JOS DE GRUYTER & HARALD THYS
THE DIRTY PUPPETS OF WOODLAWN
January 1–March 1, 2016
People said there was a new arrival in the neighborhood of Woodlawn: a man with a car full of puppets. The man was always alone. No one knew who he was. They called him “the man with the puppets.” Several times a day, his dull black car could be seen in the neighborhood. The man was always rubbing his hands together, always going about his business, always driving two large puppets. It gave the neighborhood some discomfiture and sadness.
From early morning the sky was stuck with grey; the day was still and wearisome, as usual on grey, dull days when the muck hangs low over the houses and it looks like rain, which never comes. The man with the puppets was stuck in traffic and seemed to have forgotten he had no place to go. It was cold, and he had been expecting something from the puppets, though he hardly knew what it was.
There was a dog in the median behind a bridge. It stood in the rain, ears alert, waiting for a break in the cars to free itself. A grainy version of the dog occupied a small box in the second column of the third row of the surveillance grid of the sixteen-channel CCTV monitor at the desk of the Department of Transportation. Like anyone shown on a surveillance monitor, the dog appeared to be involved in a crime.
In another box of the surveillance grid, a pile of ants poured in and out of a steep clay bank at the base of the bridge. Bright red and streaked with purple, these ants are tireless workers, scurrying about, gathering tiny facts, which they store in their abdominal sacs. When the sacs are filled, they coat these facts with a kind of nacreous glaze and exchange them for bits of yellow wax manufactured by the smaller and slower “wax ants.” The ants burrow extensive tunnels and galleries beneath the neighborhood of Woodlawn, and the people, reclining at night on their beds, can often hear a steady hum from the earth. This hum is believed to be the ants sifting fine particles of information with their feelers in the dark. Diminutive grunts can sometimes be heard, too, but these are thought to come not from the ants but from their albino slaves, the “butting dwarf ants,” who spend their entire lives tamping wax into tiny storage chambers with their heads.
The highway was about ten feet below the banks and the man with the puppets could see only the tops of the trees. The trees were full of men and the meanest of them sparkled. The men in the trees were drunk and held each other firmly. One was busy catching fleas on himself, biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it was a delicacy. Another looked into the man with the puppets face to see if it held any clue. His pants hung low and his shirt was full of stains. These men made jokes about trivial things. With every joke they burst out laughing and tottered. These men are in a state of total indifference. They can only make stupid jokes or become very angry. If they are angry, they may even kill their best friend. Sometimes they badly beat each other, they knock each other out and when they wake up, they forget what happened and patch each other up again. They turn up occasionally. One does not see them often. When it gets hot they sleep off their hangovers in their dens. They are more likely to appear on gloomy days, when wet snow starts to fall. Then one sees them stumble in the distance. Usually they have liquor with them. They seek each other out on the outskirts of large cities. They feel best in wastelands or dirty forests. These men are allergic to social positivism and utilitarianism. They abhor humans who aspire to physical health, labor and reasonable material wealth. They see themselves as the enemy of this. Without realizing it, they rule over a subterranean kingdom.
Watching all this, the man with the puppets rubbed his hands together. The traffic left him there with bare things, this car, these puppets, this road.
There are people one wants to know, and people one does not want to know, and of course people one would want to know and people one would not want to know if one met them. A few people know a lot of people, many people know a few people, and some people know just some people. It comes down to the impulse to know everyone or to know no one. At the top are the everyone-knowers, at the very bottom is the man with the puppets who knows no one but himself, not well, and who spends his time with puppets.
Jos de Gruyter (b. 1965) and Harald Thys (b. 1966) live in Brussels. They met in 1987 as video students at the Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design. Depressed and alienated by the situation, Jos and Harald stayed indoors and made films. They often work on their shows while driving to gloomy locations. “The car is a safe haven,” Jos de Gruyter says. “It contains no more than two seats, directed towards the outside world populated by strange species, sometimes dangerous, sometimes victimized, and their creations: houses, cars, villages, one-liners, etc. These trips result in one or more heavy residues (depressions), which are then further developed and result in the creation of new characters, settings, and exhibitions.”
The Dirty Puppens of Woodlawn is organized by Matt Browning and Robert Snowden, who drove the puppets around for the winter, taking advantage, as he could, of his right to use the HOV highway lane. Matt Browning (b. 1984) is an artist who lives in Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC. Infrequently, he organizes exhibitions as Tarl, a group made up of Browning, Jessica Powers, and Jason Hirata.
Thanks to Isabella Bortolozzi, Jason Hirata, Chloe Truong-Jones, Charles Portis, Jessica Powers, Bayard Snowden, Rob Teeters, Margot Vanheusden, and ODOT.