Some art begs to be touched. Other pieces want to be sat on, like Vito Acconci’s public-art benches at the airport and Scott Burton’s stone seating in Battery Park City. Now, along comes Tim Eads’ viewer-powered butter churn and toast maker—public art with an incentive. You, the viewer, sit on the piece and pedal, and as a reward for your hard work you eat warm toast with fresh butter.
Part psych experiment and part Rube Goldberg machine, Eads’ “A Legitimate Waste of Time” is both humble and dictatorial. It offers homemade bliss, but you won’t get it without doing the work. At the opening, people happily took turns on the tricked-out exercise bike as cream bounced up and down in the attached glass jar, and within a half hour there was butter—unsalted—and toast to put it on.
I usually object to sitting on my art, but Eads’ work transcends mere public art and offers more: ideas about pioneers, the beauty of simple things, the joy of tinkering and how much fun art can be.
Elsewhere in the show at FLUXspace, a viewer can crank a lever to activate a series of colored lights embedded in the floor. And while it’s not interactive, Fan Painting is active and fun. The work positions a standing fan in front of a wall below cans of dripping paint. The fan blows paint onto the gallery wall, creating an abstract painting.
Eads, a Cranbrook grad (MFA 2009) who recently moved here with his wife, artist (and artblog intern) Tiernan Alexander, considers his butter-and-toast machine public art. He raised the money for it on the public funding site Kickstarter and his hope is to take the machine outside to make toast and butter with people on the street.
“A Legitimate Waste of Time” captures the spirit of today’s “Age of Less,” a term coined by Whitney Museum curator Henriette Huldisch in her essay about the 2008 Biennial artists. Far from a macho performance work in which somebody gets shot with a gun (Chris Burden, 1971) or endures 10 weeks of sitting in a museum atrium staring into space (Marina Abramovic, 2010), Eads’ piece is humble and homey.
“Lessness,” a word that comes from Samuel Beckett’s nonsense story of the same name, applies to art bereft of traditional optimism yet full of make-do and can-do spirit. Modest materials, domestic themes and lowered expectations abound. Lessness can be found in art all over Philadelphia, especially in art by young artists exhibiting at alternative spaces. Read Peter Schjeldahl on lessness.
April’s “Failure to Show” at Extra Extra featured performances about failure. May’s “The Honeymooners” at Grizzly Grizzly presented an endlessly bickering couple. These works share a shrugged-shoulders worldview of carrying on and moving forward. And, as in Eads’ show, the action is at the opening. Miss the opening and you get the stage set alone.
Eads is a give-away artist whose philosophy is full of lessness. Born in a small town in Texas, the artist says he admires tinkerers and inventors and gets bored with the everyday. He doesn’t mind a little failure; he’s just out there trying to make things more interesting or easier for himself.
“A Legitimate Waste of Time”
Through May 15
3000 N. Hope St