All summer, the atmosphere in Vancouver seemed about to do one of two things: condense into rain or, as is increasingly common, burst into flame. I too felt on the verge of something: nothing as euphoric as a breakdown, but some kind of unfurling, like a ball of yarn rolling down a flight of stairs. It’s slightly painful, anticipation of this weight and texture. Walking into “Even Cowboys Get Caught in the Rain,” Daniel Giordano’s recent exhibition at Vancouver’s Wil Aballe Art Projects, felt like walking into a manifestation of urban summer. The walls were lined with masks: Giordano manipulated common sheet masks used for moisturizing by deep frying or glazing them, adorning them with, among other things, eagle excrement and gold leaf, and encircling them with halos of wire or augmenting them with drips of Murano glass.
Giordano’s materials were, in a way, random—detritus collected from the bank of the Hudson River, where the artist lives. But they were also pointed: Sheet masks are ubiquitous aspects of skin care routines—they exist to plump and moisturize the skin, to slow the aging process. In Giordano’s hands, these instruments of beauty became death masks, almost like Dorian Gray portraits, expressing all the withering and grotesqueness that skin care promises to prevent.
Why did this feel like summer? Because summer is a youthful, childish season, one that dimly reminds us that we are no longer children. It is both nostalgic and excruciating. The sun is notoriously aging. Summer is anticipation that never seems to coalesce into what was anticipated. When it does, we have magic on our hands.
If Giordano’s show was summer made manifest, it was fittingly juvenile. This is not a criticism. There were several paintings exhibited alongside the sculptures, featuring people with cartoonish, phallic noses being furiously rubbed. With the sculptures, the artist seemed to work like a child making “science experiments” with kitchen pantry items. The watercolours struck me as hilarious, Freudian dreams.
Something else about summer—everyone looks better slicked in sweat. Sheet masks moisturize and promise the coveted “glow” that verges on greasiness. Giordano’s grotesque, face-like sculptures looked organic and infectious; some were singed, others glistened with resin. Summer has always embodied the ineffable balance between dirt and beauty that is, to me, the definition of sexiness. Like summer, the work was also undeniably erotic—“goat skin cock rings” were a material listed. In this case, however, eroticism had a refreshing and joyous, even puerile, glow.
Let me be clear, though: these were sculptures doused in piss, smears of lipstick and resinous goop. It was impossible to ignore that they were composed largely of river garbage. There is a sense that Giordano is revelling in the underbelly of the beauty industry, where it’s increasingly hard to ignore the fact that the things that beautify also devastate. By presenting human waste as semi-religious, bodily talismans, Giordano evoked a celebratory, hedonistic fervour. This is what a mystery rite might look like at the end of the world. This is what Dionysus is today, a god of garbage with the sensibility of a magpie. These masks look half-melted, as I often imagine a polar ice cap, these days, must be. It does not seem like an inappropriate response to slather garbage in gold leaf and try to have some fun.
Summer is endless waiting, and Giordano’s show reminded me of the glorious nature of going slightly nuts in the heat.