Consider the various uses of “Joe” in American idioms: Average Joe, G.I. Joe, Joe Blow, Cup of Joe. It is quintessentially American, used to characterize someone or something normal, expected, and widely understood. Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Joe Nanashe explores this notion and his personal experience of it in several video and performance works. A number of his videos consist of spliced film clips wherein the name “Joe” is uttered by different American movie characters. In Joe…OH JOE! various female film characters state the name “Joe” in ascending states of excitement, beginning in conversation and ending in throes of ecstasy.
Banal words and objects fascinate Nanashe. His work Bleed Out focuses on something else familiar and American: the McDonald’s ketchup packet, a ubiquitous part of the the country’s cultural landscape. Singled out and placed against white, the ketchup packet is absurdly elevated. In Monument and Rockets Red Glare, red, white, and blue popsicles are again placed against a bold white background and photographed in sensuous detail, every frozen granule visible. The images are audacious but inviting. Popsicles—the red, white, and blue kind in particular—are vestiges of American childhood, a symbol of summer and celebration for several generations. When examined closer, and alongside his other works, the irony of these perfectly formed candies begins to show. Here, notions of patriotism and pride are expressed through water, sugar, and dye–fleeting “monuments” to rather lofty values. Nanashe understands the basic fondness and nostalgia we have for tokens of Americana, but he also recognizes the absurd commercialization and dilution of these values in commonplace objects and words. He presents us with both.
In his newest works, unveiled this week by Victori Contemporary at SCOPE Basel, Nanashe continues his photographic dialogue with food items, but this time seeking inspiration elsewhere— the depictions of food in traditional Dutch still life paintings. Nanashe focuses on one food in particular: cheese. By shooting extreme close-ups of a variety of cheeses—the works featured here both depict Gouda—he captures cross sections of the unsuspecting dairy product, resulting in textural tableaux that resemble abstract paintings, once again turning ubiquitous subject matter into artwork that is rich and layered.