A text on Luke Dowd’s Diamonds and Koi
Performing the Ornamental
Luke Dowd’s images mediate upon the volatile world of value. Readily available materials like spray paint and paper recreate the almost mythical lustre of diamonds. On common sheets of paper, painted diamonds seem to do the opulent work of the real things, reflecting and refracting light, providing glimmers of the better life promised within the system of value in which we toil. These images are not simply representations of value. Instead they are glimpses of how value is always already a fiction that we collectively subscribe to. Form and content seem weirdly at odds. Precious stones are made dirty, common, yet they seem to retain a certain allure. They are something like the ghost of diamonds; phantom projections of the real thing that let us know the thing better than real diamonds. Diamonds are doubled, multiplied and always cut in these frames. Dowd’s process is a composition of cuts that deny the viewer a whole and singular object. The cuts allow us to see something like the essence of the diamond as a choreography of lines. The quality of the cut leaves the viewer with the raw ornamental quality of the diamond. Utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch suggested that the ornamental, precisely in its rejection of utility, provided an important transport for the viewer. The ornamental in art represents a certain surplus to allow us a rare and important passage that is more than an escape. Dowd’s use of an ornamental aesthetic captures a radical potentiality.
Like the spray painted diamonds, the silk-screened pillow images of koi fish represent ornamental icons of value. The fish were cultivated in Chinese Qing Dynasty and the Japanese Edo Period. Koi pillows represent another perspective on value and how it is made. The cultivation of stones and fish
through history accrue a certain kind of value that is too often taken for granted, deemed as natural. But this value is bestowed not by the individual’s touch but through a larger system of value.
Dowd’s project illuminates the ways in which value is a fiction that we all participate in.His representations nonetheless also capture that thing in the aesthetic, that surplus, that extra, that is ultimately beyond.
~José Esteban Muñoz, 2007
Chair, Department of Performance Studies
Tisch School of the Arts, New York University