The body as a sentence to be scrambled
The first artwork of Dan Herschlein's I saw was a 2013 performance, titled Driver's Bedroom, at the no-longer-extant Violet's Cafe (run by artists Violet Dennison, Graham Hamilton, and Scott Keightley). It was located in Gowanus and felt more like an office than a gallery. It had a drop-tile ceiling, linoleum floors, and fluorescent lighting—all completely unmodified, allowing for each show staged there to have a sense of existing in a real place, with some unknown history, much like a revolving room in Mike Nelson's 2007 A Psychic Vacuum.
At the entrance of Driver's Bedroom there was a homemade device for breeding flies, a bucket with fabric duct taped over the top. Inside were a couple dozen houseflies slowly escaping through holes in the fabric. A structure in the center of the space—a sort of abbreviated house with half-built walls and uncovered studs—set the stage. As I looked around this structure the top portion of a wall concealed a man rocking back and forth in a folding chair. I could only see the bottom half of his body. His toes pressed against the floor, his heels against the front legs of the chair, and his hands were folded neatly in his lap. I realized this rocking gesture and posture were actually idiosyncrasies of the artist. I had met Dan a few years earlier and saw him fairly often, but was surprised that some part of me not only knew the rhythm of his rocking, but also what his ankles looked like.
I turned the corner to another section of the structure and could see his whole body, again sitting on a sort of chair but now elevated much higher, leaning forward and staring into a television. He was slowly shaving his beard with an electric razor from top to bottom on one cheek. I was confused. I doubled back to the bottom half of the man I was so certain was Dan, to see if he was still there, and he was. This first Dan still sat in his chair rocking back and forth, while the second, separate Dan persisted in shaving (so much that I thought he'd surely take off a layer of skin) and staring into the television for two full hours.
Later, I found out that the first Dan was actually someone else, artist Alex Casso, wearing Dan's clothes and performing Dan's idiosyncrasies. I recently watched a YouTube video of John Welchman and Mike Kelley talking at the Walker, which is incredibly easy to follow for those who find Kelley's work troublesome to unpack. At one point Welchman says Kelley looks to Hans Bellmer's dolls for "the notion of the body as anagram, the body as a kind of sentence that can be scrambled again and again. Here the sentence of experience is recalled through the syntax of remembered moments." I always thought of Bellmer as an influence on Dan, but Mike Kelley's work articulates why I felt this way perfectly.
Titled Safe As Houses and presenting work that takes a similar interest in the body as a sentence to be scrambled, Herschlein's second show with my gallery, JTT, will run March 3–April 9, 2017. Many of the sculptures on view will feature casts of parts of Dan's body: his mouth, chest, hands, embedded into elements of the American home, such as windows, beds, chairs, and door frames. Leading up to the exhibition, I've started to wonder what having all those bodies in the corner of my eye will feel like. Will they frighten or comfort me?
Dan Herschlein lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Safe As Houses at JTT, New York; The Stillness of Eddies at 56 Henry, New York; Worm at AALA Gallery, Los Angeles; and The Enthusiast at JTT, New York. His work has also been shown at C. Grimaldis Projects, Baltimore; Magenta Plains, New York; Evening Hours, New York; Signal, New York; Green River Project, Hillsdale; and Exile, Berlin. Herschein has performed at 80WSE, PS122, and Performa.