Chloe Wise on hyperreality, painting during the pandemic, and the weirdness of smiles

March 18, 2021 •

Chloe Wise on hyperreality, pandemic painting and the craziness of smiling

Chloe Wise’s work has always been a tightrope walk between sincerity and satire, romance and disrespect, gravity and lightness. More recently, another duality has become an increasingly important part of their tonal tightrope act: the real versus the unreal, or perhaps the real versus the hyperreal. It is significant that the press release on Wise’s new show “Thank you for the beautiful fire”, which can be seen on Almine Rech until April 17th, quotes Jean Baudrillard not just once but twice. Since neither Wise nor I were vaccinated, it seemed epidemiologically and thematically appropriate to conduct this interview in a Covid-free simulation: the online virtual world of Second Life. Wise chatted for over an hour in various digital locations – we were reprimanded by other users for wearing clothes on a nude beach – and talked about her pandemic year in painting.

REAL VERSUS FAKE, openness versus performance, public versus private: there are many different manifestations of these types of contrasting ideas on the show. Of course, in sculptural work there is always a blurring of the line between what is real and what is false. For example, with Caesar Salad Chandelier, 2021, I want your first look to reveal your second look, your second look to reveal your third look, to challenge your ability to tell whether the object is real salad or something synthetic. But even if you decide it’s not real lettuce and this classification of the material somehow delegitimizes the experience for you, you are suddenly confronted with the fact that it is both a working light fixture and a working work of art. Depending on these subtle shifts in seeing and seeing, the object is either real or false, or both at the same time.

The pandemic is blurring those lines even more. In the tangible world, I took a tour of the gallery with my friend Richie today, and we talked about how we got used to these everyday experiences. There is a plastic sheet between us and the cashier in the grocery store. There are masks between our faces. There are six feet between all bodies. And of course, most of the socializing happens through text, phone calls, or FaceTiming.

The distinction between being alone and togetherness is also blurred. We are physically isolated in our homes, yet there is this uniquely shared experience of loneliness, and for a while there was even camaraderie as we honked our horns and clapped hands at 7 p.m. every night for the first few months. And this togetherness occurred in an already very fragmented moment of the full 24/7 connectivity of the Internet age. During the pandemic, I was alone in a few places and had great phone calls with friends that gave me a sense of community – while before the pandemic it was of course possible to be at a party, surrounded by people, and feel very alone .

Chloe Wise and the writer chat in Second Life March 2021.

This is part of what I wanted to explore with the smile motif on the show. Smiling in public is usually a way of recognizing someone without wanting to get close to them. They can be an invitation or a polite barrier. And a smile should be short and fleeting. This is what makes the smile in paintings so strange. Traditionally, a subject has to hold a pose for hours; and smiling for hours will always be the most unnatural thing in the world, or maybe no smile at all. I was interested in expressions that indicate multiple, possibly contradicting levels of experience. Dissonance.

Have you ever seen the dog’s meme in a burning house and the dog said, “That’s okay?” The show’s title refers to a scene in Don DeLillo’s White Noise in which the characters bond and connect as they watch a building burn down. You have a constructive, positive experience during a destructive, negative event. I took many of these pictures at 4 a.m., alone in my studio, with the news in the background keeping me abreast of the tragedy of the pandemic, the disaster of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the horrors of systemic racism. If I wanted to do art during a disaster – even some kind of ridiculously narcissistic act of autofellatio – then exploring dissonance felt like the only path I could go. If the show has to go on, you have to be able to keep both realities in mind at the same time.

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