Alfredo Barsuglia’s Social Pool is an eleven-by-five-feet wide pool in the Southern California desert, open for anybody to use. White, unadorned and geometric, it is formally reminiscent of a Minimalist sculpture. Located in a remote and scarcely populated geography Read More
On the contrary, the work embodies the massive socio-economic changes that have taken place in the last forty years. It thus understands itself as the product of an economy in which privacy and immateriality have been fully commodified. For many a consumer, art is expected to operate according to the principles of the service economy rather than following humanist ideals of intellectual or moral stimulus and education. Museum visitors, for instance, increasingly expect a readily prepared experience rather than a contemplative and self-motivated dialog with an artistic object. Social media is designed to “share” emotions and insights that aren't granted the time and thought to actually register. The revival of live performance, has largely been simultaneous with its being subverted into a sellable asset and tool of entertainment, despite its (former) intrinsic potential to circumvent commercialization.
The title of Barsuglia's work alone attests to his acute awareness that Social Pool might operate in ways more similar to a yoga lesson or vacation away from it all than as an enlightened dialog with an enigmatic object: escapism rather than critique, digression rather than transgression. In line with the demands of the larger consumer society, Social Pool was conceived of as an experience encompassing a potentially transformative journey, a promise of relaxation, the peace of remoteness, all while staying tuned in.
Social Pool is a sculpture that's a bath, an artwork both literally immersive and forcibly relaxing – concurrently, it’s a pool that has enough cultural clout to deserve a press release published by a significant cultural institution (not to mention that it was built by an emerging artist)! Astutely intertwining semantic constructs like contemporary art, the pool (the symbol of carefree wealth, even more so in the desert), relaxation and nature, Social Pool is a complex replica of the contradictions and ideology of contemporary society, where remoteness from others and quietude are luxuries for the ever-communicating city-dweller. Barsuglia directly translates this desire for seclusion and individual enjoyment into the layout of the installation and larger concept of the project: bisected into two halves, one cubic, one rectangular, one filled with water, one empty, the pool offers just enough space for one or two people to stand or sit on either of its sides (appropriately, a bench is built into each half). The walls of each pool segment are so high that the seated person cannot easily see whoever sits in the adjacent space, despite the fact that they are just next door. In a deliberate over-determination of the work's suggested idiosyncrasies, Barsuglia stipulated that only one person or small party at a time can use the pool, and for no longer than 24 hours. GPS coordinates, otherwise kept secret, together with a key that opens the pool cover are provided to the willing visitor by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood. In a feat of design and engineering, the pool cover also keeps the water from evaporating and serves, when opened, as an additional resting area.
In its purposefully slick absurdity and inherent stance against nature – it even has an automatic, solar panel-operated filter and chlorine system – Social Pool combines elements of the sublime and the ridiculous. Its absurdity becomes even more tangible with the relative inconvenience of reaching it, similar to the pains one goes through to “get-away” – when no internet research is too time-consuming, no journey by plane, train, car, bus, or boat (or any combination of the above) is too arduous to reach the location where one can relax and hopefully rediscover, for at least a week or two, one's true self. However, Barsuglia does not propose escape from society as a solution. He is genuine when framing the time spent driving to see Social Pool as an opportunity to reflect on our consumption and entertainment-driven lifestyle, and just as genuine when providing GPS coordinates to do so. The escape Barsuglia presents is temporary, it is futile and self-involved, it is pleasure-driven and it is not egalitarian – it is the embodiment of life in late capitalism and the treat yourself attitude of consumer society. Whether we follow Barsuglia's advice and think about why we do what we do is as much up to us as the choice to question (and act upon) our libidinal investment in a prestigious job or precious apartment. His is a well-meant advice, not an order. Maybe the trip to Social Pool will be just a trip to the spa, or a notable encounter with an artwork, possibly even a life-altering experience or, who knows, it could mark the modest beginning of a social revolution.
Text: Stephanie Weber, Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Social Pool closed to the public on September 30th 2014.
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