Absolute unit

Published Friday, June 17 2022 at 11:27 pm
Absolute unit
Carl Simmons' installation at New Bedford Art Museum.

Yesterday I got a friendly reminder from my storage place: Pay now to avoid a late fee! :)

I appreciated the email because, yes, I’ve been delinquent. The first few times I smiled as the unit’s sheet metal door thudded shut, all my valuables cozy inside. The last time I visited, when my bill was two weeks overdue? Fuck! They put another lock on the door! Hence the friendly email this time around. :)

So you might expect that I’d be lightly shellshocked by Carl Simmons’ stockpile of an installation currently up in New Bedford, where the artist fills in an entire alcove at the New Bedford Art Museum. It’s self storage, sans door.

But Simmons’ stuff isn’t mine and is therefore exotic to behold. What connoisseur of junk doesn’t also enjoy looking at other people’s junk? Neatly choreographed for our nosy pleasure, Simmons’ piece is part of an exhibit featuring the museum’s former artists-in-residence.

Simmons’ install sports painted walls and a constructed floor. It resembles the overstock of a general store, with many visible nods to the surrounding city. Many of the items are in healthy shape despite their apparent age. A column of Polaroid brand videotapes looks as bright as the day they came home from the department store decades ago.

Simmons has arranged everything to be suggestively messy without obscuring anything necessary. A cursory look may give the impression of things stacked in haste, but examine deeper and you’ll see the care afforded the display: A cabinet door thrown open, exposing its colorful insides. The shape of a green bench peeking out from beneath newspapers and some kind of rolled up canvas. A door that declares cutely “New Bedford: Whale of a city” via a cartoon orca. Notice the yellow of a rogue Juicy Fruit wrapper.

In a video interview from Simmons’ 2021 NBAM residency, the artist said: “I’m constantly doing a response to the stuff in my house…So much of this stuff is found in my attic...[from] the previous owner of my home.”

For this current installation, it appears Simmons amassed gifts and loans from friends and family to help infuse the Whaling City’s local flavor.

Appropriating objects can entail a love for the things taken or borrowed. Collecting evokes the curiosity of history and the excitement of possession. It’s an act of curating too, as the writer Walter Benjamin understood well. He was addicted to collecting books.

Another view, this one with a whale.

Without assuming anything about Simmons’ identity, an affection for old objects is often a cornerstone of queer aesthetics. If queerness really is a practice, not just an identity, then the revival of old things to new life often falls under its banner. Or at least queer people seem to be skilled at such reanimation. Swing by the Brimfield flea markets near Sturbridge, and you’ll find no shortage of gay and lesbian couples remaking their homes anew, but with old stuff.

So Simmons’ artwork excited my own queer eye in its assortment of…well, everything. Labels, packaging, signage. Cleaning supplies, Krylon, Quaker Oats and WD-40. A feather duster and a filing cabinet. A Dunkin bag. The cardboard boxes requisite for any good hoard. These ones are adorned with the lovely brand name of “Virginia Dare,” a ginger ale once distributed in New Bedford (but made in Brooklyn).

This is an inventory of all the crap and treasures we might or might not mean to leave behind.

Detail shot of Simmons' installation.

Simmons’ installation gets it right in understanding the joy that comes from unveiling a storage unit’s contents. After all, this is one of the main pleasures of trash TV staple Storage Wars.

Speaking of, I guess I need to clean out my storage unit soon. If you have a spare alcove, lemme know. This one’s already gorgeously full. These objects look comfortable together, as if old friends. Let’s leave them undisturbed.  

FYI: Carl Simmons’ installation is on view through November 13, as part of In Residence: NPS AIR + CAIR Alumni Exhibition at New Bedford Art Museum, 608 Pleasant Street. The Museum asks that you reserve tickets online. Standard admission is $10.


[30 days of June: No. 17/30]