Tempting Fate

There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism – Walter Benjamin


Tensions mount as your eyes glide along the perfect surfaces of Sam’s recent works. You are seduced – by the specular reflections, by the play of sumptuousness. All the while you are made uneasy – by the deathly figures that disrupt your covetous enjoyment of that sumptuousness, by the surfaces that refuse to cohere into a picture.


High drama inaugurates the complex kind of looking these objects demand – gold “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” swarm around outcroppings of luxurious stone, silver locusts plague rectilinear forms. On first blush these read as biblico-capitalist apocalypses: Luxury cannibalising itself. The very forms and display methods are no longer transparent – the glazed museum vitrine, the hard-edged “minimalist” multiples, the bases like that of decorative mantle sculptures become the very figurations of luxury.


With sustained looking deeper anxieties creep into view. The materials list implicates the beautiful surfaces themselves in real world violence – of the arms industry (Gunstock Black Walnut, Black Chromium plated Steel), of international black markets and imperial appropriation (Afghani Lapis Lazuli). The split produced in the gaze by the simultaneous seduction and dimly perceived spectre of industrialised barbarism that lies behind them, or inside them, induces a kind of vertigo. We should take this illumination with us, unwilling as we are to accept the inextricability of our machines of pleasure and our machines of war.


The drama in these works is then both figurative and, as it were, real. What comes in to view are objects that figure their own violence. In Volume 1 of Capital, Marx uses figurative language to express the “theological niceties” of these strange things he calls commodities: “grotesque ideas” sprout from their brains, as they disavow the human hands that made them. Like them, the perfect surfaces of Sam’s sculptures have erased any trace of the touches that formed them, but where Marx’s commodity denies its actuality, they attempt to account for, to confess to, their violence, their truth.


As confessional commodity, they might be usefully illuminated by reference to Catholic sculpture – reliquaries, ornate confessional booths, sacrificial alters. But where  these latter items align into an ordered cosmology (however illogical), Sam’s Exploded View does not cohere into a picture from which we are able to make judgements; where their sumptuousness attests to a divinity that redeems the violence at their core, Sam’s gleaming Ultramarine Series confess to a nexus of barbarism and temptation that can not – yet – be absolved.


Text by Christopher Page