At first glance, Darren Bader’s Interlude exhibition evokes Guy de Maupassant’s tale Qui sait? (1890), in which objects revolt from their immobility and their collector, moving from their designated locations and even escaping from their owner’s apartment altogether. It is a surreal disorientation of things and meanings that also manifests in Bader’s every work. In this, his third exhibition at Franco Noero gallery, Bader applies his methods of bringing the twentieth-century readymade concept to new formalizations via seemingly haphazard groups of objects of the sort one might find in a flea market.
The method will be familiar to those who know his practice. In one of the first rooms we encounter the installation Substitution # 1–6. The elements arranged on the floor and walls seem completely arbitrary in that no apparent logic connects them, aesthetically or symbolically. Yet they seem carefully arranged. Lacking any textual explanation, the visitor must reflect on the title to glimpse the reference to schemes of classification: perhaps the periodic table of elements, football play schematics, the various regions of the geographical map of Italy? But still, why in this game of substitutions did Anne Rice’s 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire replace a football fullback?
Further on we encounter a group of objects scattered on a floor titled eBay sculpture. To make it, Bader bought a complete lot of items offered by an eBay seller in Germany and arranged them in this form. Bader constantly visits digital aggregators of goods and images such as eBay and Amazon, continuing Marcel Duchamp’s anti-aesthetic discourse, and the Conceptualism that followed, by depleting the artwork’s bourgeois aspect and activating instead a new form of intangible consumption economy—namely, the language of contemporary art. But if the readymades (at least in Western culture) ended up nevertheless assuming an aesthetic aspect as sculptural forms perfectly at home in museum spaces, Bader’s “sculptures” are more like “hyper-readymades”—sometimes invisible, unrepresentable, for instance a fragrance or audio works. Even his sculptures do not have a definitive form but are susceptible to changes in arrangement and size. But their existence is proven thanks to the economic exchange certified by the various trading platforms and by the fact that the artist (or the collector) does not engage in aesthetic projects related to taste or style. These are readymades generated by chance: materiality reduced to a minimum as an expression of the need to still see or feel “something” exhibited in the art space.
In this sense, the work recalls a notion recently described as “encryption” by scholar Max Haiven—an encoded artistic message that only allows “authorized” parties to access its understanding and value. And yet, as opposed to Haiven’s elitist vision, which assumes that the majority of the public does not have access to contemporary art and its presumed value, Bader’s work presents some interesting ambiguities. This nearly random selection of objects belonging to the folk, the popular, the ugly, and other such aesthetic categories reveals an artist seeking to promote and redeem through his practice expressions difficult to decode within art’s institutional perimeters. As Bader stated in a 2014 interview, “There can be an exceptional visual, conceptual, and aesthetic merit to so many things in the world, whether in products of nonrarefied production and distribution, or through the lens of happenstance. TV programming, advertising, gaming, software design, interactive design, social media, industrial design, packaging design, etc.—all these are possibilities of what and how art might be, and they continue to be carefully ghettoized by art institutions, if registered at all.”
Interlude also highlights another important aspect of Bader’s work, in that Molecules (starter Kit 1 & 2), proposal for a frangrance, for instance, or the chemical elements from the periodic table in Substitutions, reveal a certain alchemic subtext that flows in the veins of the Duchampian tradition, as if the artist were looking for a philosopher’s stone to transform everything into gold. Bader notes that he does indeed find such a thing in art, to which he attributes a spiritual, and at the same time ironic, value, typical of his poetics: “Art turns into a name as rich in spirituality as Ahura Mazda or Jim Jones are to us today.”