The concept of Zuhandenheit, the theory of the unnoticed “ready-to-hand” object, informs much of Zak Kitnick’s work. In Heidegger’s thought, it refers to objects one notices only when they are not there, their absence impediating the smooth flow of daily life; Kitnick’s ready-to-hand things, however, are the unnoticed objects that structure our domestic lives: shelving units, vinyl Venetian blinds, electrical switch plates, and heating vents. They are the readymade, ready-to-use, easy-to-ignore scaffolding of the domestic experience. Kitnick attempts to make visible these signifiers of taste and identity, the ones that become apparent when a choice is made and a preference is exerted. Kitnick insists that we see by a method of multiplication, presenting an excess of utilitarian household items until they become functionless and their status as signifiers announces itself. There is a constant friction in Kitnick’s work between consumption and production, and a tension between the found and the made. The artist might have, and could have made each of the individual elements, but appropriating and recontextualizing here is their making.
Ode to Joy is a site-specific work, constructed of a familiar set of pieces from Greenpoint residences and retail outlets. In the familiarity and approachability of the materials, Kitnick is able to mediate two potential audiences. The ubiquitous slatboard of Greenpoint storefronts provokes a sort of Pavlovian response: it means that something is for sale. Empty slatboard, however, connotes the opposite: Under construction, closed for business, do not enter. Thus, in the spirit of approachability, Kitnick places smaller objects—that, like a legend to a map—serve to explain the larger space. Unlike SoHo or Chelsea, a diverse audience passes by Cleopatra’s storefront every day, and the objects presented inside attempt to both represent and mediate these differences. Kitnick pulls images from these disparate places, in one work treating a Corbusian city-plan and a paisley fabric as equal patterns.
Inspired by Jean Nouvel’s Institute for the Study of the Arab World in which the façade functions as an aperture to regulate natural light in the building’s interior, Kitnick’s Up, Down, Left and Right for Jean Nouvel, layers horizontal and vertical blinds four-deep in a low-tech version. The result can be interpreted as an almost comical desire for privacy, but given the permanent porousness of the weave, they might be better understood not in terms of blacking-out but regulating vision.
Displayed on a long wall are five solid brass floor registers, forming a kind of modernist frieze. Oriented horizontally, Forwards and Backwards implies the progress/regression binary and suggests that there could be more vents or fewer. In their ostentatious sheen and ridiculous reiteration, there is a hard-to-ignore ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ sensibility at work here. Kitnick playfully glorifies the middle-class and their decorative (non)functioning objects: half of the solid red oak electrical outlets do not work; poured epoxy-covered linoleum invokes cheap couches protected by cheaper slipcovers, but also a concern with preservation that adds to the appearance of a retail showroom. By making the functional ornate, a sort of bourgeois insecurity is illuminated. The ethic of never-fast enough, never soon-enough, of work never being fulfilling in itself, is demonstrated in Kitnick’s method of multiplication: there could always be another iteration, another vent, another blind, another outlet. The space could easily have been ‘filled,’ but it is easier to see things when they’re ‘not there’, when there is nothing else to see. There is a tension here between too much and too little. If anything, Ode to Joy is ‘too much’ disguised as ‘too little.’ One might not even notice how the sixteen versions of the song ‘Ode to Joy’ playing in the background have colored their seeing of the work or that it is part of the project. As Kitnick has said of his work in general, “The struggle between art and decoration is written between other lines here: if it is the fate of so many artworks to fall into the status of mere decoration, I make works derived from a decorative source so that they may fall into the realm of art, not to deride or mock such sources as much as to expose them as the structuring principals of so many of the things we surround ourselves with day in and day out.”