Brass Tacks is Ricki Dwyer’s first solo exhibition in his home city of San Francisco. Dwyer’s tacks—a method used by drapers to measure fabric by hammering the hardware every quarter yard—are sinewy brass sculptures dotting the large swaths of marbled fabric that comprise The Flexible Accumulation of Self Construction (all works 2022). The installation hangs in the gallery’s vaulted a-frame space and is a series of draped forms created by looping the cotton cloth into the rafters and mounting it to the walls. The brass sculptures aid in this suspension. They include Student Forever, a glittering bronze infinity-symbol-turned-broach with an iron pin that affixes a looped corner to a beam; Locket, a latch that secures a piece to the gallery’s far wall; Claw, the end a five-fingered pitchfork that grabs at weaves; and Penelope’s Child, the shape of small stingray with its tail acting as a hook.
The Flexible Accumulation of Self Construction was made according to the artist’s proportions and the gallery’s specs—the total footprint of the fabric purportedly covers the area of the floor below. I don’t know what the relationship is to the artist’s body, but it is fun to imagine. Are the lengths of each sheath based on his wingspan? Was he limited to his height to hang the brass ornaments? It seems impossible for a standard-sized human to reach the gallery’s trusses, but the fabric could have been tossed to wrap around them.
The exhibition’s accompanying text addresses the adage brass tacks, about getting to the heart of a matter. The heart, to Dwyer, is: “how theories of self-determination exist as both opposition and support structure for an economic model undermining the power of the worker.” It takes some mental somersaults to get here from the soft cotton tresses and bronze curios of the installation on view. While the cycle of neoliberal critique and consignment is indeed all encompassing, the text bypasses how this connects to the decisions Dwyer made in creating his work. Perhaps this is an unfair burden to place on an artist working in the so-called “craft” media of textiles, and even metal work to some extent. To valuate their output primarily through making. How the cloth was made (hand-woven or otherwise sourced) isn’t specified, and it is a question I pondered as soon as I walked through the door. “Handwoven” has become a code-word for value in textiles and this commodifying impulse is something the art, by way of its materiality, is doing. Dwyer is right to point to how the politics of accumulation are everywhere: in branding oneself, in the gig economy, in an art practice. But that’s the tricky thing about acknowledging such a far-reaching ideology; it doesn’t necessarily weaken what is already happening in the minds of a viewer. I still want to know how the fabric was made, especially since I witnessed looms in Dwyer’s graduate studio at UC Berkeley a few years back.
How Dwyer describes his media is more poetic. He equates the fabric to his own “discrete self.” Discrete is an accurate adjective, as fabric can discreetly create volume and take up space. I’m reminded of Rosemary Mayer who, in the 1970s, created draped, sculptural forms with cheese cloth she dyed in her bathtub. Her sculptures recall the shrouds of marble pietas, with gauzy lengths that bow and stretch purely from the force of gravity. Requiring minimal resources compared to marble or bronze, they powerfully visualize this pull on everything and everyone. Dwyer’s deployment of fabric in The Flexible Accumulation is equally commiserating.
Smaller sculptures cover the remaining space, and Dwyer’s friends join him in the salon hang in the gallery’s center. You Grip, I Grasp (with Nicki Green) (2020) is, presumably, the grip-prints of both artists’ hands into clay and Charmed (with Eli Thorne) (2022) has brass badges of animals and stars affixed to a tasseled bolt of cotton. Unknown pleasures (2012–2022) features twenty Shrinky Dink keychains of the neon signs from notable San Francisco bars (Pop’s; The Boom Boom Room; The City Club) dangling from bronze rings. The year-range suggests that these are tokens from nights across the Bay over the last decade. A First Witness Draws Into Being (Constellation of 4) (2022) is another nod to the city’s landmarks. On a black-and-white woven blanket tiering out from a wooden armature, the word JUST appears in the same font as the STUD bar’s logo—recalling the rearrangement of the letters of that queer haven to DUST (1987–ongoing) by artist Nayland Black during the height of the AIDs pandemic.
The word just here feels like an invective, a warning against using that modifier to discount the power of discrete things. A bar as a gathering space for both amusement and activism; friends slipping each other into their exhibitions; fabric embodying the sheer weight of life on earth.
Ricki Dwyer: Brass Tacks
Anglim/Trimble, San Francisco, CA
June 10 – July 30
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