainstream thrives does not provide the right architecture for omnipotent banalities. There’s plenty for the critics to pick at but, when you’re done drawing up the measurements, it’s a goddamn pleasure to receive some attention. And it will leave me spinning.

Kristina Johnson
Director of Waiting Room