Derek Sullivan

3 July 2003 - 2 August 2003
Opening Reception 3 July 2003 8pm

Back Gallery:

Each the same to start

“There is an ongoing tug-of-war between lo-fi production and hi-end product, and really, these projects feel more like by-products than products per se.”
– Janis Demkiw

“You know it seems the more we talk about it. It only makes it worse to live without it. But let’s talk about it.” – Brian Wilson/Tony Asher, The Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”

For his exhibition at Mercer Union Toronto-based artist, Derek Sullivan will build a model for a modular city out of product packaging that will be internally cooled and set in motion by an air conditioner. Like his earlier works, Sullivan continues to turn consumer waste into a decorative modernistic utopia.

*A multiple has been produced by Sullivan for this exhibition. Rolls of packing tape with the text “Wouldn’t it be nice?” are for sale at the gallery, and available at a special price for the duration of the exhibition.*

Brochure Text by Janis Demkiw

Derek Sullivan builds micro-meccas with smooth surfaces and rough underbellies that deviate from the immaculate precision of design models. His models incorporate blister-pack ‘domes’ from packaging materials, construction paper, foam core, and other detritus of pop-consumption; high ideas subject to crude construction reflecting an urgency of execution. There is an ongoing tug-of-war between lo-fi production and hi-end product, and really, these projects feel more like by-products than products per se. His impermanent structures seem ready to topple or collapse, or be pulled apart and re-configured into increasingly absurd configurations.

Each the same to start sprawls across a 4’x6’ gloss white laminate box at the end of which sits a running window air conditioner. A network of plastic duct tubes connected to the cold-air output vents run along the length of the plinth and vent into a series of ‘living-unit’ maquettes built from foam core and Plexiglas. An oversized glass perfume bottle from a cosmetics counter display provides a monument on the skyline of Sullivan’s dysfunctional development. This gross representation of luxury, already out of scale, is again rescaled by its incorporation into the terrain sprawling on the glossy surface of the plinth.

As a component of the installation, Sullivan has produced a multiple, rolls of packing tape printed with The Beach Boys title Wouldn’t It Be Nice (part of an ongoing series of projects featuring song titles that ask questions). The packing tape becomes a binding agent that holds the whole dubious construction together.

Sullivan’s exhibition also includes a series of drawings (Turnaround Drawings, 2003) based on a common convenience store technique of testing for counterfeit money. By rubbing a bill on a piece of paper, genuine currency will leave a faint smudge from the inks used in printing. He has conducted a series of ‘test drawings,’ pages marked with coloured smudges that look like rows of faint Turneresque landscapes.

Each the same to start sits at the intersection of three divergent observations. The first stems from looking into windows of new ‘artist-style’ condominium developments and seeing the banal uniformity of decoration and layout in these supposed open-concept spaces. Motifs repeat themselves from unit to unit like suburban homes transplanted into warehouses. The second is an observation of high-rise apartment complexes whose exterior walls are dotted with air conditioning units. Compensating for inadequate climate-control and economic insufficiency, they hang from the windows like flags to the deficiency they signal and disrupt the building’s intended silhouette. The third observation responds to artist Donald Judd’s claim that a work is ruined once the fingerprints or scratches that it endures in the institution of public display mar its surface – a condition that Sullivan has playfully termed “fingerprints on the architecture.” Sullivan’s projects are driven by a mischievous fascination with and defiance of this kind of preciousness – a desire to parody and contaminate the staunch forms of Modern idealism by teasing them into absurdity.

In practice, maquettes are a means of visualizing a project prior to its realization. They are hypotheses made manifest that through speculation present solutions for design problems or examples to facilitate the sale of an idea or product. But there is always an articulated gap between the clean promise of models and their actual delivery – and Sullivan has a field day here, because his projects effectively never leave the showroom. Not bound by the obligations of viability, structural integrity and function, he is permitted to model impossible empires that revel in their own audacious dysfunction. Like a testament to the overcompensation of bad planning and quick fixes, a gargantuan air conditioner runs an entire housing complex, and we wait for imminent disaster to play out in microscale.

Each the same to start raises questions without providing answers, and does not make an effort to provide a model for the “kind of world where we belong” that Brian Wilson hoped for in Wouldn’t It Be Nice. This vision of adulthood filtered through youth’s idealism, like anything in its conception, hasn’t yet succumbed to the disappointment of practical application. And so, the impractical optimism of youth and Modernism collide as unlikely bedfellows. In place of solutions, Sullivan opens spaces for conversation, for fanciful propositions to run with and to fly like kites.