Paul Pescador and the Dark Side of Intimacy

Still from "Yellow and Turquoise"

Paul Pescador's art wants to get familiar with you. It wants pathos, romance, failure and triumph. That much of it involves his relationship with his two life partners, also known artists, seems to be an open invitation to get intimate right back. Yet, Pescador's work; performance art, photography, a web series, currently up right now at Light and Wire Gallery, and especially his film, "1-9," the piece de triumphant, and three years in the making, keep viewers at an emotional and physical distance, creating a constant yearning for consistency. Even sound, parceled out in "1-9" with such frugality, leaves the audience thirsting for anything resembling order, which is ironic, since the film takes place in nine orderly vignettes.

In one scene, a hand enters the inside of a glass decanter sitting sideways on a chair. Someone begins to sit, as the pressure comes down on the glass proximity is created visually, yet is still separated. That is until weight, actual physical weight is applied to the vase, causing it to shatter. It's a connection made through chaos and miscalculated effort.

Throughout the film, attempts at contact are continually subverted by accidental or unforeseen violence. Pescador tumbles down hills, amputates his arm, and vivisects steak in ways that can only be described as enthusiastic and frightening.

Over the past three years sections of the film have been released in small chunks, often times incorporating an accompanying performance or artist book. Pescador views each of these gestures, performance or otherwise, as a way to inform a continuous loop of theoretical movements. Each piece, each project, informs the next. "3 4 and 8" for instance were screened at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, hosted by the gallery, Human Resources. As stated in an interview with Machine Project's, Elizabeth Cline, and former curatorial assistant at the Hammer Museum, Pescador explains this interplay between objects, this call and response, this continual reference to past works. "The first iteration, "1, 1 ½ and 2," was an exhibition consisting of a book, a performance, and a 20-minute stop-motion film. I thought of the next body of work, "3, 4, 5 and 8," as the sequel and as a remake of "1, 1 ½ and 2." They both utilized three mediums as a way of developing narrative structure."

Paul Pescador and the Dark Side of Intimacy

Episode 1 from paulpescador on Vimeo.

Having grown up in the San Bernardino desert, Pescador is familiar with open spaces and solitude. A self-described "desert rat," this comfort in isolation is felt deeply in the moments depicted on screen. A small paper mache avatar sighs at the arrival of another figure, interrupting mindlessness. Scenes like this pepper the film, a reminder of constantly having to renegotiate our will for others. With sharing space comes personal responsibility, something that the solo traveler doesn't have to contend with. So how does a solo traveler then, learn to navigate the world of intimacy? This is the question at the heart of Pescador's work, at the same time acknowledging that everyone, to some extent, travels solo.

"Until I was ten there was not a single other house around for a five mile radius of us," Psecador says, "It was my mom, brother and I. As a result I became super interested in the way that relationships between people happen, it was not something I did a lot when I was younger, and now I'm in so many, and I've had to learn to balance that."

Pescador is relatively young for having produced such a multitude of work. At 29, he speaks about his various projects in ways that artists twice his age sometimes struggle to do, namely, calm and contemplative, professional, knowing and self-aware. All of which is in direct contrast with how these qualities are communicated. Nervous energy and cerebral overload, Pescador is the vibrating mind of someone whose mind never shuts off. He bites his fingers while talking, snuffs and rubs his hand against his nose, coughs, bobs his head, his leg bouncing, one hand making frequent trips between face and knee, to settle it's persistent agitation. He speaks in thoughtful, hurried sentences, fiddling with his glasses and then stops, looking up, heaven bound, as if to confirm his thoughts.

Still from Paul Pescador web series.
Still from Paul Pescador web series.

A tangle of physical exuberance and mature thoughtfulness, the dark haired, sly witted artist exudes a hopeful happy sense-of-self. Pushed against the dark backdrop of the work this control creates a curious dichotomy of character.

Possessed of a uniformed creative vision Pescador is not subject to muse-induced flights of fancy. These pieces are calculated, researched, and diligently executed. "In that way, my work isn't about identity, but rather this persona I'm trying to construct of myself as an artist and how do we all relate, once you get past that initial superficial phase of knowing. When you are sharing actual space."

Shot in stop motion, using thrift store tchotchke's and origami-esque figurines, "1-9" and "The Year After: Season 1" his Light and Wire series, get perverse with The Personal is Political. Awkward movements, reminiscent of Gumby, Pokey, "The Indian In the Cupboard," Ralph, a childhood friend from "The Mouse and the Motorcycle," populate these worlds come to life in Lisa Frank day glow.

Still from Paul Pescador web series.
Still from Paul Pescador web series.

This isn't to say that the films in thier parts meander or are child like, on the contrary, "1-9" opens in stark black and white, reminiscent of Dorothy, traversing the pallid landscape of Kansas, searching, yearning for inner agency. Pescador follows similar film logic, he leaves for work in the doldrums of the everyday, walks past his fellows on their way into the world, rolls down hills with mundane boredom, until finally in "1 ½" we are shown Pescador showering from behind, welcoming us in, guarded yet still present, the echo of "Pyscho," heavy in the arrangement. He is in color, finally. There is also the introduction of the first snippets of sound, a shower, a gentle trickling of water heard over a black screen, then an alarm, eerily similar to the one that sets off the song "Time" in Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Then 2, a jaunty, 1940's score set against an explosion of vintage flower images, taken it seems from Audubon books, loudly presented in vibrant, spastic Technicolor.

He credits Sadie Benning, Charles, Atlas and Guy De Cointet as influences. "I try to use music as a form of sentimentality," says Pescador, "as a form of content, sort of the way in which dialect is used to create a sense of casting or emotion across genre. It's another form of communicating something to the audience, a signifier."

In the film, interpersonal relationships play out in small dramas. A mentally ill brother, an annoying girl friend who calls to gossip at all the wrong times, an emotionally fragile mother breaking any semblance of space and boundaries, men met at the gym, online and Grinder apps, used as distraction, and of course, Pescador's partners and dogs, all egos pushing against one another, trying to out shout the other. All the while, Pescador's body slowly falls apart, two broken arms, appendicitis, a car accident and the cold from hell, guiding him slowly toward the edge of reason.

Still from "Yellow and Turquoise"
Still from "Yellow and Turquoise"

"It sounds strange but I get so many of my ideas from my two dogs, I have two Chihuahua's, one of them belongs to my boyfriend, and when they first moved in together, it was interesting watching them try to negotiate space and boundaries and they'd get into these fights and stand offs and become territorial and they can still be that way, but in the end, they mostly worked it out. And I was like, oh yeah, relationships are always difficult."

As an undergrad film major at USC, Pescador, like many filmmakers who eventually make the leap into experimental abstract narrative, still holds tightly to his training, taking the tropes of popular cinema and applying them to the structure of "1-9." The viewer is set up using small dioramas, the stop motion reinstituting the audience as young viewers, a reminder of a time when everything small seemed large, when the world was both less and more scary. When physical human comfort was all that was required to absolve a tattered soul. When the people inflicting emotional damage were adults, when children are subject to rule.

Still from Paul Pescador web series.

"If you get all these constructions on top of each other, the fake set, the fake bodies, the fake voices, somehow there's this hope that it's talking about a truth, an emotional truth and that's the whole thing with Camp, you need to use the artifice to talk for sincerity."

Throughout the film are confrontations with doubles, a cactus as orange juice squeezer, beside an image of a plastic Fooz ball, yellow neon wigglies pressed till they squish to life. A body, Pescador's, pressed face down into a sidewalk, juxtaposed with a thrift store stuffed animal, also eating pavement. Repeatedly the film inundates with beautiful imagery used to highlight the inability to connect, literally separated by the black space of film.

A weepy anthropomorphized seal, found at one of the many Out of Closets or thrift stores across the city, is dusted off and given new life, returned again to a role he had been cast out of, the role of having function. Here, he is Pescador, finding new ways to negotiate sharing his life, himself, dusted off, learning to heal, how to resume.

Still from "Yellow and Turquoise"

Seal is adrift in a world of interpersonal conflict, conflated by Pescador's schlocky score. "Whenever I use music I try to make sure it's stock, karaoke, pop songs, sort of like the objects in my work are construction paper and vintage photos. It already pre-exists, we've already seen it and it becomes this regurgitation of a thing we already know. We feel sentimental, we feel, oh, maybe this is about memory, but really, it's not about anything except manipulation."

While at Irvine, Pescador experimented mostly with photography and performance, where he also pushed boundaries of social interaction and convention. In his 2010 performance "Spilled Milk," the artist stood next to his own framed photographs for two hours, all the while being photographed himself. During his group performance "My Body Lies Over the Ocean, My Body Lies Over the Sea," he set up objects throughout the gallery and invited audience members to create their own narratives around them, using his installation as a road map.

Interacting with and against the will of his audience, Pescador pushes the boundaries of being a spectator, pulling in participants against their will, forcing the gestures on them, confronting and destroying the impulse to watch.

"I decided eventually to go back to film and incorporate photography into the stop motion because I could only communicate so much through the still image, and I like the idea of these still photos, trying to move, almost like a person, trying to say something meaningful but failing."

Still from Paul Pescador web series.

At his recent performance at Greene Projects, he explored the idea of having a crush on another person, when you are already inundated with emotional overload, again the theme of piling on rather than peeling off, was pushed to the surface. "I've been re reading 'I Love Dick,' by Chris Kraus and I'm just in love with this idea that we put so much of our emotional happiness in other people, infatuation, what have you, and they become these avatars for our success and there is just no way on earth that those relationships will ever hold up, or be the thing you are projecting on to them. They've failed before they've begun."

These films and works ultimately are about the mundane daily traumas that we inflict upon ourselves, and those unfortunate enough to be in our proximity.

In truth, none of it is intimate. None of it genuine, the stylized recreation of Hollywood set ups and filmic narratives, great sweeping moments of elevator music, again something replicating the authentic in a diluted way, making it consumable to the public at large. Pescador highlights the absurdity of trying to portray feeling with language, the ambiguity of loneliness and the awkward daily interactions we have in the real world, be it professional or otherwise. His approach then becomes clinical, almost mocking, again, turning the desire to feel into an accusation of emotional fetishizing.

"There's vulnerability that comes from having to talk about certain things that are uncomfortable, some of my films investigate my sex life, all of that, and it feels super awkward."

And yet, things are felt. These tiny moments that make up the dull day, become in some way, larger than the real. They are what remain. That old saying, don't sweat the small stuff, is virtually moot in Pescador's world of stunted interactions. The small stuff in his eyes, and perhaps rightly so, is sometimes all there is to go on. How loved ones come to one another in time of crises, how people grapple with physical dependence and the ways in which they stumble into emotional traps and lethargy. "A few summers ago, my dog jumped out our second story window, trying to chase a cat, she was rescued twice, then jumped a third time and broke her leg, and we had to care for her, even though she had done it to herself."

The laundry, sharing the covers, cleaning the stove, all become more important than the theoretical ways in which people relate to one another on a larger philosophical scale. Theory won't scrub the toilet and it won't save you when your face is smashed against the window of your car, the result of a stranger's road rage, itself a result of the small things, piled together to make a life. Nobody travels solo, people must on a very literal level, interact with one another, find a way to connect. Pescador's art does the great service of reminding the voyeur that most everyone sucks at it. That life, in the minutes that tick us closer to death, is a dog fight, one in which people bend themselves into pretzels trying to grab a little love, rubbing dirty shoes together, soles flapping into action, into agency, where the actual romantic narrative awaits; a reminder that life is never, simply, black and white.

"1, 1 ½ and 2"
"1, 1 ½ and 2"

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