Review | Joe Bun Keo: silence like lasagna
Review | Joe Bun Keo: silence like lasagna
Middlesex Community College
Through March 7, 2019
What do we want from art? If you find yourself asking this question after visiting Joe Bun Keo’s show, silence like lasagna, you’re on the right track.
Inside the Pegasus Gallery at Middlesex Community College, Bun Keo’s arrangements of random objects appear spare—at worst, ungenerous. A bicycle twists on its back atop a twin mattress. Paperclips fill a glass bowl sitting on a pedestal. An Iron Mountain storage box rests on the carpeted floor. On the back wall, facing viewers, Bun Keo has left a clue: “to make a palace an object of interest one must destroy it,” spells out the vinyl wall text. The quote, attributed to the French philosopher, Denis Diderot (1713-1784), relates to one of the driving forces of Bun Keo’s work, the beauty of destruction.
Diagonally across from the gallery, another wall text adds more insight. Inside the glass case of the Niche Space, black lettering reads: “As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” This phrase was penned by Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (1846-1870)—a French poet born in Uruguay whose nom de plume was Comte de Lautréamont. The Surrealist, André Breton (1896-1966), came across this quote while reading Comte de Lautréamont’s book, Les Chants de Maldoror (1869), and for him, this juxtaposition of surprising imagery was revelatory. Breton adopted this quote as a symbol for the beliefs of Surrealists—namely, the merging of two disparate things could be utilized as a ploy to challenge a viewer’s perception of reality.
Bun Keo adopts a similar strategy by combining and including unrelated, often commonplace objects within a particular context—in this case, a gallery setting. These objects take on new meanings in this environment, and their titles also help engender new connotations. Corresponding with Bun Keo, I learned that The Good Place (2019), a bowl of paperclips, alludes to a TV show on the NBC network about a group of people struggling to be good in the afterlife. One of the characters, Michael, is entranced by human inventions, particularly paperclips. For Michael, this quotidian device was capable of performing a remarkable number of functions: holding pieces of paper together, resetting a phone, and more. Inside Bun Keo’s show, I started thinking about paperclips—when they were invented, and by whom?—and I realized how many simple things I use everyday with scant consideration of their origin or aesthetic.
Everything inside Bun Keo’s show is up for re-evaluation, beginning with the title, which comes from the Lil’ Wayne single, “6 Foot Seven.” The lyrics are a play on words: the "g" in "lasagna" is silent, which is how “real Gs” move. Bun Keo relayed that he chose this particular excerpt because it demonstrates how subtlety can be impactful. “The show is about how nothing is what it truly seems and there's always a story,” said Bun Keo. “Displacement and decontextualization initiate a curiosity, a questioning, a doubting, a frustration of what art is and what it isn’t.”
Frustration is part of the process of understanding Bun Keo’s work. He’s not looking for fans who admire the craft or beauty of his work. “My work is not quick,” explained Bun Keo. “It will either force you to work hard or give up and leave.” Either path, according to the artist, continues an important conversation about the meaning of art and our expectations of it.
After visiting Bun Keo’s show, I learned that the first patent for the paperclip—defined as “a flat or nearly flat piece of metal that slides over an edge of a set of papers and holds the papers together without being bent or pinched by the user and without piercing the papers” on the website for the Early Office Museum —was in 1867 by Samuel B. Fay, but it had a different shape. The iconic form of this indispensable office item comes from the Gem paper clip, appearing around 1892. They’ve been an integral part of office culture and now, art installations, ever since.
silence like lasagna is on view through March 7 at MXCC.
 “History of the Paperclip.” Early Office Museum, https://www.officemuseum.com/paper_clips.htm