Joe Culpepper’s Exits and Entrances at the New Gendai Workstation

Reviewed in this essay: Joe Culpepper, Exits and Entrances
New Gendai Workstation, 25 November 2011

What disappears in a vanishing act? Is it the illusionist himself or something within us? And what might it matter when what vanishes is, ultimately, the illusion?
In his performance art–magic act Exits and Entrances, performed Friday 25 November at New Gendai Workstation, Joe Culpepper explored thresholds as places of illusion—“liminal boundaries,” he notes, “that separate the inside from the outside; the interior from the exterior.” Thresholds are also boundaries that invite us to cross over; they mark a space between, even as they reveal what lies just beyond.
Exits and Entrances began, appropriately so, with Joe leaving. After asking a volunteer to mark time—the first dimension Joe would cross that night—and donning coat and gloves, Joe exited the gallery and walked past its large windows, holding a burlap sheet between himself and the glass. We see his gloved fingers above the cloth, occasionally a glimpse of forehead and eyes, and then, with a toss of the sheet, he is gone.
The trick is, simply, that Joe is to re-enter the gallery through the back door. And he does, first in a bit over a minute; then in half that time; and finally in a mere seven seconds. It’s a first act as charming as Joe is, but, in its simplicity, doesn’t belie the strangeness of what comes after.
The next phase, an entering, marks—or, rather, un-marks—space, uncovering what history these walls hold within them. Moving from floor to wall to ceiling, Joe trespasses the interiority of the gallery, pulling back paint and releasing wires. The New Gendai Workstation is itself in a semi-permanent state of un-construction and Joe’s structural plumbing beyond the superficiality of its appearance works to undo what we understand to be solid, to be present—and what we understand to be the nature of an illusion.
It’s a sense of relief when Joe finally puts his fist through the back wall, tearing it open layer-by–wallpapered layer to bring forth a collection of talismanic objects that create a would-be history of this space before it became New Gendai Workstation (a dress when it was a vintage shop, a painting when it was another gallery). The ultimate reveal is less what lies behind the wall than the act of breaking through it.
In his final exit, Joe crawled through the hole he’d created to the other side—which in this case was no more malevolent than the gallery’s office space. Yet there is something about watching a body literally move through walls, to cross a threshold not previously realized as permeable, or penetrable.
He was, as I watched him slip between rooms, split in two—not by the wall, but by my own perspective. Stripped bare of illusion, the trick here, as Joe hovered between two spaces, was less what we see than how we look.

The gallery will be exhibiting the aftermath of the performance space as an installation from 13 December to 17 December (11.00AM to 6.00PM).  Footage of Exits and Entrances will be projected onto the gallery walls for any visitors who wish to see a recording of the event while standing in its traces and remnants.  New Gendai Workstation is an open gallery and there is no cost for admission.

All photos by Haley Uyeda.