Exhibit | Yuval Pudik: KANADA
Israeli-born, L.A.-based artist Yuval Pudik decided only to use vintage gay porn images in his solo exhibition KANADA at Cash Machine in Atwater Village, a small storefront artist-run gallery space. In this exhibition, the artist purchased old books and painstakingly wrapped them in red paper, layering a vintage porn image into each book cover. Then he cuts a peephole-like circle through the red wrapping paper, giving a sense of peering at the porn imagery as if through a bathroom stall glory hole.
The installation is both simple in its execution and towering in its presence: a giant, mountainous pile of red books with these glory-hole cuttings are situated in the middle of the gallery. The only other piece of art in this exhibition is an image of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are hand-drawn in graphite and written across two pieces of vertical paper and cut through the middle, creating a mirrored, two-panel form out of the text. It is hard not to consider a relationship between the pile of books in the middle, and the 12 steps that the artist has pasted onto the adjacent wall.
Is this show literally about porn addiction and powerlessness? Is this about iterations of queerness through unknown realms of time and space? Is it even relevant to read into something in a possibly “authentic,” autobiographical way, as if it is about the artist directly?
The viewer quickly learns, however, that there’s a very dark conceptual premise to the pile of wrapped, used books. Pudik explains in the artist statement/press release that this sculptural installation is referencing KANADA, a “nicknamed system of warehouses located near the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau.” The piles of books covered in gay porn with holes carved out are referencing the piles of shoes and other belongings left behind by those who perished in the Holocaust.
Aside from the oblique reference in the show’s title, this reference is not readily available to most people who will see this show. There is no other imagery in this show that visually references the Holocaust like, say, images of marching skeletons walking into gas chambers, or something more recognizable and iconic. It is frustrating to be suddenly hit with such a heavy reference that, without having read the press release, would be utterly unknowable.
If anything, the pile of books in the middle look more like a collection of throwaways from a gay bookstore that’s going out of business. Furthermore, considering the specifically queer content of the books through that lens, one also thinks about the ways that gay men were persecuted under Nazi rule. The images of gay porn that we see here are all plucked from 1960s-80s vintage magazines, which adds a queerer approach to time and space in this exhibition.
Is the laboring that Pudik put into creating this pile meant to make one think of the menial labor that Jews were forced to do in concentration camps, working insanely long days, malnourished, little sleep, tortured? The methodical, repetitive work that Pudik did to make this pile of books could also be part of a meditation, which is part of step 11 of the 12 steps that are pasted onto the wall
“11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Either way, we are aware of the artist’s physical labor in creating this mountain. In connecting his own body politic to that of gay men during Nazi Germany, and in reimagining the gay male body’s relationship to 1960s-80s vintage porn, Pudik creates an invisible performative presence that is both haunting and memorable, an homage to the past incorporated into the present day, and perhaps transcending into something more spiritual altogether.
In Jack Halberstam’s seminal book, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, he argues that queer uses of time differ from those of heteronormative (or homonormative, for that matter) time. Rather than focus on reproduction and family, queer uses of time and space are located “in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction . . . if we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity.”
Pudik’s work is best considered in this sort of queer time lineage, outside of anything linear, within a world of the creator’s making. Incorporating ideas of 12-step logic into any radical way of life or system-making, however, and making the Holocaust reference less jarring, could have further unpacked this exhibition.