ARTnews MAY 2013, page 100.
reviews: new york
Michael Waugh's dense and absorbing exhibition was dominated by a delicate series of representational drawings created entirely out of tiny flowing texts copied from Adam Smith's 1776 The Wealth of Nations. The largest, a triptych, featuring a sinking steamboat engulfed by enormous waves, took nearly 1,200 hours to complete. Other images here included idyllic scenes of rowers in front of country mansions and portraits of handsome young oarsmen. All were visually airy and evanescent in spite of the labor they required.
The show was intended as a fundraising prequel to Rowing Back, a future performance inspired by the 1827 death of Waugh's ancestor Gideon Dexter, who froze in a rowboat while attempting to recover his employer's drifting sloop. Waugh plans to hand-build a boat he will row from the place where Dexter died to the site from which he departed, reversing the journey to symbolically recuperate his life.
The Invisible Hands (2012), a video documenting Waugh's preparations for this project, was projected on a wall monitor hung over a pair of handmade oars. Shot from a camera attached to the handle of a rowing machine, the film shows Waugh's body moving toward and away from the lens as he trains, with an almost uncomfortable intimacy. Footage of the oars' creation is also included, along with documentation of the unsuccessful maiden voyage in a [racing shell] that immediately capsized, plunging [Waugh] into the water.
Another video records one of Waugh's eight-hour readings of Smith's book. Audible fragments of economic theories float in and out of the viewers' consciousness while they look at the rest of the work, enabling Waugh's romanticized Arcadias to dissolve into Smith's impersonal phrases. The arbitrary masochism of Waugh's entire artistic enterprise underscores capitalism's human cost.
- Elisabeth Kley
Michael Waugh, Money as a Particular Branch of Society (The Wealth of Nations, part 17). 2012, ink on mylar, 22" x 28". Winkleman.