Commonwealth and Council presents hatefull to the stomach, harmefull to the braine, an exhibition of new work by British born, Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Staff. This exhibition of recent sculptures and photographs continues Staff’s exploration of contamination, cleanliness, and debility to consider the various ways in which the queer body is embodied, interpreted, and regulated. Whilst embracing the anxiety induced by stagnant water and its pollution, Staff expresses ambivalence about the supposed opposition between inebriation and good health, suggesting that states of intoxication may represent and reproduce a queer mode of being.
The works presented include a large aluminum basin, hanging cup, and series of modified drinking fountains, utilitarian public amenities commonly found in municipal and educational spaces such as schools, libraries, and prisons. The fountains in particular occupy a fraught position at the intersection of class, race, and gender discourses.
In 1859, a group of wealthy Londoners, responding to outbreaks of cholera spread by polluted water, formed the group Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association, dedicated to the construction of public drinking fountains in the city using private funds. In both the UK and the US, fresh drinking water was commonly denied to poor and working-class citizens, with many relying on polluted wells and cisterns whilst paying for water from private companies that hauled it directly from local rivers increasingly polluted by human waste and other effluvia of city life. These early fountains incorporated a common cup attached by metal chain, to be used and shared by the people.
Without the availability of fresh drinking water, workers and people away from home would rely on saloons and alehouses to quench their thirst. Though the donation of money for fountain-building was, at the end of the 19th century, a broadly popular activity for many wealthy people of all persuasions, the most active contingent was temperance activists. They believed that giving urban residents easy access to clean, cold drinking water would discourage them from drinking the more widely available alcohol.
By the 1950s, public drinking fountains were everywhere, setting the stage for them to become a focus for debates about the structure and stratification of society. Under Jim Crow laws in the US, drinking fountains were one of many public amenities segregated by race. They endure as a symbol of the pervasiveness of racist laws. Since the 1970s, discussions around the possible negative health effects and contaminations of drinking water have persisted, particularly from ongoing crises related to exposure to high levels of lead.
Rather than being connected to a centralized plumbing system, Staff’s fountains run on a closed loop of recycled water, making visible the source, plumbing, and various foreign agents in the form of discarded clothing, spoiled face masks, snail shells, and temporary tattoos. Referencing acts of washing, drinking, drunkenness, and transformation, Staff’s exhibition ultimately invites questions of dosage and tolerance for the social body in shared spaces of public life.
Patrick Staff (b. 1987, UK; lives and works in Los Angeles and London, UK) studied at Goldsmiths College, London (2009), and was part of the Associate Artist Programme at LUX, London (2011). Their work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2017); New Museum, New York (2017); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (2016); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia (2016); Serpentine Galleries, London (2015); Chisenhale Gallery, London (2015); Tate Liverpool, UK (2014); Monte Vista Projects, Los Angeles (2012); Tate Modern, London (2012); and Whitstable Biennale, UK (2012). They have received the Paul Hamlyn Award for Visual Artists (2015). Staff has had residencies at FD13 Residency for the Arts (2018), LUX (2014), The Showroom (2014), Fogo Island Arts (2012), and Banff Centre (2010). Their video work, Bathing, is currently on view at the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. 2018 until September 2nd.