Matt Kenyon, Kicking the ladder, 2022. Champagne glasses, houses, hydrophobic surface, and water, dimensions variable. Photo: Aitina Fareed-Cooke

Matt Kenyon and Jason J Ferguson

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Arts Studio

Framed by a spotlight, a towering pyramid of overly full champagne glasses tempts the fates. Were this a wedding reception and not a gallery, one could easily picture a small excited ring-bearer drunk on attention and non-alcoholic punch bringing it down in a cataclysm of booze-drenched shards. Looking carefully, the imagined cries and tinkling glass fade away, and we realize there is indeed cataclysm. But it is slow, quiet, and inexorable. At the bottom of every glass in Matt Kenyon’s elegant and brutal Kicking the ladder lies a drowned American Dream—a tiny transparent effigy of a house, immersed in water, nearly invisible but for its refracted outline, plopped into a cruel celebratory landscape. A ghostly flyer lies at our feet, sneering with opportunistic intent: “We Buy Houses.”

Jason J Ferguson’s startling Receptacle sits nearby, a white-washed 55-gallon Rubbermaid BRUTE trashcan, encrusted with 10th-century Italian ornament. A jarring juxtaposition of refuse and reliquary, it is also a wry commentary on the relentless American obsession with material culture that brings to mind a snippet from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Ode: “Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.” Ferguson’s pointed admonition seems to rattle the tightly shut lid: we enshrine what should have been discarded long ago.

These two works at the heart of “Homing” (on view through November 4, 2022) complement each other well. The fragile domesticity to which they allude coalesces fully from a distance, when we realize that there is another champagne glass pyramid hanging inverted over the first, its cast shadow balancing precariously on top, a mortgaged-to-the-hilt Sword of Damocles. Comprehension dawns: everything we love is at imminent risk, and we are ourselves to blame. 

Jason J Ferguson, Receptacle, 2022. Altered trashcan, resin, rivets, and paint, 38 x 24 x 24 in. Photo: Courtesy Jason J Ferguson

With that, the significance of the surrounding smaller works snaps into focus. Each one offers a meditation on the futile urge to commemorate through technology. Kenyon’s Notepad, Alternative Rule, and Log Rule, three thick reams of paper bearing only the pale blue and red markings that suggest their uses, appear blank, but are, in fact, already full. Under a viewer-operated endoscopic device, the ruled lines reveal their secrets on a wall-mounted video monitor—an exhaustive accounting of the damage wrought by guns, war, and cruelty; thousands upon thousands of names memorialized in threads of tightly packed microscopic text, never to be uttered again with anything but sorrow. Visitors are invited to write letters of protest to elected officials on these hallowed pages, contributing their missives to a clandestine memorial, archived by the Library of Congress.

By now, the viewer has been reduced to a tearful pinball, bouncing from one heartbreaking specter to the next. Ferguson’s small Home vignettes are fragments of 3D scans of an aging house, all 3D-printed in a cold ultramarine blue resin and confined to acrylic vitrines. In HOME-21-LAT42-LONG-84-002, an empty sagging living room chair strewn with a haphazardly flung blanket makes for a particularly mournful ode to absence, its once-cozy invitation relegated to unyielding plastic. All of these encapsulated intimacies, as well as HOME-21-LAT42-LONG-84-010 (the life-size replica dominating the adjacent wall), exude the detachment of alien scientific curiosities, specimens taken note of, examined closely, then filed away.

Indeed, the warmth has been leeched from every surface in “Homing,” not because the artists lack humanity, but because of all the damning evidence they have accrued while desperately mining the souls of our technologies and illuminating their injustices. In their tandem indictment, Kenyon and Ferguson have declared that the true tragedy may be all the faith we have placed in human ingenuity, believing it to be a bulwark against our ever-increasing self-inflicted entropy.