Ozone Flowers, a show by New York-based painter Michael Assiff, has two pressing events in mind: the onset in 2017 of the Mexican ‘Cap and Trade’ carbon market to reduce greenhouse gasses, and, to the country’s north, the ascent to power of a new climate change-denying political regime. Strung together, the ecological tableaus Assiff creates denote a new world order, a shift in cognizance from which it seems there is no return.
Plastic and metal low relief paintings depict colorless “ozone flowers”, unrecognizable within their own ecosystems. They hang upon gouged and pockmarked walls. The engraved and burnt petals of the “carbon offset” wall works resemble the lyrical movements of musical notation and the eerie aftermath of a war scene. Their scattered compositions graph the fluctuations in carbon prices. A layered ziggurat sculpture inverted on the ceiling, surrounded by a congregation of bees, acts as a reversal of a ritualized, pre-modern relationship with nature. The confectionary pseudo-beehive emits an engineered fresh flower scent, one that scientists have found more palatable to bees that no longer recognize flowers having grown in high ozone environments. Atop a pleather stool cushion, a round painting of leucaena leucocephala, the first tree species to be deployed en mass to combat climate change, is stickered with certified receipts of the voluntary carbon offsets purchased by Assiff to cover his footprint in creating the show.
On the second floor of the gallery, a sculptural collaboration with artist Chelsea Culprit is a purposeful moment of departure from the more elusive metaphorical and schematic depictions below. US Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, “Rex” sits with a copy of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change published in 2015. Here the artists make sure nothing is left to interpretation as to who sits atop the distorted informational order and warped natural world the viewer encounters in the gallery below.
Ozone Flowers is the second installment of the painter’s inquiry into post-industrial ecology. In the first, Remediation Flowers at First Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, Assiff depicted nature as a filtering, remediating tool –an industrial instrument within the larger post-industrial matrix. Along with lead abatement wall works and a bioremediation project in the ventilation system of the gallery, Assiff painted pictures of ‘Hyperaccumulators’, plant life used to suck metals and toxins from soil no longer viable due to manufacturing. Assiff asks the viewer if art can be a redemptive process, and the gallery a regenerative space.
In Ozone Flowers, nature is presented as an economic instrument - a token within an anthropocentric landscape driven by growing capital. In this environment, pollution is no longer a subject of industrial development, but instead a post-industrial financial right. Plant life is little more than a symbol used for economic strategy, a means for appeasing lax environmental regulations to turn a profit. In Ozone Flowers, the question of redemption is posed within a system whose structures of power have made its own logic all but impenetrable. Something has been entirely lost. To remediate an ozone-soaked reality one must turn to the remote language of monetized values and create cogency within the unnatural.
- Nika Chilewich
Michael Assiff’s puffy paintings get their direct cue from post impressionist inquiries into nature and space, and an enlightenment-era understanding of nature in the grass factory of modernism. His work, which the artist has directly linked to that of Henri Rousseau, relies on a metaphysical relationship of jungle to plastic. This subject/material relation foregrounds the Hyperaccumulator and Ozone Flowers Assif creates, in which plants are instrumentalized to perform bioremediation of brownfields or serve as bartering tools for unregulated industrial development. His approach to painting includes an exploration of the site of exhibition, and a painterly inquiry into installation work as a means of story telling through location. Embossing and relief onto infrastructure and architectural elements allows Assiff to interrogate certain types of structural violence, and the way violent pathologies are naturalized as heritage and embedded within the built environment.
Assiff has had solo presentations at First Continent, Md; Good Weather, AR; and NADA, NY with Martos/Shoot the lobster. He has participated in group shows at Valentin, FR; Room East, NY; Jack Hanley, NY; Salon 94, NY; American Medium, NY; and Balice Hertling, FR. He has forthcoming group shows at High Tide, PA and Helena Anrather, NY; and an upcoming solo booth at NADA, NY with Motel, NY.
The work of Chelsea Culprit entangles representations of the body’s capacity for work, play, display, expression, the performed authenticity of identity, and the intractability of freedom and personal bondage.
Chelsea Culprit lives and works in Mexico City. Recent solo exhibitions include 'Miss Universe' at Yautepec Gallery, Mexico City and Blessed With Job' at Queer Thoughts, NYC. Group exhibitions include Galleri Opdahl, Norway, Foxy Production, NYC, X Bienal de Nicaragua, León Nicaragua, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI.