Springing from personal reflections and cultural observations, Joseph Daun’s work aims to activate the viewer, to thwart passive appreciation through conceptual and kinesthetic stimulation. While traditional definitions of art preclude the possibility of function, Daun calls upon it to reconfigure the spectator as a participant. Subverting his own methodology, Daun installed a work titled Function in the conference room gallery at ArtPace in the spring of 1995. Behind locked glass doors sat a stack of wooden packing crates unobtrusively simulating the back room of any gallery or museum. The only clue to their fraudulent nature was the insertion of thin veneer panels which glowed with a soft light from within the crates. Identifying the tableau as art (electrified boxes with glowing rectangles) or not (random placement of crates behind closed doors in an art institution) involved the viewer in a Duchampian game of contradictions.
Daun’s subject matter is the mundane. It is-and I mean to avoid disdain-something everyone can understand. Through the fabrication of common fantasies, our fears and desires are materialized, unmasked and laid bare. Daun’s bulky, mechanical hulks, which grumble and clank in apparent resistance to their destructive tasks, manifest the frustrations of post-industrial society. The Plate Breaking Machine and the Floor Drilling Piece (both 1994) are characterized by the low-tech ingenuity of Rube Goldberg contraptions. A kindred spirit is Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, whose meta-matic painting machines of 1958-59 and self-destructive Homage to New York (1960) rely on the “functional use of chance.” Daun also acknowledges Ed Kienholz’s Beanery (1965) as the inspiration for his own Diner Piece (1994). Simulating the convivial ambiance of a coffee house, this tableau provided participants with booths in which to sit, sip coffee and converse. A forty-foot long conveyor belt carried the visitor’s used mugs to their crashing demise at the end of the belt.
Daun’s residency at ArtPace investigates the recuperative effects of consumption through the evolving history of the preparation and storage of food. Bun Making Machine, which bakes dough transported from freezer to oven on a conveyor belt and subsequently dumps it on the floor, mimics the industrial production of food in bakeries and bread factories. Post-industrial fast food is the literal content of Cheeseburger Piece, a desiccator jar filled with burgers from McDonald’s, while wall drawings of the kneading of dough and a neon illustration of the underground storage of carrots in a small-scale root cellar evoke a nostalgia for the agrarian past. With its shelves of sparkling glass jars containing pickles, carrots, beets, and rutabagas, The Last Painting conjures up memories of the taste of homegrown foods and canning contests at county fairs. Its elaborate gold frame and Plexiglass shield prevent the satisfaction of consumption: a deferral of taste from the culinary to the aesthetic, which is facilitated by the work’s cool, seductive formalism. The visitor is invited instead to eat the warm, tasty results of the Bun Making Machine or the toast from the toaster atop a breakfast table by artist Henry Stein. Stimulating all of the senses, Daun’s exhibition encourages the breaking of bread as a symbol of camaraderies, community and continuity.