Counterfeit Objects A Conversation With Mario Gallucci

by Matthew Kyba

Mario Gallucci’s photographic sculptures are tricky, often prompting viewers to be deceived that the subjects are “real.” They may be dismissed as too conceptual or readymade-like because they appear so close to their actual objects, and may appear to function as such within a gallery. But when one lingers for a moment or two longer, small imperfections, or impossibilities, appear. It may be that the depth of lighting isn’t quite right or the seams are slightly tearing, but there is always a nearly imperceptible entry point where the viewer realizes the object is not what it seems. When this is realized, the hollow objects, shells of their respective resemblances, become rich with critical discourse that infers a symbol of contextual simulacrum.

Mario Gallucci, "Columbia River Stone" (2014)
Mario Gallucci, “Columbia River Stone” (2014)

Your works as 1:1 paper replicas suggest notions about the artificiality of the art-object. Everything produced is, in a sense, a fake or counterfeit of an actual object. Yet your creation of an artifact that almost identically resembles an ordinary object propels it into “art” status. How do you feel the artist or author has control over the value of the object? Which does your practice exemplify more, the autonomous object itself or the authorial voice/artistic creation?

I think the last bit could be broken up into three sections: autonomous object, authorial voice, and artistic creation. The readymade conversation of the 20th century dealt directly with authorial voice– by virtue of artistic selection and display in a gallery setting, a banal object could become art. This was a parallel inquiry during a modernistic time where abstract expressionists were very much in search of the “autonomous object,” a pure form. Artistic creation was involved with both but with two very different processes. Post-modernism rejected the idea of a single truth in art, and I would go farther to say there is no truth at all in art, merely the perception of truth.

Certainly the work I make points towards the artificiality of the art object, but the craft in making the work carries its “artyness” (for lack of a better word) with it. For example, if the work were to be placed outside a gallery and was simply on the street it would still feel like an art-object once a viewer realizes the material. The object is non-functional and involves processes that are unmistakably futile–why make a paper plank of wood except for art? The meaning is just as much in the object as in the context. If someone were to see an actual readymade on the street, though, it would merely be the thing that it always is. The readymade needs the gallery for its authority. My replicas do not. If I were to make my work from wood, stone, metal, resin casts, or anything else, the objects could actually begin to function as an actual object and lose that quality.

Mario Gallucci, "Paint Roller"
Mario Gallucci, “Paint Roller”

You’ve used the term “chameleon object”. Could you please expand on the term and how it applies to your practice?

In simple terms, a chameleon object is a “frameless photograph.” By that, I mean both the physical and conceptual frames of a photograph have been removed for the viewer. My object constructions are made from high resolution photographs that fully map the surface of an object. Therefore, the point of view of the photographer, the perspective, the context and environment that the photo was shot in is all eliminated. The physical frame, normally surrounding photographs, even a simple rectangular shape, is also eliminated. What’s left is a photograph that a person can believe in to “be” the original at first glance. The viewer can see all sides of the object and get close to see as much detail as they wish. If the viewer takes his or her time, they being to understand that it is not the object itself, but merely the surface of that object shaped in a convincing form. It’s that slow understanding that is also important for the chameleon object. Viewer interaction has a different rhythm and cadence than just a traditional sculpture or photograph.

Installation View of Counterfeit Universe (artificial garage)
Installation View of Counterfeit Universe (artificial garage)

When I first viewed your works, initially Plato’s term the “Simulacrum” came to mind. This is a concept that concerns the copy of a copy, so far removed that the object no longer resembles the original. The simulacrum also references how the copy takes on a value of its own. Do you think your work hollows out the original object’s meaning, and supplements it with something else? How does your practice instill new meanings into ordinary objects?

Our perception of objects are only as strong as our associations and experiences with them. We develop psychological schema with the environment around us and it allows us to walk into a room and understand what a chair is and that it is meant to be sat upon, even if we’ve never seen that particular chair before. This helps us go about our daily lives without constantly having to mentally process every single thing in a room we walk into. But what if that schema could be hacked by a chameleon object? Would that new experience enrich your life? Would it make you feel foolish or angry? Would it add new meaning to the object represented?

I think my work needs the meaning of the original object in order to function the way I fully want it to. I’ve experimented with various objects and ones that are too exotic for most people to understand at first glance do not do exactly what I want. The object can’t be too rare there has to be an existing relationship. I have discovered, however, that size doesn’t really matter when tricking schematic memory. For example the garage door I made for my most recent show was completely bypassed by many of the people at the opening. They walked right past it to go look at the objects that were spot-lit on the far wall. It was simply too big and plausible for them to really see what it was. The owner of the building came through when I was installing and he asked if the garage door had always been there, even though he had been in that building 40 years!

I think a lot about simulacrum and even Baudrillard’s hyperreal when making this work. The work is in conversation with those ideas, but there seems to be something so cold and nefarious about those terms. Baudrillard talks about Disneyland being the epitome of the hyperreal, as it is a copy of something that never had an original. I think places and objects like those exist to prolong fantasies that don’t exist. I hope that my work, instead, breaks people out of those fantasies and allows people to examine their own perceptions.

Mario Gallucci, "Chinese Knife Set"
Mario Gallucci, “Chinese Knife Set”

Through mass-production, objects are perfectly replicated to look identical to each other. Your work disrupts this by making referencing the artistic production that went into producing the object. Being conscious of this process may be the only difference between a finished artwork and ordinary object. Why does the artistic process have the ability to alter meaning and interpretation of the artwork?

I think I already touched on this. But the thing is, if people look hard enough at the work, they will see it is not the original. Some of the edges are abstracted and sharpened, you can see an occasional seam or a bit of glue. Plus, the removal of any utility value differentiates my work from an ordinary object. In that way, my work is fully “present-at-hand” rather than “ready-to-hand” to put it in Heideggerian terms.

Mario Gallucci, "American Flag"
Mario Gallucci, “American Flag”

For your upcoming project, you’ll be undertaking a “year-long project will be investigating how overt power objects function and how to replicate personal interaction with power objects in a controlled setting”. Would you mind explaining the artistic performance, and how long-duration performance is going to apply to your practice?

There are two types of power objects: Hidden, where an object’s power lies in its invisibility. This could be a chameleon object or even a subliminal paint color in a room. It affects without ever declaring its presence or intentions. Overt power-objects announce their presence. Usually these objects have a distinct luster of material, presence, or myth around them such as a luxury good or religious icon. My upcoming project is going to investigate how far people will go to interact with overt power objects. I see the project less as a performance and more of a conversation with the viewer. It is a strange, almost quantum predicament–without the viewer to complete the work, all these things become “merely” objects again.

To see more of Mario’s impossibly real objects and other artworks, visit his website.

Matthew Kyba

Matthew Kyba is an independent curator currently situated in Portland, OR. His curatorial interests focus on exploring unique exhibition strategies and alternative spaces. He recently graduated from OCAD University with an MFA from the Criticism and Curatorial Practice Program.

(All images courtesy of the artist)