2014 was the tail end of the Obama years, which was a time in our country where there was relative domestic peace and prosperity.Kalina, Noah. Newsletter #47: “Bedmounds.” electronic mail, MailChimp. Retrieved from https://mailchi.mp/noahkalina/newsletter47 June 15, 2021.
I could bunch up a mound of sheets and it was fun and meaningless. Back then we smiled. Back then joy was possible.
If things changed since 2014—and they have, without doubt—one thing remained: Kalina’s sense of humor and playfulness, even when making serious political commentary. And Bedmounds is a reminder: even in times of slow-motion national catastrophe, there is beauty and joy and even silliness to be had.
As mentioned in my Cabin Porn review, I’ve followed Noah Kalina more or less continuously since I first heard about his Everydays project back in 2012, but was a bit late to his newsletter and missed out on preorders for his Bedmounds book, but jumped on it as soon as I could, not really knowing what a “bedmound” actually was.
And just about the time I received the book (probably a month before the unboxing went live), Kalina shared his statement for the work in a nice long newsletter all about the mounds.
When we think of beds, we usually think of them as neatly made, waiting to be used. I wanted to undo that, to pull back the covers and sculpt a monumental shape out of the fabric where our bodies would be, and where our bodies have been, as both a still-life (of the materials of sleep) and a portrait (of someone’s presence).Kalina, Noah. Newsletter #47: “Bedmounds.” electronic mail, MailChimp. Retrieved from https://mailchi.mp/noahkalina/newsletter47 June 15, 2021.
Typically tongue in cheek, for Kalina, and equally silly and profound. I’m not entirely sure that Kalina isn’t totally serious here. To me, it reads like it was written by someone who read, and rolled their eyes at, many many artist statements before sitting down to write one of their own. Good stuff, and flipping through Bedmounds, you get it.
As photographs, which is what the vast majority of the images in Bedmounds are—as what the vast majority of bed mounds were meant to be in the first place—there’s a bit of House Hunting-era Todd Hido in some of them. The the evening light outside and the light from the television (or digital clock, or Kalina’s phone) trade places, and we (or Zach Vitale, who contributed a lovely introduction to the book) wonder what might be going on “out there.” There’s also a bit of American Surfaces-era Stephen Shore, capturing the rumpled, just slept in sheets just after waking or just before checking out, albeit with fewer stains and a more obviously-constructed arrangement of pillows and sheets and duvet (or quilt or comforter or simple blanket).
But Kalina isn’t really quoting anyone here. It’s all about the mounds he creates from the pillows and bedclothes, well, those and the photographing of them. As a professional photographer, Kalina knows “where to stand,” ie. where to set up the tripod. And while most look like he more or less stood in the corner and took a quick snap, many are more obviously, artfully (and sometimes hilariously) composed.
Single Kings, one of two queens, strangely-sized IKEA mattresses in airbnb lofts or wherever, a simple platform bed in a cabin maybe at Beaver Brook: all manner of beds, in all manner of motels, hotels, hostels, and everything in between: Kalina slept in them all, before or after deconstructing the bed and piling everything up. In one photograph there’s a bunk bed, with individual televisions providing a sort of rim light to the stacked mounds. Another has Kalina’s camera and tripod peeking out from the corner of a mirror, twinned with another behind, the mound and all repeating to infinity. Good stuff. (And, I found out later, at least one made on assignment or in partnership with a company or brand: even on assignment, Kalina keeps his long-term projects going.)*
But they’re not all photographs, not all temporary, site-specific works.
For a 2017 group show at VSOP Projects, Greenport, NY, Kalina acquired visited the bankruptcy sale of the Trump Taj Mahal and acquired one of the rather disgustingly garish bed frame, pillow, and duvet sets. A photograph of the installation is included near the end of the book. As a sculptural object, and one with some political comment (assuming, in its cheap and tacky opulence, that one recognizes the taste of the former president), Bedmound 2017 [King mattress, bed frame, pillows, and bedding. 36 x 72 x 75 inches], this more permanent bedmound is something different, and the installation shot works differently, than the other bedmounds.
Encountering a bedmound in a gallery, where one can walk 360° around it, ponder it, peer over, under, around, and into it, approach and retreat from it, changes things. This dimensionality somehow removes possibilities, fixes its meaning, makes it static. There’s no window to wonder what’s outside, no light from late-night tv, no cheap side table and bolted-down lamp. As a sculpture with some slight political commentary, it works fine, though I prefer the regular photographs, which leave more open to interpretation and imagination.
And leave it to me to spend two paragraphs on one, largely unrelated picture that appears near the end of the book… That said, Kalina’s text, just next to the picture, is all about this one physical object, sort of taken out of context from the multi-year photography series. So I’m in good company.
Now. I don’t know whether I was/am under the influence of Zach Vitale, or if it was just the repeated viewing of Kalina’s book, but the pile of curtain over there in the corner, under the window, bathed in light bounced between the houses in the late afternoon just…. I see it multiple times a day—it occupies a big chunk of the guest room, and my workstation sits opposite, in the guest room closet—but it never really struck me before. Even now, writing in the early morning, the curtain shimmers under the dim light from the closet and three screens… and a few hours later, the morning sun, again bounced between the houses, bathes the cloth in heavenly light that blunts and blurs the already soft curves. I should really quote something of Vitale’s wonderful introduction, but it’s just too good to excerpt here.
Now. Lying in bed last night, I remembered back to the very early 00s, when I was an intern at Dunn & Brown Contemporary (now the Tally Dunn Gallery) in Dallas. Trenton Doyle Hancock, one of the artists then represented by Dunn & Brown, was (I think) early on in his now long-running project, and I quite admired his Mound paintings. I somehow doubt that Kalina (or, more specifically, Vitale) is aware of Hancock, but there are some similarities.
About his now nearly 25 year project, Hancock writes
Mound is a global phenomenon, one that is woven throughout all cultures across time. Mounds are not only natural depositories for memories and other bits of discarded humanity, but they are a way for us to build a collective psychoemotional hierarchy, as well as a way to describe an individual’s intuitive profile. A culture’s temperature can also be recorded through it’s architectural Mounds. For instance, the pyramids, burial mounds, and geodesic architectures are all counted as Mounds and all of them are ergonomically engineered to fit the psyche of a culture. Why are we so drawn to this form? We are all Mounds. On a deeper level, Mounds are museums of taste, archives of thoughts, ideas, memories, talismanic output, and other objecthood. Mound is a way to live. [Emphasis mine.]Hancock, Trenton Doyle. “Mind of the Mound.” retrieved from http://trentondoylehancock.com/mind-of-the-mound/
And Vitale, writing about Kalina’s Bedmounds, says
…[A]s Bedmounds grew… something funny happened. Simple things in my everyday life became monuments too. The topsy-turvy tension on stack of plates in the sink after a dinner with loved ones. The sound of ice cracking as it hits water from the tap on a hot summer day and the pleasure of the first sip. The beat-up plastic bag full of broken crayons that friends’ kids color with when they come over (and the blue smudge not he left arm of the green chair that will never come out). The painting in a relative’s living room, directly in front of the “comfortable corner” of the sofa (no one ever sat on the other side), that’s always been hung just a bit askew.Vitale, Zach. untitled Introduction to Noah Kalina’s Bedmounds. Yoffy Press, Atlanta, GA. 2019.
…We’re reminded that there’s something outside; maybe a car that’s running with the heat on ready to make a quick trip to town, a relationship that needs work, a big opportunity on the horizon, regret for something we said without thinking or a friend that’s there for us, no matter what. These are the invisible Bedmounds we construct and live amongst each day. [Emphasis mine.]
To be honest, I’m not quite sure the Bedmounds contain all that, but there is something there. And there’s a structural kinship between Kalina’s Bedmounds and Hancock’s Mounds. And if I squint a bit, I jump to right to Philip Guston’s klansmen, and there’s a formal continuity that extends right the way through, and perhaps, in the museum context, Kalina’s Bedmound 2017 occupies a similar critical/curatorial space as Guston’s heavy politic0-cultural commentary.
The book, from Yoffy Press, is lovely, with its duvet-styled cover, and is beautifully printed, and the concept—from a hasty, “what-if” one-off to a multi-year series—is original, if not sui generis.
Overall, I give Bedmounds a strong and recommended 4.5 stars.
Bedmounds remains available direct from Yoffy Press, and you should really pay Kalina’s website a visit and subscribe to his newsletter, which provides a very dry, wonderfully written, weekly look into whatever Kalina chooses to write about. It’s all good stuff, and worth a bit of your time.
*This assertion was taken from a caption in an interview on The Great Discontent that’s worth a read.