In Rachel Kushner’s electrifying 2013 novel The Flamethrowers, about a young woman who falls in with a fictionalized crew of post-conceptualists in 1970s New York, an artist tells the unnamed protagonist, “You don’t have to immediately become an artist… You have the luxury of time. You’re young. Young people are doing something even when they’re doing nothing. A young woman is a conduit. All she has to do is exist.”
With her exhibition “Long Lasting Chew,” on view at Whitespace’s project space whitespec through this Saturday, June 16, Atlanta-based artist CC Calloway manages to both reject and embrace this proposition. Though professionally and creatively she does much more than exist—having garnered, in addition to this show, a Walthall Fellowship and graduate school admission since completing her BFA at the University of Georgia last spring—Calloway’s work itself engages with youth almost as a philosophical problem. In silkscreen prints, sculptural installations, and small text-based works on laminated scraps of graph paper, Calloway investigates youth’s primary excesses: time and desire.
Showing messages rendered in the artist’s own stylized lowercase handwriting, Calloway’s graph-paper notes indicate her practice as a poet while also drawing on the direct style of text-based works by artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. More than poetry or political advertising, however, Calloway’s texts take on the tone of diaristic philosophical musings. Posted near the entrance of the renovated coal chute where whitespec is located, the first of these notes simply reads, “how to live with desire.” Neither explicitly a question nor an instruction, this message offers the philosophical parameters for considering Calloway’s work in “Long Lasting Chew.” Instead of treating youthful desire for love or success as a personal topic aside from her work, a problem to wade through on the way to becoming an artist, Calloway takes it as her subject.
Topped by a small red flag, the mound of broken white floor tiles comprising Calloway’s installation s.o.s. (after ABBA) appears ambiguously. Though it resembles a mountain that has been victoriously scaled, the installation’s crumbling form hints at uncertainty and false footing. As the acronym in its title acknowledges, flags are used as calls for help and warning signs in addition to serving as symbols of sovereignty. A post-minimalist sculptural joke, s.o.s. gives concrete shape to the metaphorical shifting ground where unsure twentysomethings often find themselves after college graduation. It feels as though you’ve scaled a mountain, but looking back it may have just been a pile of rubble.
The parenthetical reference to the ABBA song of the same name in the installation’s title demonstrates the sort of tongue-in-cheek humor Calloway deploys alongside her philosophical ruminations in “Long Lasting Chew.” In certain notes on graph paper, she mimics the idiosyncratic spelling conventions of text messages, as in “idk what to do with all this change in my pocket” and “rn / for the rest of your life.” It’s almost as if Calloway is daring the cynical viewer to categorize her perspective as juvenile or trite. (In his post about the show, one Instagram user condescendingly referred to her notes as “a combination of philosophy, fortune cookies, and middle school.”) Unconcerned with the potential for her work to be interpreted as jejune, Calloway instead fashions herself as a conduit for raw youthful self-reflection, impressions of naïveté be damned.
Like the texting vernacular in some of her laminated notes, the images in Calloway’s silkscreen prints suggest the influence of iPhones and contemporary technology on her work. Printed in richly saturated tones of blue, red, and black, some of the images possess the quality of having been photographed out of the window of a passing car, making them visual descendants of both Rauschenberg and Snapchat. In a view from 2 sides of the road, two images of a billboard and palm trees bleed into one another in dark ink. This sort of doubling also occurs in the print NO STEP, where two black and white images of an airport runway are mirrored horizontally across the paper. Another silkscreen, aged by want, shows a more natural scene, possibly depicting the grassy bank of a river or lake. Here it’s not time that troubles Calloway but desire, and the possibility of being exhausted by it before success arrives. As is also the case for the risograph self-made barrier, the title aged by want appears elsewhere on one of Calloway’s graph-paper notes.
Tucked in one of the corners of the repurposed coal chute, which feels handsomely suited for the exhibition, attentive viewers may spot what appears as a discarded candy wrapper. It is, of course, a wrapper for one of the candies from which the exhibition borrows its name, a Long Lasting Chew. Like philosophical notes to herself or her iPhone, this candy wrapper is the sort of thing you might expect to find at the bottom of the artist’s purse or tote bag, yet its name is also a potent metaphor for the place where she finds herself in life: young, ambitious, hungry, yet unsure. For Calloway, the uncertainty and open-endedness of youth are the longest lasting chew.
CC Calloway’s “Long Lasting Chew” is on view in whitespec at Whitespace through June 16. Her work is also on view alongside photographs by Jill Frank in “do you ever feel left out?”, a two-person exhibition curated by Altered Means at the boutique Collect on Sunday through June 30.
Logan Lockner is an Atlanta-based critic and a contributing editor for BURNAWAY. His first curatorial project, “Lauren Sanders: Interiors and Props,” is on view at Georgia State’s Welch School Galleries through early September.