In the front room—or, as a text denotes, the putative “show room”—of the gallery hangs a series of photoworks that mimic commercial product photography. Each image depicts an oblique assemblage of hardware-store miscellany, often paired with colourful fruits and plants, and always isolated on a uniform stock background. As images, they are certainly graphically pleasing and would seem formally driven if not for their illegibility and strangeness, which obscure Limit’s motivations at the surface level.
I first saw these photographs in May as part the self-published bookwork Jimmy Limit Spring/Summer 2012; copies of a second edition accompany this exhibition. Like “Show Room,” the book summons the presentation modes of “applied” or commercial photography. Spring/Summer 2012 takes its design cues from the Uline shipping supply catalogue, borrowing outright from its typography and layout. However, in Uline’s catalogue, all the products are purpose-driven, comprising a seemingly endless assortment of boxes and bags custom-made for specific objects—and the photographs work to drive home this specificity. By appropriating this form but confounding our expectations of its content, Limit calls for reflection on the complex relationships between image, object and consumer.
In following the formal logic of advertising, Limit’s ambiguous assemblages call to mind the Panzani pasta products advertisement that so captivated Roland Barthes in his essay “Rhetoric of the Image.” The wholly unremarkable Panzani ad offered Barthes a clairvoyance into the way advertising affects us through suggestions in three modes: linguistic messages, coded iconic messages, and non-coded iconic messages. As Barthes riffs on the independent elements of the ad, drawing on cultural associations to unlock its coded messages, he demonstrates the circle of complementary suggestions within the image, pointing out signifiers of freshness, homemade-ness, authenticity and “Italianicity.”
It seems that Limit begins by following Barthes’s rhetorical formula, but he proceeds to disrupt it by reversing the role of the coded iconic message. His radical divergence from our expectations—in that his beguiling coded messages may never become fully clear—catches us off guard, producing visual excitement and leaving viewers more desirous of the image than of the objects it represents.
Like a stock photography library, the photographs in “Show Room” follow an indexing practice. They have two titles: first, a simplified description, and second, a series of tangential ideas in list form. For example, in Pipes with Orange Ball (Balance, Collapse, Cooperation, Drainage, Fragility, Isolation, Level, Loneliness, Masculinity, Nobody, Progress, Risk, Success, Suspension, Teamwork, Terror, Therapy), the denotative title fades into the background of the work while the connotative subtitle takes the lead, half-heartedly attempting to guide the viewer while puckishly harboring a wry smirk. The images themselves, like stock photographs and concept graphics, become a gym for psychoanalytic aerobics, a suggestive Rorschach test with anchor points in the textual elements.
The simplified figure/ground relationships within Limit’s photographs open up to broader ideas of depth in the installation. While the “show room” is a space of flatness featuring clear delineations between objects and their backgrounds, this relationship unravels in what is termed the “stock room” at the back of the gallery. It is in this “stock room” that reality and representation begin to commingle, bringing the exhibition full circle.
Within the “stock room,” a large, Meccano-style metal shelf and smaller, wall-mounted utility shelf are stocked with ceramic sculptures, arranged readymades and cardboard boxes. It is a place that balances the specificity of the artist’s studio, partially signified by the variation and experimentation in the ceramics, with the fragmentation of a globalized economic system, which is pointed to in the readymades.
Sculptural substations of commercially available products occasionally appear; in presenting a ceramic imitation of a PVC pipe, Limit self-consciously brings an element of the handmade back into the gallery. As viewers come into contact with the readymades from the photographs, spectres of the free-market, import/export, supply-and-demand tactics that go hand and hand with this kind of high-gloss commercial photography emerge. Limit nods to these issues without being overly explicit, also implicating himself; his art is, after all, a saleable quantity.
As an exhibition, “Show Room” has a degree of transubstantiation; a sculpture becomes a photograph, and may be reinterpreted again as a sculpture. As Limit looks at the representation and manufacturing of desires, he makes viewers long for the representation over the represented, using photography as a sounding board for metaphysical suggestion.