Jason Kraus: Moments of Suspended Disbelief

Jason Kraus (1983, New York) is a young promising artist who recently graduated from the California Institute of the Arts. Since then, he has shown his work in solo and group exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York, and recently collaborated with Martin Kersels in a one-night performance at the Whitney Museum titled Jason Martin wants to be a DJ. Demonstrating an interdisciplinary approach, Kraus’ artistic practice is often the result of a private performance, where the final object produced proposes narratives meant for the viewer to construe. The experience of viewing his work invokes instances of what the artist defines as suspended disbelief, where he keeps the viewer thinking if what he sees is found or fabricated. But with so much talk lately of the hyperreal and the simulated in our visual landscape, does it really even matter anymore?

Explosion of the Hyperreal

Since the publication in 1981 of Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard’s seminal work on postmodern culture, consciousness of the hyperreal has exploded upon us. In it, he states that “simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”1 For Baudrillard, art objects are considered important artifacts in a system of signs, where the duplication of reality through them is defined as a simulacrum. Today, we are increasingly witnessing the relevance of Baudrillard’s work, not only through the guise of politics and the social realm, but also in contemporary artistic production, proven by the existence of a museum dedicated to the hyperreal; a clear indication of the recent over-saturation of his ideas on artistic practice. But more than merely offering tangible representations of simulacra, Jason Kraus’ work presents viewers with a timely conundrum, one that engages them to reconsider the work as either fake or real, while leaving viewers in a place where either one is possible.

The Private Performative

In many ways, Kraus can be considered a process-based artist in the sense that the final object produced is not the main focus of the work. The artist is concerned with the action it entails, art as a ritual and performance. However, nothing here is left to improvisation. Every action taken as part of a private performance is calculated to produce an experience and a very specific reaction; the creation of a space in the viewer’s mind where a range of potentialities coexist.

In the Primary Explosions (2007) photographs, we are confronted with the remnants of a private performance, where the artist exploded a number of cakes in a closed room. The series is comprised of color photographs and a drop cloth that was draped around the room where the alleged explosions took place. In this work, each object marks a specific time during the performance; an attempt by the artist to freeze time, creating a narrative that subdues the object created. And although the photographs show the residues of these explosions, they are also digitally manipulated, forcing the viewer to reconsider what specific elements of the work are real and which ones are fabricated. Similarly, in the Contained Explosions (2009-2010) series what we see as viewers is actually the aftermath of an explosion inside a plexiglass box along with the materials used to make it. The work does entail a scientific approach, the experiment on a small scale of a large scale phenomenon, but we are not sure as viewers if any of these explosions really took place. With this work, we can clearly see the play on oppositions between seeing and not seeing that lay the foundation for the doubt created between what is real and what is not.

Side B and Other Rarities (2007) and Warping Box (2007) display both sides of the dilemma: the real action-consequence and its reproduction. Side B and Other Rarities is a series of 40 macro photographs of records from the personal collection of the artist that were destroyed in a fire. These objects are evidently transformed by an uncontrolled force, but what seems interesting is the fact that Kraus reproduces this accident in a controlled environment. In Warping Box, a contained plexiglass box made of Lexam, Kraus deliberately provokes the distortion of a record with a heater. Subject to these conditions, the record is slowly transformed, mimicking the malleability of spacetime. But then again, since this process is almost imperceptible, we cannot really tell if it is actually happening or if the record was previously warped.

Measuring the Real against Itself

How can we measure what’s real when it has been duplicated and simulated? In the simulacrum, the real no longer represents or refers to an external model. In 3 Tanks (2009), a motorcycle gas tank is exhibited alongside its cement and plastic “copy”. If we consider Baudrillard’s claim that the simulated world consists of a constant reproduction of the model without any original reference, then the casting process becomes itself a copy of this simulacra; “the hallucinatory resemblance of the real to itself”2. In addition to this, the tanks are bent and mutilated, making us wonder if they have been taken from the scene of an accident or if they have been wrecked deliberately.

We can also observe both sides of this real/fake duality in Making a Mold (2009), Kraus’ proposal for the New York SculptureCenter’s In Practice series to cast the museum in silicone. The proposal marks off two sections of the museum’s downstairs galleries, where on one end the viewer encounters an industrial pump apparently filling up the space with silicone, while the other end reveals a computer generated animation showing the process of the gallery being filled. Here again, the artist plays with notions of the real and itself; on one side an actual working pump, and on the other a simulated action.

So, is what we see real or fake? “It doesn’t matter as long as you are willing to believe either one,” 3 the artist states. “I am interested in leaving the spectator in a place where they have that option; situating things in a non-defined space.” What seems central to Kraus’ practice is those moments of suspended disbelief, where our perception swings like a pendulum between one possibility and the other.

Originally published on ARTPULSE Magazine

 Cover | ARTPULSE Magazine | 2010