Trading in the nostalgic without descending into schmaltz or getting sidetracked into on-the-nose-literalness is not easy. Artist Joshua Short is able to do this by transmuting things understood to somehow be quintessentially American into objects and experiences that evoke a kind of patched-together’d authenticity married to the specific liminal weirdness of being on the road.
Currently centering his practice around Bomb Shelter Radio which is housed in Lucille Valentine, a mobile, pirate radio station he built into the bed of a 1978 Chevy LUV truck, Short works across multiple modes‑as if he is knitting together, with haste and wit, elaborate tales culled from his travels. During his first residency in Jacksonville, with Long Road Projects in November 2016, Short broadcast live from Lucille Valentine on BSR multiple times over the course of a week.
Parked in the back yard of Nighthawks in Riverside, Short played a range of music‑Richie Valens to the Dead Boys‑as locals and artists drifted in and out, drinking beer, eating chicken and snuggling the resident cat. It was relaxed, in lieu of the often socially fraught art opening. It was as if instead of relentless social jockeying, “witty” observations, or posing for a perfectly thoughtful selfie in front of a piece of art, those gathered could enjoy the luxury of time. As if, by simply creating a non-linear space Short was able to create a non-agenda-fied moment…people moved through the performance and were able to be tangentially affected and time stretched out. Which is to say that it seeped into the consciousness and unconsciousness of the attendees and the vibrations of the night(s) were deeply good.
For his current show Josh Short - Wild One 66 USA Exhibition, at CoRK West Gallery, the artist uses sounds, fabrics, drawings, found objects and small built structures that span 2012 to 2017. Short has also released a limited edition mix-tape and silk-screen print in conjunction with the LRP residency.
At the center of Wild One sits a chimera-like creation: horns/tentacles/legs rear out of a stubby body and suspended from them is an image taken from day-mares. Entitled The Gatillac, the object is composed of a deconstructed chair that now acts as a suspension system for the aforementioned drawing, while a large bird-house sized structure in the back is the housing unit to a sound system that makes the paper (and to a certain extent the entire room) vibrate with a sub-aural rumble‑the feeling of a grumble that’s also a punch in the chest. “Often times I try to use signifiers to remind your brain…it’s reminiscent of something that you are familiar with, but can’t quite put your finger on,” the artist explains.
The drawing, a massive (approximately) 5-by-12-foot black-and-white piece depicts a ’70s-era Cadillac, massive-grille-first. It bears down on the viewer, but moving slower perhaps than imagined because of the alligator legs in place of tires.
It doesn’t really move.
Unlike some of Short’s smaller works that fuse gator anatomy with the egocentric bulk of ’70s rides, this piece is discomfitly menacing, like glimpsing a semi-truck in the rear-view mirror baring down with no indications of slowing down. In the installation These Are My Friends, the narrative continues, but it is fragmented, idiosyncratic, and fuses together disparate elements allowing the viewer to thread together a story rife with iconic tropes like pieces of what might be Coca-Cola or SCUBA signage, bleached animal skulls, and illuminated numbers. The kinds of things that for some viewers double as personal signs too, and encourage the intersection personal narratives with Short’s own.
Referencing his work and making art on the road, Short talks about the powerful energy in the land, the way that places like Route 66 and weird roadside attractions have a kind of mysticism to them. “Natural phenomenon and energy are real things that run through the world.” It also seems that his work takes on the slightingly glimpsed things that one sees but doesn’t see outside of car windows, driving late into the night, say, on a west Texas highway with only abandoned towns and semis for company. Those mildly hallucinogenic sightings that promise adventure and perhaps hint at a kind of cosmic truth.
The punk-rock/DIY ethos that pervades the work, like the banners that fly from the Lucille Valentine when he is broadcasting, stems from Short’s own experience in that scene. “There’s a swirl of energy that moves through the audience and the performers…and you enter into a kind of trance state and then leave with an elated flushed feeling,” he says. For this show, there are seven banners on display, they are reminiscent of patches sewn on to jeans jackets, and banners once carried by knights into battle. Sewn with imagery of gold-necklace-wearing-bats, startled/angry cats, and often decked out with tatty fringe, theirs is a battered, but still intact absurdist dignity.
An intersection of energy, action, and problem solving are at the root of Short’s making. Thinking about his work, it seems to embody many of the tenets Bruce Mau lays out for artists in his An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. Especially the idea of staying up late, working too hard, going too far, and being separated from the world and from standard time frames.
At the time of this writing, Short is in a six-week residency at Yaddo. While there, he says he’s been working on a movie that is an imagined conversation between himself and Lucille. For this project he’s begun making his own music and sounds. He also says he plans to come back to Jacksonville for another visit. Here’s hoping.