A blue and yellow nighttime scene with snake and woodlands by James Bidgood made in the 1960s

Image: James Bidgood, “Mythical Woodland, Snake Silhouetted by Moon (Blue Moon),” late 1960s, Digital C-print.

The photograph “Mythical Woodland, Snake Silhouetted by Moon (Blue Moon)” by James Bidgood will be on view in the exhibition “C.H.A.D.” at Ashes/Ashes in New York City from February 28 – April 5, 2020:

ASHES/ASHES is pleased to present C.H.A.D., a group exhibition featuring James Bidgood, Tim Brawner, Nate Flagg, and Madeline Kuzak. The exhibition will be on view February 28 – April 5, 2020, with an opening reception Friday, February 28th, from 6–8 PM.

In the field of epidemiology there is a ratio called the “20/80 rule”: a generally held relationship between parasite/host in which 20 percent of the infected spread 80 percent of the infections. In other words, where epidemiology creates a distinction between an ‘inside’ – a human body – and an ‘outside’ – the infectious disease; it carries with it the implied permeation and inevitable collapse between the two.

From this standpoint, epidemiology can be seen as a sad model for society and the arts: much like disease, there is an exclusive group who provides, or spreads, visibility and patronage via the aristocracy, and a teeming majority who are, while loath to admit it, resentful of their relegation onto the other side of the relationship. This resentment is of no consequence however because from the perspective of a patron the relegated mass is a wealth, a resource, from which the correct art is determined, separated, and extracted — commodification (social or otherwise) quickly following. These determinations are vouchsafed as qualifiers in a societal meritocracy, though for our purposes we can understand ‘merit’ as an individual’s capacity to successfully navigate a type of nepotism, so equally this society can be called a nepocracy. There may be no difference. Either way, artists act as a membrane between upper/lower class. All this is common knowledge: a class society only functions when that membrane is in place and classes do not mingle. It is a hierarchy and its shape is fixed like this △.

This process of extraction is something like puzzle solving in that the meaning of art is cultivated through interpretation, and when cultivated correctly the meaning of any such art is rewarding (see: convenient), yet more importantly, its interpretability reaffirms power. So while there are always inaccessible depths to artworks no matter how flat they seem, when those depths are plumbed power often recoils. Something that holds too much meaning is messy and a mess you can’t clean up is dangerous, even toxic – it exceeds the 20/80 ratio, permeates the membrane, and engulfs any attempts at relegation. To prevent this, the preferred art is stable, normative, and inert. What is sought out is a meaning that is radical enough, but not monstrously so. However, like epidemiology, within this attempt at stabilization there is the oppression of an inevitably toxifying excess. That within the depths of an object there is not so much the embodiment of non-meaning, but by dint of its existence the implication of an inaccessible mass of meaning, or a non-meaning-for-you: the Occult. The inherent oppression is a form of live burial that forebodes an immanent return; a return that morphs and flaps and slithers and twists with the spidery webs of secret languages. It moves in an upended snaking direction shaped like this ▼.

Between artists there has always been information passing from one to the other, sometimes without words at all. A system of encryption is known by a select percentage and transferred to those deemed susceptible and qualified to carry it through an underground network of craft, whispers, and filigree — subverting the totality of a hierarchy, ungrounding it; a zone where underworld gradually creeps in and out, infecting the very ground upon which power is constructed.

– Ellis von Sternberg

56 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002

Opening reception:
February 28, 2020
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

For more information, visit the Ashes/Ashes website.