Introducing: Ed Fornieles

Ed Fornieles Modern PaintersEd Fornieles page 2Ed Fornieles page 3

In chIldhood, there is little more comforting than cartoon friends. They populate imagined primary-colored worlds, filling in the unfamiliar and guiding screwball odysseys. outgrowing these creatures’ charms as we get older, fairylands and half-truths take on different forms: We face each other through our online personas, emphasizing particular details and omitting others to make a careful impression on social media. Embracing the imaginative nature of these platforms, U.K.-born artist Ed Fornieles has embarked on a fantasy-adventure, one that cracks the two-way mirror that divides the digital and the human worlds.

Cartoon Ed, a fox dressed for casual Friday, begins his travelogue on Instagram, sprinting through multiple cities and dimensions. His crew of companions grows as the trail loops: Platypus dean (writer dean Kissick), cat Ami (artist Amalia Ulman), and owl Mats (philosopher Mats Carlsson) join at various inroads. dropping in on the artist IRL, the animals bounce into photographed scenes—exiting the Bethnal Green tube stop in london on a rainy day, lying on the gray sands of Stromboli, checking into the West Village’s Jane hotel, and piling into a bright-yellow cab for a tour of Times Square’s blazing lights, eventually entering a darker dimension via a bite of glittering kimchi at Spa castle. The animals are a new circle for Fornieles— previous works have involved a large cast of people, some actors, some appearing as themselves. After setting initial parameters for a group, the artist retreats, allowing a disheveled scenario to unravel on its own. Using both real and fictional individuals’ online presence to generate moments of fiery collision and acute tension, he synthesizes unsettling realms.

For New York New York Happy Happy (NY NY HP HP), his 2013 performance that doubled as a benefit gala for New York digital arts organization Rhizome, guests were asked to play caricatures of themselves, evoking soap opera–level dramatics over the course of a decadent evening. The artist spoke with guests in the days before the event, coaching them individually to magnify certain aspects of their personality as a way of heightening the participatory self-reflective spectacle of attending
a glamorous party—socialization as dinner theater. Everything was for sale: A bronze ticket bought you a conversation with the artist; platinum-level guaranteed “dedicated arm candy, any gender”; the highest tier ensured the ticket holder would be the gala’s honoree. The night offered sashimi arranged on a reclining nude model, and a stretch-limousine cruise for VVIPs. Revealing a gala’s economics should not provoke any surprise that honors are available at a price—Fornieles’s directions lead the crowd to a familiar conclusion: Generosity and sincerity often follow the indulgence of ego.

Fornieles, like other post-Internet artists, has been seen to dissolve sole authorship of a work. In a project such as NY NY HP HP, he is the architect of a social dynamic, not necessarily arranging turbulent circumstances so much as inciting them. They are often engineered online, in Facebook groups or mediated documentation on Instagram, but the real action moves offline. The texture in such bacchanal-like scenes comes from enabling self-absorption, escalating the intrigue that builds when someone in whom we are invested is a tease, sharing in fragments—a vague post or tweet, a seductive photo without context.

The artist worked as a data analyst in the years between studying fine art at oxford and sculpture at London’s Royal College of Art, an experience that obliged his inclination for experimenting with how public information constructs, and often misleads, the perception of an individual—offering much but revealing little. The near-endless intelligence that social media makes available has allowed him to act as an agent of provocation, with a particular interest in the window of time between independence and adulthood—specifically, the college years. Dorm Daze, 2011, was a “Facebook sitcom” semi-scripted by the artist, who cloned the profiles of 34 unknowing Uc Berkeley students. The group (in reality, Fornieles’s friends in London) began posting about real-life current events, taking positions on Proposition 8 and becoming involved with Occupy, the student characters eventually blowing up a bank and going into hiding. The project later led to “Animal house,” a roving series of actual frat parties
that consistently ended in a mess—broken furniture and overturned beer kegs. Pool Party, 2013, was just that—a performance as immersive, literally, as it was photogenic. A sun-soaked afternoon ending in a murder mystery, the event resulted in a film for MOCAtv.

As I wind through Fornieles’s massive studio in Downtown Los Angeles, the possibilities laid out for these adorable cartoon avatars seem infinite: They star in motivational posters for an office break room; they’re roughly sketched on a wall map on oversize sheets of paper, and are fabricated as sculptures, offering a seat, their detached limbs performing the occasional utilitarian function of bracing a tabletop. The studio itself is a makeshift salon, a flex space with a little platform stage and microphone stand to host stand- up comedy, performances, slumber parties, aura readings, and group therapy sessions.

Moving beyond soiree theatrics, recent concepts turn toward introspection and contemplation. Fornieles’s first solo
in the U.K., “Modern Family,” was at London’s Chisenhale Gallery in 2014. An installation not just all-consuming but completely crushing, the show exhaustively overwhelmed the vast, industrial space with overlain sculptures, video projections, live performances, and mise-en-scènes until the concrete walls and floor were nearly camouflaged. Navigating the exhibition was something like walking through the den of a stalker in a crime drama. Mourning the end of a relationship, the artist created what would never be: life-size cardboard cutouts of the couple and their imaginary future children posing in happy assemblage, staring with vacant eyes. The room was littered with props and actors to support the suburban nuclear family’s sitcom presentation—join them for an absurd barbecue; have a seat at the nearby red-checkered picnic table wherever there’s room between the piles of sawdust, a menacing pot of soup on a hot plate, and comically oversize fruit. The California sun, here a yellow plastic hula-hoop duct-taped to the ceiling, shone above. The perfect family doesn’t sit well here; its niceties are faintly distressing. Playing oneself is an exploration that begins very early in life; participating in a family is an agreement to play the role you’ve been assigned.

Most recently, at Château Shatto gallery in Los Angeles, Fornieles located the generation of identity and interpersonal connection in the more formal environment of the workplace. In collaboration with artists Hannah Black and Matt Goerzen, Fornieles built a hot-desking space open for anyone to use. As other social frameworks—family, religion—recede as necessary obligations in modern life, work becomes the defining commitment of one’s personality, priorities, and values. The distinction between work and life dissolves even faster for a cultural producer. At his studio, Fornieles puts on a pot of tea, a meandering ritual that disrupts multi-tasking for a little bit, demanding a few minutes’ wait for the leaves to open up. Offering me a cup, he says, “Tea breaks have now been replaced by coffee breaks, which is more conducive to productivity and less time-consuming. Work now colonizes all our time and all types of our time—daytime, free time, leisure time,” he says. “Everything we spend time on now has to drive toward a certain purpose.” The Instagram characters bounce around—on wall posters, as sculptures, creating an office-like theme park for creative professionals.

An environment that is so appropriately attuned to today’s working culture proposes specific questions to the artist: how is success to be measured? How is one to grow professionally in a precarious working climate? While earlier artworks have grown, even thrived, by embracing chaos and subjectivity in social situations, building an office environment to increase an artist’s productivity introduces new measures of success and failure. likes and shares, easy but reductive data, are supplanted with gallery contracts and production assistants, trading the currency of the attention economy played out on social media for the financial realities of the art market.

In October, Fornieles turned Carlos/ Ishikawa’s booth at Frieze London into a Japanese-style teahouse and entertained friends and strangers in a ceremony that, like his studio tea ritual, was intended to promote tranquility, a turn from the efficiency-leaning cups of coffee driving “Workland.” Guests included the Instagram animals. devising these stages to induce a precise interplay, his education in sculpture resurfaces in the last projects, as social interactions supported by material forms.

Looking forward to his next exhibition, at Arratia Beer gallery in Berlin during Gallery Weekend Berlin 2016, at the end of May, Fornieles is further testing the next self and its representations at maturing stages in modern life. The fox and friends seem ready to take on something more transcendent; as the bespectacled owl Mats remarks, “dreams manifest us, not the other way around.”

Modern Painters, November 2015

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