Perhaps because of its everyday nature, we seem hesitant to pause and think how happily ‘life’, denoting the unavoidably existential notion of the essence of our being, and ‘style’, with its associations of frivolity and fashionable consumption, can co-habit in one of the English language’s most perplexing compound words.
“Lifestyle” is an essentially inclusive noun, and it is for that reason that the adjectives that often preface it: bohemian, bourgeois, contemporary, urban, celebrity, etc. are the keys that give context to our discussions about its practical manifestation. Everyone who is alive and participates in society in any way has ‘a lifestyle’. But in order to provide meaning, both in a communicative and existential sense, an adjective must be added.
In J.D. Reforma’s new exhibition, Rumpus Room, that adjective is ‘leisurely’. It is the leisurely lifestyle that is the highest rung in the status hierarchy. Reforma’s allusion to the Fleur-de-lis adorned dream home, the Hawaiian-shirt dappled tropical resort, and the perfect grande-soy-chai-latte evoke our aspirations for privileged, problem-free existence. And therein lies the problem.
The stratified lifestyle of leisure explored by Reforma is more work than its namesake implies, and is manifest in Rumpus Room in the climbing motif that is seen in several of the exhibited works. Like the ivy ordaining the exterior wall of a lavish house, the equally flourishing home-owner is constantly driven skyward. In Climbing Supplements, images of coffee-guzzling celebrities are adorned with indoor-rock climbing holds, thus addressing an irony of the contemporary manifestation of ‘leisure’: everything, including sweat-inducing physical exertion, can be incorporated into the discourse of leisure and consumed as an aspect of the leisure lifestyle.
In our willing engagement with tabloid celebrity culture and our conformation to the conventions of attractiveness that such celebrities personify, we are executing the rites of a successful lifestyle of leisure and simultaneously sublimating our primal fears of failure and inadequacy. Hence, the problem of the leisure lifestyle is not so much that one may have nice things, but that one must have nice things. Or if one is so fortunate as to have nice things, then one must have nicer things.
InNeo-Neo-Babylon, Reforma’s use of insulation foam incorporates a further irony by using a material designed as a functional element of housing insulation to form clusters of simplified miniature model homes. Cast in this polyurethane foam, they have been strung to resemble garlands of holiday popcorn: a festive fare that suggests ease, amusement and entertainment, of which the rumpus room is the designated locale. The reversal of a utilitarian material to an aesthetic one grounds Reforma’s conceptualization of how we think about our houses. Of primary concern are neither shelter nor nourishment, but image and indulgence.
Thus the little houses float, disconnected from the ground we stand on, and with a strange fragility in which the viewer senses that their giant, clunky hands would break the illusion if the model homes were touched.
3 – 27th March, 2011