On the less-to-more scale of art-making, Christopher Cascio scores at the far end of the “more” side. Like Arman, Allen Ruppersberg and Barton Lidice Beneš, he is an incessant accumulator who builds his works and exhibitions from various ongoing collections. In this show the dominant collectibles were wristbands, those colorful, throwaway paper strips widely used to identify paying patrons at clubs, concerts and all manner of events (including art fairs). Over the past year, Cascio, a young, Houston-based artist, has been collaging wristbands into intricate geometric compositions often based on traditional quilting patterns. Cascio’s conflation of two vernacular idioms—quilting and wristbands—exudes that sense of inevitability that is often the mark of a classic body of work. Making the most of the modularity, artificial colors and imperfections of his materials (which include bands he has worn himself alongside those scavenged from sidewalks outside dance clubs or purchased in bulk online), he creates abstract compositions that are at once rigorous, hypnotic and giddy. Cascio is especially adept at assimilating the random imperfections of the bands into his rhythmic structures, which can range in size from 12 by 9 inches to 4½ by 6 feet. The only misstep was when he hand-painted onto canvas a scaled-up version of a small wristband collage. This failed experiment served mainly to clarify how important the use of actual wristbands is to Cascio’s process.
In a second room, the artist highlighted a different side of his work, in which the emphasis was more autobiographical and the organizing principles had to do with categories rather than geometric patterns. One wall featured countless items carefully arranged on narrow shelves, some of which were almost at ceiling height. Pill bottles (many filled with studio detritus), plastic lighters, empty 5-Hour Energy bottles and nitrous oxide cartridges testified to various habits, and a row of used cardboard painting palettes suggested that art, too, is a habit and not always a healthy one. Affixed to two other walls were dozens of used mailers (most with labels bearing Cascio’s home address) on top of which Cascio hung examples from previous series of his paintings and collages, many of them referencing gun and drug culture. There was an effective tension between the orderly display of the items on the shelves and the raw, informal and vaguely Rauschenbergian art-on-mailer assemblages.
As one lingered in front of Cascio’s works, whether for the sake of visual delight or cultural semiotics or both, an underlying theme emerged. What remains of any experience, the artist reminded us, is only the residue, the empty container, the husk. At some level, artworks are just like leftover wristbands or empty nitrous oxide cartridges. We consume them as experience but, without the fact of that experience—in all its ephemerality—works of art are just so many inert objects. A bleak vision, but happily Cascio’s work also suggests a crucial distinction: unlike wristbands or empty bottles, artworks are not only markers of pleasures past but also occasions for experiences to come. They are, in fact, refillable, infinitely.