“Wittgenstein and Popper walk into a bar…” is a risky setup for a joke. It requires at least a blinking knowledge of great debates in analytic philosophy, a bit of trivia above the par of a potent potable. If we can imagine a joke book filled with witticisms on theory and philosophy, it might look something like “PDF-Objects” at Mana Contemporary. If this sounds like fun to you, then you’ll likely enjoy the show’s punchline.
The premise of the exhibition is fairly simple: the organizers, Jason Lazarus and Sean Ward, invited over fifty artists to email personally influential texts via PDF, as well as instructions for objects—a twenty-dollar limit and they must be easily procurable—to pair with the texts. The results of these readymade/text sommeliers generally fall in three camps: a material setup that illustrates a premise of the text (a single unlit white tea candle on Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te-Ching”); an object that when paired with the text makes a humorous one-liner (an unopened box of tissues next to “Das Kapital”); the text obscured or supplanted by the object (William James’ “What Pragmatism Means” in a rat trap).
It’s a treat to try and decode each artist’s pairing, but it’s difficult to really understand the purpose of the whole endeavor outside of being a fun exercise in concrete comedy or as a material joke on the endless citations that art and artists are expected to present in order to legitimize work. Profundities, which grace a good deal of the mostly academic and philosophical texts presented in “PDF-Objects,” are curtailed here—there are no additions to any particular canonical text that do much to enhance its initial worth. Perhaps this is the point. There are no actual PDFs in this show, just their material chrysalis: the print out. Ideas, whether made manifest through a stack of paper or store-bought junk, are on view here—the rich variety of these manifestations lead us back to making and all the nuts and bolts that either stifle or enrich. (Chris Reeves)
Through August 12 at Mana Contemporary, 2233 South Throop
Chris Reeves is a creative researcher and artist who received his PhD in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2021. In 2020 he co-edited his first book, “The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia” released on Soberscove Press.