Gentle Reminders: A Conversation With Mark Whalen
Over The Influence recently used the window of more relaxed public orders and measures in Hong Kong to open a new solo show and present their new downstairs gallery. The original, upstairs space introduced Gentle Reminders, the Asia solo debut by Mark Whalen, while the new, lower-level space presented Rise and Shine, a group exhibition showcasing a selection of USA-based artists like Nicasio Fernandez, Ryan Schneider, Adam Beris, Jonni Cheatwood, Andy Dixon, Aaron Johnson, LeRoy Neiman, Erik Parker, Camilla Engstrom, Gosha Levochkin, and Josh Reames. The group show is somewhat of a sneak preview for four solo shows the gallery will be opening in LA soon, presenting works by Nicasio Fernandez, Austin Harris, Aaron Johnson, and Ryan Schneider, but we’re eager to focus on the new body of work that the Australian-born artist is presenting in Hong Kong.Coming from the agency world of graphic design, Whalen's aluminum sculptures pay tribute the here-and-now and common objects we use on a regular basis. Boldly colorful, with an energetic balance of light and dark, his totem-like pieces comment on the craziness of life and the way we tend to amass unneeded materials in daily life. Using aluminum and pigment as his primary medium, the artist bestows these familiar items with a new, otherworldly appearance, achieving an illusion of delicacy and unattainability. Revolving his work around themes of work and play, the LA-based artist continuously adds new elements to his cast of objects, so we checked with him to learn more about how Gentle Reminders are built.
Sasha Bogojev: Where is the title of the show coming from?
Mark Whalen: This new sculpture series, Gentle Reminders, is a reflection of daily life in the studio. Sticky notes are left on raw components and stuck to different areas of the studio as considerations for what is to come. Records are abused, left behind – crumpled signs that are clues for what was and what might be.
Yeah, post-it notes and pencils seem to be a new addition to the work. How or why did those end up in your work?
Daily reminders? Right? Ha, ha, yes, it’s essential to add new characters to this ongoing story. The entire narrative of this exhibition is a celebration of what we all go through during our workdays, or how we interact with each other while thinking up new ideas, or how absent-minded we all are and how we commit things to bits of paper to stay connected with our brains.
Is this why you're using a foldout chair or cardboard box as a pedestal?
How do we occupy our living or working space? What fills the areas in our lives? Meaningful items help point us back to our daily realities. Once abandoned items find use again in the studio or if discarded, by someone scavenging around for utilitarian things.
Like the rubber gloves, I guess. Did that element get a new meaning these days?
A rubber glove is an object of service and safekeeping. Now, more than ever.
And what about the sausage/balloon noses, are those a reference to Pinocchio and lying?
I like your interpretation.
Did the way you see your work change with the current situation and the mandatory social distancing?
The work continually evolves and is deeply connected with what’s happening out there. I think a lot about what is happening now, and have a lot of empathy for our current challenges. Like you, I would love for all of this to go away. Even before all of this, we all socially distance our lives. We control our lives with the touch of our fingertips. We swipe to like and tap for our hearts. We check-in, and our stats turn us down. Our daily habits are a light-hearted reflection in my work, and I believe we all need a gentle reminder to reconnect with what’s humanly significant. We all wish for something we have had the pleasure of experiencing, now, more than ever.
So, how does it feel to be opening such an important show with the current situation?
Gentle Reminders has taken on new roles during today’s pandemic. Honor. Gratitude. Thankfulness. These three words are personal, and my call to action to make art, share art with others, and in some form of luck, inspire others. I can’t wait to connect with everyone again soon.
So, do you think the state of the world might be influencing your next body of work and what are you currently busy with?
Yes. Always. There are a lot of ideas flowing, and the cast of objects, colors, and forms will continue to emerge. I am currently preparing for a show in Spain opening next year, and also, I’m working on a new book, Ramble Ramble. In the meantime, please, maintain safekeeping and good health.