June 2015: Michael Gargiulo | Ash Moniz

In Blog, Photography, Reviews By by Ken Aschliman On July 16, 2015

June in ROY G BIV Gallery fosters personal questions instilled by the shows of artists Michael Gargiulo and Ash Moniz. Incorporating monolithic structures, staring photographs, perplexing videos, and a suitcase sculpture, the artists encourage self-investigation.


Installation view of Michael Gargiulo, Private Property, 2015

Michael Gargiulo, who grew up in Cleveland, concerns himself with the issues of class structure, privilege, and the concept of ownership. His series Private Property synthesizes large photographs and enamel canvas paintings into a tense and challenging show. Hostile expressions of armed individuals, black and white deconstructed figures, and magnified symbols confront visitors. The photographs intermixed with the massive canvases highlight singularity. The canvases demand attention with bold fonts and repeated words, echoing the stares emanating from the photographs. A stroll through the gallery causes one to question the self and the meaning of property. The apprehensive tension evident throughout the installation guides the dialogue of Private Property.


Michael Gargiulo, Fammy, 2014, Lambda print

Gargiulo’s photographs in the installation highlight the role of individuals: Fammy, Anthony, Jeff, and Caitlin, to name a few. These photographs of young men and women bearing arms against stark white backgrounds stand for property. The repeated pose of a person defensively holding a gun links with the repeated shapes and phrases in Gargiulo’s paintings. The models in the photographs are ethnically diverse and ambiguous; these people seem to be everyday men and women. Would you suspect them to carry a gun? The blank expressions distance viewers and produce an unwelcoming atmosphere. Tensely passing by the photographs, viewers see different types of guns but a similar stance and expression of the featured persons. All right-handed, the models hold rifles and handguns in a seemingly ready stance. The guns, all pointing to the right, lead visitors through the gallery. Confidently blank, the models challenge the viewers’ perceptions of gun laws and gun owners.


Gargiulo’s enamel canvases feature available terms and images: “PRIVATE PROPERTY,” “HELP WANTED,” hammers, and a penny. The repetition and enlargement produces monolithic forms. Dislocating and repeating the terms “Help Wanted” and “Private Property” challenges the idea of opportunity and ownership through misrepresentation. Private Property, an eight-foot tall work composed of two canvases, asks: what is private property and what does ownership entail? Setting apart the two words forces viewers to discern their own opinion on the subject. The bold font and overlapping layers of letters turns the term into a pattern.


David Hume, a widely known philosopher who proposed that laws of property are only necessary in a state of moderation in order to maintain peace in a society. Gargiulo’s works call on Hume’s theory, emphasizing that property is an issue of the individual in relation to society and a question of supply distribution. It is not an individual subject. Private Property dwells on the ideas of possession, structure, and the sense of self through repetition. Displaying personally identifiable images charges the idea of property as separation and as slightly subjective.


Michael Gargiulo, Lungs, 2015, enamel on canvas

Gargiulo’s painting Lungs speaks to the cyclical unfairness of the working class. Here, a hammer hits the end of another hammer that hits the end of another; this process repeats into the space of the canvas. Reminiscent of the symbol for recycling, the image considers the recurring manner of hard work. Gargiulo was told as he grew up “Hard work pays off,” but contrarily he noticed that this is not always the case. Instead, people are stuck in a cycle of always working and never benefiting. The hammer as a symbol of economic production is identifiable to all, and the people who stand as the “hammers” in society act as society’s lungs – always working, never excelling, and not moving forward. 


Michael Gargiulo, Wheat Penny, 2015, enamel and graphite on canvas

Concerned with economic disparity, Gargiulo magnifies the smallest unit of currency to a monumental size in his painting Wheat Penny. In recent years, the significance of the penny has declined, which emphasizes the complications of class structure and economic disparity. While some people count pennies, others just leave the coins lying on the ground.  A wheat penny however, is more valuable than a regular penny. Produced between 1909 and 1958, wheat pennies come in many different forms and in smaller quantities as a result of material shortages due to World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Many collect these rare and diverse coins as a testament to the struggles of the time period. This simple detail of value actualizes in the canvas. Dark, dripping, and magnified, this penny speaks “e pluribus unum” (Latin for “from many, one”), calling out the misrepresentation of the sense of unity in the United States. 


Gargiulo intends for the installation to yield questions. Question the representation of self, property, and economic movement. Individual identity and experience charge the black and white atmosphere of Gargiulo’s exhibition with energy that lingers beyond the time spent in the exhibit. Repetition ignites a conversation.


Installation view of Ash Moniz, 2015

The humming of a lawn mower and blowing desert wind welcome viewers to Ash Moniz’s show at ROY G BIV Gallery. Moniz’s installation features videos, photographs, and sculpture, all of which share a theme of mobility. The inclusion of two video pieces provides a sound to guide the mental voyage from Toronto to Morocco, then to China, and then back to the airport. Moniz, a self-described “third culture kid,” has lived in five distinct countries. As a result of this worldview, Moniz questions the concepts of “movement and situatedness.” The prankish humor of Moniz’s works attracts and further draws attention to the deeper questions within his pieces.


Ash Moniz, still from Temple Swap, 2014, video

In his video Temple Swap, Moniz documents his performance of attaching a piece of a demolished Chinese temple onto a replica temple built in Ouarzazate, Morocco. The replica temple was built for the filming of Martin Scorsese’s movie Kundun. In the video, Moniz mixes close-ups of the temple, sounds of muffled wind, and scenes of birds flying through the frame. Altogether, this combination provokes a sense of abandonment. By including shots of tourists in the video, Moniz emphasizes the empty function of the temple. Moniz infuses vitality and spirituality by joining the history of an actual temple to the replica. Visible in the background, other historically themed film sets stand abandoned, exactly like the temple, which creates a neighborhood of once relevant replicas. Temple Swap functions as a modern rendition of Percy Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias,” which tells a simple irony that the story, not the physical presence, is everlasting. Moniz’s work unifies the authentic and the imitation. In Temple Swap, Moniz sets the history of a culture within the actuality of its remaining influence. Engaging the replica with an authentic piece of Buddhist history frames the idea of imitation and the globalization of an image. 


Ash Moniz, installation view of Alchemy of Context, 2014, bronze and suitcase

The tail of an airplane out of focus in the background of Temple Swap transitions into the next piece, a suitcase sculpture, Alchemy of Contexts, placed open on the floor. At first the suitcase seems empty, but Moniz, draws on the role of the suitcase and what it carries. Moniz made a plaster mold of the rubble of a demolished home in China and packed the plaster in a suitcase traveling to Canada. Then, he removed the mold and casted it in bronze. Returning the cast to the suitcase, Moniz redefines the role of the suitcase and the cast, constructing one sculpture. Moniz, in Alchemy of Contexts, obscures and highlights the change in meaning of an object within different situations.


Moniz ridicules airport security and carry-on restrictions in the photograph diptych Carry-on Allowance. Moniz noticed that flight regulations state that a passenger may carry up to 10 kg of baggage on the plane, so he decided to carry on exactly 10 kg of barbell weights and nothing else. In the left photo, Moniz documents his travel through security with the four 2.5 kg weights. Moniz depicts his plane right in the right photograph with the passenger next to him filling the traveling time with a book. In comparison with reading, Moniz’s action of holding 10 kg of weight for the duration of the flight is useless. With no relevant function or means of entertainment, the weights are simply dead weight. These photos open a discussion: what is the meaning of the 10 kg you choose to carry with you from one country to the next? Moniz enhances the value of what an individual carries while traveling by proving that the weight of 10 kg does not suffice as a functioning description. Weight does not quantify usefulness.


The video, Lagrangian Lawn challenges viewers to follow a Uhaul truck that is transporting a lawn through downtown Toronto. The lawn travels through the city as Moniz mows inside the truck. In the video, Moniz points out the lack of green space in the city, while also emphasizing the idea of a commonly sedentary image turned mobile. Through this risky prank, Moniz offers a dialogue of displacement and the perspective of mobility.  Humorously, through this video, Moniz demonstrates his curiosity and his desire to catalyze curiosity in others.


Moniz utilizes humor and absurdity to convey his ideas in this exhibition. Questioning location, function, and meaning, Moniz asks viewers to think critically after a few laughs. Moniz, in his videos, sculpture, and photographs, takes viewers with him in attempts to challenge the norm of traveling and transportation. The installation illustrates that an aware worldview results from investigating how location and movement affect the role of the individual.


Gargiulo’s show implicates the position of an individual within society concerning class structure and property.  Moniz’s show employs humor to investigate an individual’s placement, movement, and relation to globalization. Together the two shows prompt the re-thinking of everyday issues in a not-so-everyday way. Leaving the gallery this month, viewers find themselves reconsidering their placement within society on a personal, local, and global scale. 


By Jenna Ellis