Nick Mauss and Ken Okiishi met at Cooper Union in New York as undergraduates and embarked on a romantic relationship, but it was some time before they collaborated as artists. Each has a distinctive practice of his own. Mauss, 28, gained recognition early for his delicate and provisional works on paper — drawings of polychrome marbleizing, amorphous washes of transparent watercolor, smudges in black ink, pencil jottings, and imagery that seems to come and go without too much insistence either way. When they do appear, his images are often composed of bits of old-fashioned ornament and fragmentary figures of young men. In the winter of last year at Galerie Neu in Berlin, Mauss paired his drawings with sculptures of cut and bent aluminum sheets, silk-screened with marks and images, and resting casually on the floor.
Okiishi, 30, works in photography and video, making awkward and deliberately amateurish quasi-narratives inflected by pop culture. E.lliotT.: Children of the New Age (2004), for instance, mashes up references to Spielberg's E.T. and the Heaven's Gate suicide cult in a cryptic domestic drama, acted woodenly by a slightly androgynous man (played by Mauss) and woman.
The work Mauss and Okiishi make together shares the open-endedness and unpretentious disinterest in definitive statements that characterize their individual production. At Gavin Brown's Enterprise in New York in the spring of 2007, the artists presented One Season in Hell, an installation based on Rimbaud's narcotic poem. Okiishi fed the original French through Google's online translator and used the results to write his own text, full of blunts, jock itch, Volvos, wigger boys, Karl Lagerfeld, and South Park. Mauss annotated and overlaid the words with his drawing, and the illustrated pages were framed and hung around the perimeter of the gallery. A performance, Vorstellungsklavier, found Okiishi playing an upright piano while a rough video montage was projected on its back. He repeated it at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, this time with footage of the first performance projected on the piano; by its third iteration, back in New York, the projection had become a mise en abyme of projections within projections, the live and recorded music merging with ambient sounds in an echoing cacophony.
Elliptical, glancing, contingent, the artists' collaborations, like their solo efforts, evince an oblique, yet nonetheless heartfelt, consideration of shared interests, histories, and lives. Their professional relationship seems to answer a question Okiishi posed in an interview: "How do you move from love to aesthetics?
"Ken Okiishi + Nick Mauss" originally appeared in the December 2008 / January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2008 / January 2009 Table of Contents.