Matias Faldbakken’s exhibitions are usually initiated with a gesture of violence, perhaps ratchet-strapping a bank of lockers until they bloat, or cutting household appliances with an angle grinder. More subtly, he utilizes the ubiquitous craft of a tradesman by tiling, wheat pasting or taping gestures on walls and panels, in the process only flirting with any assertion of authorship.
Yet, at first glance, his recent exhibition at Reena Spaulings Fine Art in Los Angeles, “Why New French Art is Lousy,” seems like a departure. Here Faldbakken remakes portions of a charcoal drawing he found in the background of a photograph of his favorite Norwegian author, Dag Solstad. The original drawing is a seascape featuring a two-faced, pipe-smoking man lying with a nude mermaid who holds a bird. A sailboat floats in the distance. The work is made in a crude surrealist style, and it’s the type of drawing you might find at a rummage sale or hanging in your uncle’s basement.
The artist intimately retraces the unknown artist’s gestures in twenty-one individual works, and the viewer is primarily asked to reconcile Faldbakken’s relationship to the Norwegian author in the photograph. Move a layer deeper, however, and notice that several of the works feature a blue and red motif; this, combined with the exhibition’s and each work’s title, Why New French Art is Lousy, suggests an engagement with sociopolitical critique. Finally, his decision to use ubiquitous aluminum frames for some works but panels made of rebar and plaster for others, asks the viewer to evaluate the hierarchy of each work.
Set inside the context of Faldbakken’s practice these layers of content seem like false flags; what at first seems like an intimate exploration is a game designed to reveal our uneasy relationship with identity and craft, appropriation and authorship. Ultimately, we are asked if the gestures of a drawing can be treated like a found object and if the act of appropriation is truly a nonviolent one.