Museum of Ennui: Nothing Existentially Boring Here
Museum of Ennui by Martin Cox
in The Closet in Shoebox Projects
Presented by The Shed Collective
Through June 2
By Genie Davis
At Shoebox Projects – in the closet – and closing June 2nd, is one of the most unique and diminutive art exhibitions in Los Angeles. That would be the Museum of Ennui, created by British-born and Los Angeles-based artist Martin Cox.
The terrifically curated tiny space features the work of artists Anna Amethyst, Cynthia Minet, Douglas Hill, Gary Edward Jones, Jessie Rose Vala, Julie Murray, Katrina Alexy, Kim Abeles, Kirthana Devdas, Kristine Schomaker, Maggie Lowe Tennesen, Marina Rees, Martin Cox, Nataliya Petkova, Röðull Reyr Kárason, Rose Portillo, Ryan Hill, Sally O’Reilly, Sara Jane Boyers, Scott MacLeod, and Thora Solveig Bergsteinsdottir.
Cox was inspired to create the walk-in, fits-maybe-two closet gallery while attending the Fjuk Art Center Residency in Iceland in 2016 and getting trapped in the house by a blizzard. “Out of nowhere the title ‘museum of ennui’ just came to me. I did not know what to think at first, but as other artists will recall, sometimes a buzzing excitement accompanies an idea, then you know you have to explore it. I felt like I was on to something.”
Ennui is a French word with no true English equivalent, a kind of existential, melancholy boredom as Cox describes it, and what he recalls as “often the subject of lengthy introspective discussions as if we had discovered some alternative plane of existence” as a teen. While this sensation was an inspiration for the museum, so too was a visit to the quirky private Whitby Museum on England’s Yorkshire Coast, and the variety of offbeat museums in Iceland where Cox’s blizzard-bound art residency took place.
“There are many small idiosyncratic museums like The Phallological Museum -penis museum, Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, and the Icelandic Wonders Museum,” he explains. Additionally NuMu, the Nuevo Museo de Arte Contemporáne, arrived at LACMA from Guatemala. The small egg-shaped museum was another inspiration.
Add to all these Cox’s thought that the idea of ennui itself might need a museum to avoid extinction, as the word is little used these days.
“I see ennui as an ever more important ingredient in human survival, in an age of ultimate distraction. Devices, algorithms, news, fake and otherwise, and outrageous politics all fill our every waking moment. That all too rare moment where there’s the possibility of boredom or day dreaming is constantly snatched away. Without some internal silence and separation where we can experience dissatisfaction with the present, will the future be ever darker?” he says. “For artists particularly, I think creativity and ennui are closely entwined. Ennui is a starting point because discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
And so, the Museum of Ennui was conceived, and born, initially through a series of audio interviews and recordings. “I asked people about their experience with ennui, and quickly the topic turned to ennui in art, and what it may become as a painting or object,” he relates.
An initial iteration of objects made by artists he’d invited to contribute appeared in a display case within his solo exhibition at the Husavik Museum in Iceland. Headphones played the original interviews and sound tracks that included sounds of rigging creaking, eider ducks, and rain falling.
The Los Angeles location came about when Kristine Schomaker of Shoebox Projects and The Shed Collective invited Cox to consider this former broom closet as his exhibit space.
“I painted it white, added lighting, gave it a unique door and floor color and set about finding the work. The invitation and resulting dialogue with the artists felt very collaborative and exciting for me. They all had a fairly short timeframe to come up with something and responded swiftly,” he reports. “I asked many more artists in my network, some well-known, others intermittent with their output, the same question ‘What would ennui look like if it were an image or as a piece of work?’”
Responses included unique objects which Cox placed in identical white frames and hung in the museum, as well as digital files, requested so he could control size in the small space. He’s done a terrific job of exhibiting the works.
Viewers have the sensation of being closed inside a small, restrictive chamber of art, from which escape is not necessary. After a moment of realization – yes, it is small in here, isn’t it? – one has the sensation of having everything one needs to experience contemplation, imaginative connection, and a delightful sense of repose. Being “trapped,” a viewer can take in each small, perfect, disparate, and somehow poignant element; listen to the audio tracks Cox has programmed, and metaphorically at least, float away to another place to muse on what is being seen, or perhaps turn inward, to one’s own thoughts.
“The scale of the museum became a draw of its own,” Cox states, “Having a small door and space for only one person was a wonderful device to give visitors their own private moment, to immerse them within the subject.”
The use of an audio track further sustains the sense of being in a private, separate, cushioned world. “I was keen to include many different media into the collection,” Cox explains. “Photography dominates, but there are also mixed media pieces, sculpture, paintings, collage and literary works, even a poem in computer language, so it was natural that I invited a sound artist, too. I also decided to include the first interview I made initiating the original project.”
As self-contained as the MoE project is, it also allowed Cox to engage in dialog with other artists, a welcome break from his solitary artistic practice. “I am usually engaged in examining mostly depopulated and far-flung locations through photography. In a sense, it would appear that this project bore no relationship to my previous work exhibited in galleries and museums. If you go back far enough there are installations, and performances and collaborations in my past work. Looking at the themes in my photography, they actually all touch on ennui and entropy, and an ever-present theme of holding space.”
Cox adds “I hope the jostle between humor and sincerity of the project comes through. For the visitor, the museum can serve as permission to detach, to look within while at the same time offering stimulation and nurture new ideas.”
A new idea for Cox himself is the continuation of the project. “I feel that the Museum of Ennui is in a liminal phase and may pop up in a variety of guises. Keeping the scale small affords me the luxury to try things out, and so long as the idea generates interest from artists to explore this realm with me, then it has a future.”
He’s considering a mobile version towed to different locations, a gallery in an English red phone box, and website exhibitions of the project. For now, viewers have a chance to experience the space Saturday June 2 from 3 to 5 p.m., or by appointment.
To view the exhibition by appointment between now and June 2nd
contact Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit online at museumofennui.org See an invitation to become paid “Bored Members” to support the next version of the project.
The Shed Collective was created when four artists decided to host art events in their sheds and closets. Coined “the alternative to alternative galleries” a group of sister galleries emerged. Inspired by spaces like “Elevator Mondays” and Gallery 1993 and believing that artists have to create their own opportunities to exhibit and curate, the first show opened at “The Closet” an annex in the Shoebox Project space at the Brewery on March 17th.
As an experience, The Shed Collective attempts to capture the imagination in its challenging of existing modes of presentation of contemporary art. It responds both to the artist’s need to experiment and curator’s need to stage exhibits in unconventional spaces in order to engage new dialogues. Seen together, The Shed Collective fluidly explores both artistic and curatorial conditions in its varied spaces. Formed by Kristine Schomaker, Cathy Immordino, Sheli Silverio, and Diane Williams, the group aims to more efficiently enact the presence of art in varied communities throughout Los Angeles and capture a unique sense of diversity and character within each of its spaces and projects.
Closing reception Martin Cox’s Museum of Ennui at ‘The Closet in Shoebox Projects’ presented by The Shed Collective
June 2, 3-5pm.
May also be seen by appointment