A complex hybrid of video and live broadcast coupled with sculpture and painting, JJ Peet’s first New York solo exhibition, “The TV Show,” was an unsettling mix of rough-hewn underground activism and savvy high-tech wizardry. These distinct elements coalesced to confound and entice with intimations of paranoia and powerlessness in the face of terrorism, economic collapse, and governmental control and deception. Something was happening here, but we weren’t quite sure what it was.
The conceptual conceit underlying the show was a struggle between Peet’s imaginary forces, “The Luxury Leaders,” who represent the powers that be, and the opposing agitators, “The Resistants.” Their shadowy “activities” play out in 13 found-object sculptures and videos. The show’s 60-second “trailer,” displayed on a monitor, set the tone, its montage of fast-cut scenes, close-ups and snappy soundtrack coming off like the opening sequence of a James Bond film. Unlike a Bond plot, Peet’s investigation of 21st-century dislocation and disenfranchisement was not easy to follow. Persistence was rewarded, however.
Evoking outsider art, the 13 assemblages (2009), displayed on handmade pedestals or mounted on the walls, have a totemic, surreal quality, enhanced by strange juxtapositions of unusual materials, including horse and dog hair, eyebrow hair, chewing gum, a vulture feather, dried carrots, a rubber mouth guard, orange vest, kneepad, sunglasses, sock, pen, spoon, houseplant, ice pick and doorknob. B.S. Trophy (2009), a spindly tower of lead, copper, white rope, electrical tape and chewing gum, also contains a silver spoon that Peet managed to swipe from the Bear Stearns cafeteria after that company’s particular debacle hit the news. Peet seems to repeatedly question the ascribed value of objects and the way they are monetized. Though not apparent to one-time visitors, subtle alterations were made to the sculptures over the course of the show, as in the mysterious overnight removal of a pocket from the orange vest in The Resistants’ Game Piece (2009). These gestures were intended to demonstrate that meaningful change can be accomplished through a series of small “moves,” as the artist calls his various renegade actions.
The predominant component of the exhibition was Peet’s weekly “TV Show,” broadcast live from a nearby undisclosed location to a television in the gallery each Saturday (reruns played during the week). Averaging 15 minutes each, the shows featured live and prerecorded video related to news events of that week intercut with Peet’s own footage, and seemed to track the actions of the Resistants and Luxury Leaders. Repeated viewing revealed subtle associations and narrative threads connecting the show’s disparate elements.
In this idiosyncratic and inventive show, Peet expressed a distinctly personal ethos. His minute gestures often appeared slyly funny, but his genuine commitment to instigating change was unmistakable.
Photo: View of JJ Peet’s exhibition “The TV Show,” 2009, showing mixed-medium sculptures on pedestals;
at On Stellar Rays.