SoiL Thornton’s Homespun Conceptualism

At Morán Morán’s new space in Los Angeles, the artist presents an array of makeshift objects that reveal the mutability of identity

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BY Jonathan Griffin in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 08 SEP 21

A squat, silver boulder partially blocks the entrance to SoiL Thornton’s deceptively loose exhibition at Morán Morán, Los Angeles. Bench/Barrier (314 lbs) (all works 2021) consists of a rolled ball of aluminium foil ‘compressed to the combined weight of momma and deddy’, the checklist reveals. Within the ordinarily starchy format of the gallery checklist, the fond familiarity in the way Thornton acknowledges this detail of the work’s media is jarring, cloying even. Throughout their practice, the artist prises open such spaces for vulnerability and revelation within the stringent conventions of conceptual and systems art.

The show’s rambling title is a case in point: ‘My Child will be named after me, Invasive, or was it Prayer? I need to check my notes.’ A grand conception, half-formed, devolving into inscrutability, it reflects the apparent openness and irresolution of much of the show, which sometimes feels like it has just been tipped out of the crate. In 101 impressions (people crush)(it takes a village), dozens of pink and blue hamster balls are scattered across the gallery floor. Inside each is a fist-sized ball of aluminium foil, while taped to the outside are Post-it notes bearing first names written in different handwriting. A counterpoint to the obdurate Bench/Barrier (314 lbs), which apparently accrued over years in the artist’s studio, the foil balls in 101 impressions were made, labelled and sent to the artist by friends.

SoiL Thornton, Bench/barrier (314 lbs), 2021, aluminium foil and aluminium foil tape compressed to the combined weight of momma and deddy,
SoiL Thornton, Bench/barrier (314 lbs), 2021, aluminium foil and aluminium foil tape compressed to the combined weight of momma and deddy, 74 × 64 × 41 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Morán Morán, Los Angeles

Ideas of mobility and immobility, flux and endurance, are at the heart of this exhibition. This is fitting: Morán Morán has just moved from its previous central location on La Cienega Boulevard – close to the site of the original Ferus Gallery – to a less salubrious intersection further east, near the 101 freeway and next to an Arco petrol station. The roughness is refreshing and is emphasized by Thornton’s installation, in which the newly installed grey plasterboard is left unpainted. (This intervention gets its own entry on the checklist, optimistically titled In highest preparation for becoming.)

The work Familial letter is executed on a piece of paper stapled directly to the wall: a shaggy-dog story – penned in the artist’s slightly wayward handwriting – of how plans to move a large sandstone boulder from the garden of friends to the gallery were abandoned following advice that such crumbly stone probably wouldn’t survive the journey. The letter, signed by Thornton and the rock’s custodians (artists Brendan Fowler and Andrea Longacre-White), contrasts physical precariousness with the enduring substantiality of love and friendship.

SoiL Thornton, Subject in neighborhood ≥ subject-hood, 2021
SoiL Thornton, Subject in neighborhood ≥ subject-hood, 2021, found water-resistant note (graphite paper inside plastic with tape), found dog tag on my block (aluminium), and Purdue Civil Engineering - Infant and Adult Inhalation Exposure Robot (archival pigment print on paper the scale of Trisha Donnelly's Blue and White Pansies) mat, and frame, 85 × 56 × 4 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Morán Morán, Los Angeles

Mutability is not just a formal conceit here. The artist, formerly known as Torey Thornton, uses the public platform of artmaking to critique how professional and personal identity is formed, recognized, traded and instrumentalized. On those pink and blue hamster balls, the traditional genders of the names appear unrelated to the stereotypically gendered colours. (It was not revealed whether participants chose their own colours or were randomly assigned.)

In Subject in neighborhood ≥ subject-hood, framed on one wall, a pink picture mat isolates three items: a crumpled note requesting ‘Pick up your dog’s poop please’; a bone-shaped dog tag inscribed with the name Dagmar, along with the contact details of its owner, David Salle; and a low-res photograph of a robotic baby, its body shaped from aluminium foil. The checklist, as ever both informative and obtuse, reveals that the dog tag was found on Thornton’s block and that the robot picture is printed to ‘the scale of Trisha Donnelly’s Blue and White Pansies’. Do your own Googling. As with the show as a whole, the salient point of this work seems to be that one’s identity is constructed as much – if not more – by the people and places that surround it, as it is by something inhered or inherited. It’s an encouraging idea.

SoiL Thornton’s ‘My Child will be named after me, Invasive, or was it Prayer? I need to check my notes.’ is on view at Morán Morán, Los Angeles, until 11 September.

Main image: SoiL Thorton, ‘My Child will be named after me, Invasive, or was it Prayer? I need to check my notes.’, 2021, exhibition view, Morán Morán, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Morán Morán, Los Angeles

Jonathan Griffin is a writer based in Los Angeles, USA, and a contributing editor of frieze.

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