Does great art need to have point? Or, more precisely, does it need to have a point beyond an artist exploring an idea by visual means — for its own sake, theirs, or both?
Diana Chu’s 2017 short (as in eight pages) self-published mini, Rodin Du Jour, certainly has me asking those questions — and it’s had me asking them for some time, truth be told, hence this review coming along so “late in the game,” as the expression goes. I offer no excuse beyond “it took me some time to figure out how to approach this work,” but hey — does it even qualify as an “excuse” when you’re telling the truth?
Saying Chu’s ‘zine has a “premise” might be putting things in overly-concrete terms, but as a visual experiment it definitely has a specific set of self-imposed rules in place : she uses each two-page spread to juxtapose rather exquisite graphite renderings of iconic Rodim sculptures with/against reasonably contemporary pop culture characters, personages, and references. And so “The Thinker” is paired with The Weeknd, “Balzac” with “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, “Three Shades” with Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” etc. Chu’s choices seem highly intuitive — as is, indeed, the core concept itself here — but I can’t ague that it’s not an extremely effective series of illustrations.
The question, though, is — effective at what? And it wasn’t until I could comfortably answer that question, at least for myself if no one else, that I felt at all qualified to opine on this work. Fair warning : the answer I came up with is pretty anticlimactic — bit no less accurate for that fact.
Simply put, I think Chu was just looking to have fun with this one. And three’s nothing “just” about that, actually. Fun is important — in fact, it’s kinda what we all live for. Say what you will for love being the end-all and be-all goal of life, but we wouldn’t want love, or sex, or relationships, in our lives if they were no goddamn fun. Which isn’t the same as saying they always are mind you, but we certainly go into each/all of them hoping for a good time, and the extent to which Chu is clearly and obviously enjoying herself here is quit evident in the care, heart, and humor she approaches these drawings with. It’s highly expressive stuff, to be sure, but more than that it’s smartly expressive, each conscripted partner in each pairing reflecting qualities of the other that are, by turns, somber/fun, contemplative/freewheeling, deadpan/outrageous, all amplified by simple and clever puns of both the visual and linguistic varieties . Chu’s exploration of weird territory yields weird results — but at no point is anyone or anything represented as being something more, or less, than what they unquestionably are. It just so happens that “what they are” is enough to jog your mind and make you scratch your head simultaneously when presented within this unique contextual framework.
Points for originality, then, in both form and function, but if your aesthetic sensibilities are such that they preclude you from enjoying anything even remotely self-indulgent then you may, in fairness, be better off taking a pass on this one. The rest of us — who aren’t a bunch of fucking squares — will appreciate this knowing full well that Chu just made it because she could and wanted to. It’s the most basic impulse/inspiration behind the creation of art that there is — and, therefore, also the most honest.
Rodin Du Jour is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/rodin.html
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