OFFAL, 2019

ABXY Gallery
New York, NY  

(New York, NY) ABXY is pleased to announce Offal a solo exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist, Arden Surdam. Opening June 27th, the photographs in Offal (denoting entrails or internal organs of a recently slaughtered animal) explore the gendered, classified, racially dissonant myths historically coded into our ideas about food.

Through Surdam’s lens, the absurd tension between gastronomical truth and tradition comes into focus. In her images, the artist stages raw ingredients like liver, ray fish, oysters, and dead birds in scenes, which recall the still life paintings of canonical masters like Chardin, Soutine, and Bacon. Set within the glorified compositions of traditional genre paintings, Surdam’s photographic still lifes playfully tempt and offend our appetites, inviting the viewer to consider the overarching cultural narratives responsible for our preposterously sugarcoated notions of taste.

In addition to food materials, the artist often interjects pages torn from vintage American cookbooks into her unruly table-scapes, posing the active decay of organic matter in conversation with the saccharine vernacular of culinary pop-culture. By juxtaposing conventional representations of food with the grotesque realities of the kitchen, Surdam reveals the ever-growing distance between farm and table, while exposing tropes deeply embedded into our concepts of class and cuisine.

Exhibition Essay by Dr. Leonard Folgarait with words from W.M. Hunt

Offal, 2019 (installation view)
Archival Inkjet Prints

Still Life with Duck, 2019
Archival Inkjet Print
40 x 60 IN
Picnic, 2019
Archival Inkjet Print
30 x 40 IN
The Buffet, 2018
Archival Inkjet Print
11 x 17 IN
Liver I & II, 2019
Archival Inkjet Prints
12 x 8 IN each 
Chicken Hanging Before Red Wall, 2019
Archival Inkjet Print
18 x 22 IN 
Caviar, 2019
Archival Inkjet Print
16 x 23 IN

Context Collapse

Context Collapse Theory refers to the study of a particular group of concepts associated with
the effects of social media. The term describes the infinite audience possible online as opposed to the limited groups a person normally interacts with face to face. In a limited group, a person is constantly adjusting their tone and presentation of self to fit into the social context. In situations of context collapse this becomes impossible. Online, an image intended for a limited audience can suddenly become subject to a much wider audience than initially anticipated. A phenomenon defined by mixed results and unpredictable real-world consequences, a situation of context collapse occurs when physical and virtual worlds collide.

“With Context Collapse I was interested in representing the progression (and decomposition) inherent to the creation of a still life,” says Surdam of her work. “Whether painted or photographed, traditionally the viewer has almost no idea what’s going on in the background of these scenes. Studio backdrops, lighting devices, staging equipment, not to mention the rot and decay (bugs!) that the artist typically encounters when making these perfectly “still” images – are all historically concealed in the final work.”

In social media spaces, context is destabilized in exactly the same way. Here too, images sugarcoat what’s going on behind the scenes – whatever has happened before or after the image was made - the staging and masking of our own inevitable decay has been removed from view in order to present our “best” versions of self to the internet. The goal of the traditional still life – immortality in an image - is achieved; however, without context – all representations are subject to (mis)interpretation. Because that’s all they are – mostly very contrived representations. (Smile for the camera!)

Platforms like Twitter and Instagram allow for such limited context, today images online often take on a variety of contradictory meanings and interpretations offline - depending on author, audience, and the subjective nature of interpretation. This confusion – intended or not (what the theorists refer to as context collisions or context collusions), is the same confusion mimicked by this series of photographs.

In Context Collapse the falsifying devices of the artist’s studio become Surdam’s subjects. “Part of the intention behind setting these objects on fire was to represent the chaos that accompanies real life, realities most commonly omitted from the average still life (or selfie). A fire’s natural progression also conveys the passage of time, but by resequencing the order of events here, the work ironically ibecomes an agent of deception in itself. As the viewer searches for truth in these images, the fire burns. The point (and latent joke) is that – images, if relied upon for the determination of truth, will betray you. Context Collapse Theory is the result of this reliance on representations as truth and the work is intended to provoke the viewer’s investigation of that.

Magritte of course, made this point almost one hundred years ago – but it seems, in the age of social media, rather than rejecting images as stand ins for the truth – we have accepted and integrated their treachery by turning our real lives into theater on social media. When I made the work, I built the set backwards, the second image in the series - which seems the most constructed – is actually the remnants of the whole scene, after the fire had been lit and extinguished – rebuilt to mimic the original. There’s a little clue in the burn holes in the cloth. The smoke in the final frame is also an illusion – it isn’t the result of the set burning, it was actually produced by a smoke bomb I ordered online from China.”


Context Collapse I-IV, 2019 (installation view) 
Archival Inkjet Print 
18 x 27 IN each

Context Collapse I-IV, 2019
Archival Inkjet Print 
18 x 27 IN each

© 2023 Arden Surdam. All rights reserved.