• Co-Prosperity School

    Dayton Castleman wants you to be right here, and he really likes disclaimers:

    “If you have to put up a sign to warn people, then you're doing something right.”

    Sometimes disclaimers are part of the work and sometimes they just point you in the right direction; sometimes they come after the fact. Discussing his practice with a small gathering of the Co-Prosperity Sphere Artists-Class, Dayton Castleman cited Guy Debord, Rosalind Krauss and Slavoj Žižek. It was still summer and I had to wrestle with some theory.

    "Since the spectacle's job is to use various specialized mediations in order to show us a world that can no longer be directly grasped, it naturally elevates the sense of sight to the special preeminence once occupied by touch: the most abstract and easily deceived sense is the most readily adaptable to generalized abstraction of everyday society." (Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle #18)

    Castleman does not work against the spectacle (as Debord and the Situationists wanted), but admittedly for it. Works such as Negative Matter (2011), shown most recently at the 2011 MDW Fair, deliberately fiddle with the registration between the viewer's visual and tactile perceptions. Castleman visually stopped an industrial fan in motion, unleashing, in a confined space, a violent wind with an unidentifiable source. His intentions included faith, perceptual limitation and the controlled environments of artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson. And Disneyland rides.

    The result is a Debordian spectacle: the use of technology to show the confused viewer the limitations of sense in our technological world. Only through technology (an industrial stroboscopic tachometer) can we view a moment of the impossibly fast-moving fan's revolution. Like being loaded into the boat through Storybook Land, Castleman places the viewer with his perspective of choice: a barely visible string across the small space indicates both place and danger, the latter being underscored by a sense of sensory deprivation or delusion.

    A multi-modal artist whose works are driven by concept rather than medium, aesthetic or visualization of the end product, Castleman is working through Krauss' “post-medium condition.” For him this means the end of the medium-specific history of art, in which a painting must be judged against other paintings and in its relation to both history of the medium and the medium itself.

    Now, in the post-post-modern, when the aesthetic is obsolete and the medium is chosen by the messenger, Castleman works first with the sensation that he desires to evoke. Progressing through increasingly temporal and ephemeral works, Castleman is now using dance performances to combine text, music and movement. He describes the human body as “...a machine and kinetic object with limitless potential,” a medium capable of relating to the viewer in a unique and viscerally evocative way. With his current interest in dance as a medium, Castleman is finding that the innate lack of directorial control during a performance has reminded him that “...pre-programmed ambiguity always makes a stronger work.”

    Is it the responsibility of the artist to continuously unpack and reveal each new medium or is it viewer's choice? Curating Objet Petit A in 2009, Castleman used the medium of the piñata to address questions of content, and ultimately the destructive choice of the viewer. After purchasing an art object, would the audience choose the inside or outside? And, as Žižek pointed out, will they be satisfied with their choice? A huge success, the post-show destruction demonstrated the power of curiosity and group-spectacular mentality: it was a show both of art and of the viewers.

    Castleman's focus on the positioning of the viewer becomes one of his major themes. Each work, with diverse concept and medium, pulses with an underlying current of interest in the viewer and in their physical, mental or spiritual interaction. Sigh (2011) looked very much like a man napping under a drop cloth and incited concern with several passers-by. Recent dance piece Valediction (2011) created a shared ephemeral experience that Castleman relates to the sense of religious connection felt by members of a congregation.

    So, what of the hidden disclaimer? As I pored over my notes, attempting once again to tease a single meaning from the tangle of Krauss, things were pretty messy. But there, in the middle, in response to the anti-Debordian challenge of one participant, Castleman disclaims. And it is the disclaimer that made all the difference: “I'm not attempting a conversation with Debord. I'm ripping off sentences.” Castleman isn't trying to prove Krauss or underscore Žižek; he's interested in the directions that these theorists provoke in his practice.

    And he's interested in where that makes you stand.

  • Castleman's three-dimensional thoughts

    November 11, 2011
    by Julie Gross

    To describe artist Dayton Castleman’s exhibit at the 930 Art Center one might use words that similarly describe the writings of Lewis Carroll: whimsical, ironic, nonsensical, curious, and tongue in cheek humorous. The fact that the exhibition is titled Rabbit Trails only encourages the comparison. However, you won’t find Alice or any of the other cast of eclectic characters here. Instead, you’ll find a world of sculptural works that will leave a profound impression.

    Dayton Castleman is a Chicago-based artist and teacher whose perspective on the world has a child-like charm with complex dimensions. He takes the “what if” and brings it to life. For instance, take the piece titled “shredder.” It consists of a wooden contraption that houses 4 electronic paper shredders. This idea came to fruition after his daughter asked how chicken salad was made. Castleman states, “I went to our office, quickly cut a chicken shape out of paper, grabbed the paper shredder and brought it to the dinner table. I gave her the chicken and told her to put it in the shredder, which she did. ‘That's basically how chicken salad is made,’ I said, and immediately it popped into my head that it might be interesting to shred long, continuous sheets of paper.”

    I was fortunate enough to be a part of the installation at the 930 Art Center and was able to ask a few questions of Castleman himself. On one of the walls there is a ledge that displays thin plywood envelopes that are painted white with actual recipient addresses and reproduced stamps. Castleman dropped them in the mailbox to see if they would actually pass as real mail. Long story short, they did. One “envelope” is even christened with a “postage due” stamp courtesy of the USPS. In reference to the forged postage Castleman said, “If I get arrested over a 44 cent stamp, it may be the best thing for my career actually.”

    In another corner of the room a human figure is covered in a white sheet. The only thing that isn’t covered is a pair of black wing tipped shoes. The sheet rises subtly to indicate that the figure is breathing. The piece is titled “Sigh.” Castleman claims that when people first see this piece they are convinced that it is the artist under the sheet doing a performance. He finds this humorous. When the director of the 930 Art Center, Michael Winters, asked Castleman about why this piece was in reference to mourning, Castleman replied, “I know it’s about mourning because it’s me and I made it.”

    Each sculpture varies in concept and material, garnering individual attention to each work. I asked Castleman if he had a favorite piece in the exhibit and he replied, “Asking what is your favorite piece is is like asking what your favorite kid is and I only have one kid.”

    Castleman’s sculptures are made out of the simplest of materials and yet when displayed in their final construction are quite compelling. The pièce de résistance is undoubtedly “Star-cross’d.” A 25-foot fighter jet touches noses with a flying goose. It is constructed out of cardboard and wood. The idea came to Castleman after he heard the news story of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River after striking a flock of Canadian Geese. He states, “I allowed myself to wonder whether there were some kind of strange attraction that a jetliner might engender in a bird -- wondering whether the plane was the object of these geese' powerful romantic attraction. I enjoy imagining a goose falling hopelessly in love with a fighter jet.” This is how we find the sculpture hanging in the gallery. It is the exact moment when these two objects of flight find each other frozen in a tragic kiss.

  • Review: Dayton Castleman's Negative Matter at Seerveld Gallery

    New City, Chicago
    Feb 21, 2011
    by Bert Stabler

    In the statement for his installation “Negative Matter,” Dayton Castleman claims inspiration from the industrial light and magic of James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor and Disneyland. An enjoyable grouping, but the oddball in that list is not the Magic Kingdom, but Castleman himself. While I could easily imagine Turrell and his airport-rave ilk doing lighting design for the recent Disney remake of “Tron,” the imaginary movie “Negative Matter” calls to mind would perhaps be a David Lynch joint.

    The viewer approaches a shed that emits a hum of activity and a soft movement of air. The wind gains in noise and intensity as one weaves in darkness around a couple of light-baffling walls and comes to face a dim spotlight on a giant standing fan. From the direction of the fan comes a steady blast of air, but its unplugged cord is visible on the floor, and its shining blades, free of any protective cage, are slowly shifting back and forth, as if being pushed by gentle, indecisive breezes. There is a black line on the ground and a boundary cable in front of the fan, and a sign at the entrance commanding viewers not to touch the art, but no posted explanation for the piece—so, spoiler alert: the secret is a lighting trick. The spotlight is a high-speed strobe that makes the blades on the high-speed fan (which is plugged in—the other cord is a dummy) appear to barely turn.

    In fairness, it is a magic trick, which would seem to give credence to the Disney comparison. But my feelings were of neither amusement nor wonder. Standing in a strong wind in a dark, enclosed area with only the apparition of a fan, which would cease to be an apparition if I were to impulsively reach out and have some fraction of my body hacked off—my sincere response was dread, both numinous and visceral. And perhaps all the more so, since I walked in knowing exactly what the trick was. The ecstatic violence and contradictory codes reflected in Castleman’s seemingly simple gesture relate to a fundamental fracture in the world that is often best apprehended in shadows.

  • Post-Freudian Piñata, You Complete Me

    Art Talk, Chicago Now
    September 7, 2009
    Review by Gretchen Holmes

    You might not care about Lacan or Zizek, but you totally feel Cheap Trick when they say "I Want You to Want Me." That's Objet Petit A in a nutshell. And this Friday I want you to want to be at Spoke, when an array of artist-designed piñatas curated by Dayton Castleman and Matthew Dupont is auctioned off and destroyed by the highest bidders. Piñatas by Michael Jones McKean, Abby Christensen, Ben Fain, Jose Lerma & Cristina Tufino, Tomas Moreno, Harriet Salmon, Astri Swendsrud, and Emily Vanhoff range from austere to whimsical. At 9pm, a Piñata Smashing Spectacle will expose
    each piñata's mysterious innards.

    The show's title (Objet Petit A ) comes from post-Freudian theorist Jacques Lacan, and the public piñata smashing neatly illustrates Lacan's concept of desire: our insatiable need to be loved projects itself as an insatiable need to love something, anything (like a piñata). This love object must remain unattainable and, therefore, perpetually available to receive our love and reciprocate it in an ambiguous, unfinished way (kind of like an art object). Our desire is like a jigsaw puzzle, and we just keep waiting for our love object to hand over the final piece--that's objet petit a, that unknowable Something that will make us whole again, inconveniently buried inside our love object for the time being. (Is it candy? Is it dirty underwear?) We start to get impatient. (Pick up the baseball bat...) Unable to bear the suspense, we tear into our love object, search and destroy. Sometimes we find what we're looking for; sometimes we don't.

    In the spirit of Freud and his progeny, a case study: Last month, Renee Zellweger appeared on Letterman and was persuaded to smash a piñata. What would she recover by destroying this object? The dignity she lost doing New in Town? Poor Renee. She thought tearing apart her love object would fulfill her true desire (to be desired); instead, she got covered in guacamole.

    Like Lacan's objet petit a, Castelman and Dupont's Objet Petit A functions as both a performance and a proposition. While viewers enact the misshapen love triangle connecting the self, the love object, and objet petit a, the anticipated smashing ceremony measures the value of the piñatas as art objects against their value as art experiences. Which is more satisfying: admiring these fine hanging sculptures or participating in a hip, inspired display of aggression? Are the piñata's hidden contents more desirable than the intact sculpture? This is the dilemma of objet petit a: a Catch 22 that promises either to destroy us with guilt or plague us with regret.

    Conceptually, Objet Petit A might come across as esoteric, rarified, and didactic. Sure, the show's title references theory; sure, the cognoscenti will appreciate a certain richness in the relationship between the piñata and Lacan's object of desire; but the beauty of a project that transforms dense theoretical concepts into creative experiences is that it dislodges an idea from its strict epistemological context, encouraging imaginative interpretations, inspired misunderstandings, and play. Before you dismiss it as all head/no heart, consider this: they're piñatas, they're full of god-knows-what, and someone--maybe even you--will get to smash the hell out of them. None of this comes with required reading.

    Petit Objet A promises to fulfill an array of desires: Arcane conceptualism? Check! Well-crafted sculpture? Audience participation? Suspense? Violence? Check, double-check! In their curatorial statement, Castleman and Dupont modestly state that "the piñata's teleological climax may very well be phenomenologically anti-climatic." Phenomenological climax is overrated. Piñata Smashing Spectacle: You had me at hello.

  • Blowing in the Wind

    Philadelphia Weekly
    Mar. 22, 2006
    By Roberta Fallon

    Five months after artist Dayton Castleman had a vision of 12 windmills floating overhead, their arms turning in a breeze, those windmills-minus the breeze and the spinning arms-are installed in the rafters of the Broad Street Ministry, where they're indeed a vision of improbability.

    "Tilting at Giants," as the long-term site-specific commission is called, is a nicely metaphorical addition to a church space already loaded with references to ships, lambs, spirits, wind, fire and belief. Those who understand the references to the Pentecostal wind and the 12 apostles waiting to receive it will read those stories into the piece. Others who know Don Quixote's tilting at windmills (or the sword of Damocles story) will understand the piece in the context of belief systems in general. Either way, it's plenty evocative and open enough to be appreciated by a wide audience.

    I talked with Castleman recently. The artist, 30, is a lay minister in the Coalition for Christian Outreach (and no, he says, that's not a right-wing PAC), and a New Orleans native and trained painter who came to Philadelphia in 2001.

    He's the first artist commissioned to make a long-term site-specific work for the Broad Street Ministry, an ecumenical church. Funding for the piece came from private donations raised by William Golderer, the church's pastor who, Castleman says, had the brainstorm to get serious contemporary art into the church. (Costs for materials were covered but there was no artist's fee.)

    While the artist says he panicked initially about the technical aspects of hanging 12 10-foot-tall windmills-each weighing 30 pounds-in the church's rafters, he figured it out with some engineering advice. He installed the decorative windmills (made by Amish manufacturer Dave Wingard) with help from friends and one paid assistant, Andrew Kowal, a former University of the Arts student.

    Castleman's first large sculptural installation was in 2005 at Eastern State Penitentiary. "The End of the Tunnel" is 600 feet of red-painted steel pipe that snakes through the cellblocks like a virtual escape route, and is currently on view at the prison.

    Castleman is the founder of the Church Studios in Fairmount. Serious about art and about his ministry, he's applying to M.F.A. programs around the country. For a trained painter, he's batting 1.000 as a sculptor, and says he began making sculpture after a personal medical crisis in 2001 and the events of 9/11 caused him to want to make solid objects-something substantial in light of how insubstantial life felt.

    Castleman is married to dancer Karen Castleman (they have a 15-month-old daughter) and says he "grew up" in the Presbyterian church. Indeed his talk is peppered with words about sacred space, scripture and spirituality. But his art, both here and at the prison, is engaged with the greater world, and because of that his pieces are successful public art.

  • Tilting at Frustration

    Philadelphia Artblog
    Thursday, March 23, 2006
    by Libby Rosof

    The physical presence of Dayton Castleman's windmill installation, "Tilting at Giants," at the Broad St. Ministries surprised me, even after reading Roberta's post and seeing the images. Bringing my memory of modern windmills that generate electricity to the exhibit, I unreasonably expected the windmills to be tall and graceful and in motion.

    What they are is high-tech-looking, somewhat short and stocky, and stunningly inert. In that soaring sanctuary space, the windmills suddenly become metaphors for people, unable to catch the wind, unable to work efficiently in a universe where atmosphere is a condition of existence. In thinking these thoughts, I was blown away.