Is it currency, or is it art? Cait Finley’s “CAPI 1.0” at De La Studio

It’s an age-old question. Is there an art that gracefully takes up the space of being an object while criticizing the production and sale of objects? Cait Finley’s “CAPI 1.0,” a show of mostly goofy-yet-thoughtful sculptures, all of which may have risen, thriller-like, from a primordial goo, is in good company with a multitude of exhibitions that have materialized no satisfying answer to this question. Instead, “CAPI 1.0” balances itself, rather unstably, on a different sort of question—not so much an age-old philosophical one, but a flamboyant one—fun, treacherous, intellectual, and in vinyl—an awfully big title wall for such a little show. Here it is: “It is good to regard things such as capitalism as physical beings, not simply as fictions that would disappear if we just stopped believing in them. But what kind of physical being are they?” (Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People).

Discovering this line and emblazing it with track lights is, in itself, a kind of achievement, since it contains everything a late-capitalist citizen artist yearns for: the word capitalism, for starters, which comes bundled with a built-in critique; the transubstantiation of a non-thing (capitalism) into a “physical being,” with it’s pseudo-religious undertones and delicious potential for myth-making, a la the golem of yore; and of course, the irresistible question-cum-challenge: what kind of physical beings are they? Cait has cleverly (and ironically) positioned this entrance quote not as a theoretical exercise, or even a rhetorical question, but as a question with an actual answer which will, by no coincidence at all, take the form of an objet d’art. I admit, even I was tempted to buy a bag of plaster and a vial of glitter and try my hand at sculpting my own capitalist/monster/fantasy creature.

Installation view of “CAPI 1.0.”

To borrow a line from Gordon Ramsey, a critic I admire, let’s get one thing right: the exhibition looks great. The space itself is warm, almost cozy, with white-washed brick and raw wood joists; patches of honey-colored planks emerge through the once-painted moss-green floorboards; and rust-colored paint follows the perimeter of the room and finds its way onto bits of metal strapping. The built-in credenza is all clean lines, and the shelves are neat little slabs of salvaged-looking wood sitting atop simple metal brackets. The lighting, too—not on tracks, but white enamel pendant lamps, and the occasional, well-placed clip light. 

Set lightly, even gently, on these simple but elegant store fixtures, is the stuff of “CAPI 1.0”; hand-held-sized sculptures occupying the same amount of space as, say, a high-end purse, or a hand-made fruit bowl. Where we might expect to find these sorts of boutique-friendly items, rendered in calf skin, or hand-painted in oxides, instead, we find the vulgar materials of art. There is a naked plaster cast of a hand emerging out of a rock formation; an igloo-shaped hunk of plaster with flecks of pastel something-or-other; a peach-painted plaster rock formation with a painted blue arm thing set into the center; a pillow-shaped hunk of plaster bisected to reveal more orange, pink, and purple flecks, reminiscent of my favorite deli meat, mortadella. There’s also a fist-sized hunk of aqua-colored coral set inside a block of clear resin—an object which, like the others, could be mistaken for a notable paperweight, or perhaps, for the heavier ones, unique doorstops. 

It’s critical that the sort of dumb physicality of plaster, the baseness of it as a material, its ubiquity as a material for art—acts as an opposite pole from the exotic, intellectualized, would-be anthropomorphic question “CAPI 1.0” takes as its jumping-off point (see paragraph one). While this question is an admittedly juicy proposition for producing art, I find myself rejecting it—such a heavy-handed quote, however playful, seems to entrench a tyranny of intellectualism, purpose, and meaning in artistic production that Cait’s work actually leaps over, with its unpretentious materials, pseudo-natural forms, and faith in the literal to support the metaphorical.

If we just stopped believing in them (2019); plaster, pigment

Instead, what I have come to like, to really like, about the shelf installation in “CAPI 1.0” is that the shelves are populated with the wrong kind of object; not something exquisite, or functional, or even interpretable (plaster hunk with paint flecks?), but a stand-in, a decoy, a deke. “CAPI 1.0” is not really about the chimeric nature of capitalism, as the vinyl title-wall reports—it’s also not about what zany monster or play-thing capitalism would be if it could be something at all (would it really be a hunk of resin with a piece of coral in it? A glitter-hand wearing tiny hand puppets on its fingers?). Instead, “CAPI 1.0” is about the chimeric nature of art—the sad, beautiful, and dire circumstances in which a hunk of something becomes the stable point on which we pivot toward our highest aspirations, levy our most biting criticisms. Here, we enter what we believe to be a gallery—that neutral space in which we know how to perform as an art-going audience—but what we exit is an almost post-apocalyptic boutique, modestly stocked with forlorn objects which defy and disappoint our expectations for either something beautiful, or something meaningful, or even something useful. It is not through the cunning words of Timothy Morton, but through this funny and befuddling swap-in of the would-be high with the would-be low, that “CAPI 1.0” begins to touch on the crassness of capitalism, to shake loose its mysterious value judgements.

I was inspired to follow Cait’s work after seeing the astonishing sculpture now called Amazon will kill the Amazon, a punchy, artless title for such a smart, delicate artwork. I was walking by her crowded corner of a large live/work space in downtown LA nearly a year ago when I saw it leaning up against the wall, a little precarious, a little shoddy, looking almost discarded. This was an artwork in which Cait grew purple crystals inside of a long, narrow Amazon box as it stood upright on its end, looking at once like the blessed virgin, and a vagina, and a discarded science project, the box moist and crumpled, worked over, old, but also bursting somehow, failing to contain. Sitting on the floor there, it had an affect that made it almost human, huggable—it was both humble and alluring—made from junk, but also made from something shimmering, fragile, lusty. That it appears horizontally, and on a shelf, in “CAPI 1.0,” is puzzling, if not disappointing—but it is a great artwork, imbued with the contradictions of contemporary life in a stark, legible way that’s almost startling.

Amazon will kill the Amazon (2019); Amazon box, purple crystals

There are only a few discrete artworks in “CAPI 1.0” that are not presented, product-like, on shelves. How about The Great Silk, a book to read from bottom to top. What if some things could be physically huge, yet ontologically tiny? * (2019), made of silk, transparencies, resin, and chain. I appreciate the formal inclination to break up the space with something tall, thin, and wispy—like the material-opposite of all those archaeological plaster pieces—and I especially appreciate that Cait hung the silk so that it would waft in the cold, artificial breeze of the AC while it was lit from above by a skylight, bringing a subtle but lively movement into the gallery, like a ghost or an angel hovering about. The Great Silk et. al. is also a clever nod to the curtain of the dressing room, often a prettier, more ethereal space when shopping in high-end boutiques such as “CAPI 1.0.” 

I’m less sure of the work’s titular evocation of the silk road. I get it—it’s the relatively contemporary name for the trade route that connected the East and the West with goods, diseases, culture, religion–and it’s also the briefly-operated black market website for selling illegal drugs, and worse. It’s also, dumbly, a piece of silk. I feel I’m on the verge of understanding the double entendre, but the first half of this artwork’s title calls forth a history of art, commerce, and cryptocurrency that feels too huge and too generic to make sense, especially in light of the sparse and puzzling object it’s attached to. The same can be said of the second half of the artwork’s title, What if some things could be physically huge, yet ontologically tiny? *, another borrowed sentence that seems intended to make one envision Atlas rather than face the less-than-dramatic reality of sheer fabric printed with coin-sized images of things like a first-generation Apple computer, or Abraham Lincoln in a bucket hat. It seems that Cait wants every work in the show to pull off that muscle-beach-style, back-breaking yet-effortless deadlift—but I say, let Atlas leave the building. 

The Great Silk, a book to read from bottom to top. What if some things could be physically huge, yet ontologically tiny? * (2019), (detail); silk, transparencies, resin, chain

On the other hand, the worn-down pair of hand-stitched shoes with a title too long to mention here, filled with what looks like neon green slime, swings back toward the realm of legible art and away from ontological art snobbery. Reminiscent of Dorothy’s magic slippers, if Dorothy was a mutant who perhaps melted or morphed into a pile of goo, narrative shoes are a trope I can get behind. I love the way the dainty shoes are placed on the floor exactly at the width of a standing body—implying an elusive female-ish creature which vanished, or went rogue, or at least left a green, slimy trail as she escaped the dreariness of Kansas. There’s something punk rock, or poisonous about it. We’re not in Kansas anymore, but we’re really not in Kansas anymore. While Cait doesn’t seem too interested in Hollywood and its discontents, her disembodied Dorothy/Wicked Witch is a rebellion, but also a reminder that many of our interpretations come pre-constructed. 

Finally, an artwork called Economics is how we organize enjoyment *, somehow made of plaster and garbage cans (??) is a bona fide oddity in a show of artworks all on the verge of being provocatively odd. A tall, dare I say skillfully fabricated off-kilter stack of textured plaster cylinders reminiscent of both an elephant leg and a grecian column, Economics is how we organize enjoyment * (2019) is a cringe-worthy title attached to a totally wonderful, quirky piece of sculpture. The top of the sculpture, which looks almost like a lid, is a deep, glossy black that smoothly reflects your face as you peer into it (and you’ll want to peer into it). The jaunty angle at which the sculpture stands infers a creature in repose, but it may also be rising up out of the ground, part Beetlejuice sandworm, part oil well, part, I don’t even know! Staring at it for a long time, I had no idea what it was made of, or how—and that inscrutability brought with it a kind of levity, which in turn invited a warming curiosity. 

Installation view of “CAPI 1.0.” Foreground: Economics is how we organize enjoyment * (2019); Plaster, garbage cans

I’ve been uncharacteristically harsh and un-abiding when it comes to the titles of artworks in “CAPI 1.0.” My truth is that it pains me to see single sentences decontextualized from entire books, roughly attributed, and then appropriated as baffling titles, all in the service of puffing up something that doesn’t need to be puffed—not if you embrace the limits of art, instead of refusing them. Another writer could have, and should, accept the titles in earnest and land on a different planet and perhaps on a higher plain, touching the outer reaches of intellectual art-space with thoughtful and genuine theorizing on capitalism and its ever-changing form. But since I can only be Georgia, I’m thinking—forget about titles in search of artworks, and let the objects invite the searching on their own terms. The space of not-knowing may be one you find you revel in.

What really drew me in to “CAPI 1.0”—the reason it rattled around in my brain and came out in the form of a long-overdue essay—is Cait’s great seriousness, aspiration, and what really seems like passion for art’s ability to mean something. Captivating, too, is the show’s sophisticated sense of scale and organization—really magical formal bits that seem to come naturally to Cait. Her choice of materials and sense of whimsy show me she’s an artist who takes great pleasure in making things, while her choice of subject matter shows me she doesn’t quite buy “art for art’s sake,” and she’s not going to settle for it, either. As for me—I’ve learned that I’m at my most critical when I believe the art is the most resilient. Every time a coherent thought is constructed around a work of art, it is a small miracle of both consciousness and care—how is it that an artwork can take one all the way from The Wizard of Oz, to paperweights, to the Virgin Mary, to elephant legs? Because when pushed, it flexed—as it should be. 



“CAPI 1.0” was on view at De La Studios in Los Angeles from September 6-29, 2019. For more information on Cait, please visit

Georgia is a writer in Los Angeles. She is a co-founder of and lead contributor to UNPUBLISHED, a recent contributor to X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, and is currently the Review Coordinator and Writer for the School of Art at CalArtsGeorgia also directs the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO, a need-based workspace and mentorship program for artists in Los Angeles.

Click here to read her recently published review of Matthew Lax’s Brunt Drama at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive.

Click here to subscribe to UNPUBLISHED essays and events.

As always, thank you to Sarah for editing this text!

The featured image at the top of this post is My dear friend. I used to feel that black marked the infinite, then this green color, but I am resting on a dull neutral grey (2019);
shoes, plastic, pigment.

Photos by Zilah Drahn

Part inspiration, part disruption: thoughts on the work of David Aguirre and his six-month residency at the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO

It was an old-fashioned thing—not like a beam balance, but pre-digital—the kind you can cheat if you shift your weight—a little less, a little more. It was square and heavy, despite looking plasticky, with a gently-etched non-slip surface, buffed down to a dull white from years of step-ons and step-offs, all in the service of answering a single, pedantic question: what does it weigh?

It may seem crazy that among all the possible flora—let’s see—the black, heat-melted cactus blossoms—the limp, faded bok choy—the putrid, buzzing lemons—that I’d open an essay on David Aguirre’s work by describing something so not-from-nature. It’s true that all things natural bleed through David’s work—he loves the color blue, especially in its most watery iteration; he loves hiking, and walks that are so tedious and sweat-inducing that they’re practically marches; he loves clay—its weird, wet lumpiness, its ability to go from coil, to mountain, to bead; that it can hold things. He loves fruit. And while a significant portion of his artwork ended up being scavenged, more or less, from my yard, (you should have seen me—shaking my little fist at David as he stood under my lemon tree, picking the hard, green lemons-to-be— “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled at him), there were many nights when I gazed out over the back deck to see the studio glowing, David bent over one of his many work surfaces, slapping or rolling or smoothing the clay—he was The Artist, if ever there was one. The next morning would be a near-cornucopia. It was something to behold.

The early days of his residency were occupied with building and stretching a series of large (but not huge) rectangular canvases and hanging them in a row on the back wall of the studio. These ended up as light, ethereal paintings in colors that reminded me of swimming pools—translucent, gentle—they sort of, acquiesce. Blues, aquas, teals, surrounded by browns, ochres, and other colors reminiscent of sky and earth—the kinds of colors in scenic painting kits. On top of these swathes David would paint a few fruits: a banana bunch in yellows and greens, a red apple. I’m still not really sure what to make of these paintings (David explained that they were like faces); they certainly functioned as a kind of marked exhalation from his previous work, which embraced the crass, shiny, wince-inducing elements of pop culture, rather than a tranquil, vegetal state of nature. In later iterations, these paintings received more embellishment—ceramic medallions, clothespins, little bits of nature stuff. Oranges. I’ve learned that David’s is an additive process.

 If the first few months of the residency were a study in focused energy—painting as an iterative practice invested in exploring a singular theme and form—then the second half embraced a more punk-rock, fuck-it-up mentality—a dizzying, fruit-fueled, clay-slinging, assemblage-ing, found-object, sculptural extravaganza raging from dusk til’ dawn. In my version of the art fantasy, it was one of our meetings that catalyzed David’s practice; but regardless of what spirit moved him, he was certainly possessed, ending his residency with such a large and eclectic body of brand-new work that I had to ground myself with the one object I was already familiar with.

I still don’t know if it has a title. When I saw it, I loved it instantly. My old scale, the one I had used to weigh plaster, clay, boxes—which had been tucked inside an open shelf—had migrated to the ground. On it, David had placed two things: a little hand-painted cut-out of the Earth, and a rather large foot, made of blue painter’s tape. The foot itself was a gnarly thing, maybe an ogre’s foot, with a fat arch and stubby, splayed-out toes. It was mottled with clay, as if it had been intended as an armature, or escaped some dank, enclosed space. A foot and an Earth on a scale. Not an additive gesture—a simple one. 

Something special about this artwork is that I don’t need to explain it. It’s visceral and immediate, instantly calling forth our own ubiquitous experience to this object of fraught relationships. It’s also all the special art words—oh, indexical, symbolic, metaphorical, maybe even metonymic; it has a telescoping effect on our human scale, and we are at once the ones tipping that scale, but also made small by it, all while comprehending the weight of the world that sits on top of it. It is an artwork that spews forth a hundred adages, expressions, puns; it’s a thesaurus in a neat little square; it’s a reminder; it’s a silly thing; it makes us laugh, while it is somehow just serious enough. It has such a pleasing combination of artifice, with the painted Earth on paper, and then the sculpted, clunky tape-foot, and then the found scale—it’s real, you could step on it—you already have. It’s a thing of history, picturing Atlas battling the Olympians, the old world versus the new, those poetic scales of justice. Those are a few of the things I like about it. I could go on.

If you missed David’s open studio, then you won’t understand how different this artwork was from the others. There was a clothing rack on wheels wrapped in plaster, the central armature on which a plethora of items were affixed—clay tulipiere, bok choy leaves clipped into a multi-pronged hanger (it looked like a chandelier), clay faces, those thin, paper beauty masks, more limbs made of tape—there was a five-gallon-bucket-turned-swamp-cooler, and a fountain made out of what I think was a black rubber bed pan, pumping with filthy black water that splashed across the studio wall. There were books and notebooks, a pile of fruit drawings, and a jumble of ceramic coils that looked like a sharp nest of snakes. There were things that were beautiful, and things that were ugly, and my big, sweet, delicious lemons rotting in a plastic bag that hung from the ceiling. 

After David moved out, he left behind two artworks and a note. One artwork was for Sarah—a cone-like ceramic planter on a rubber yellow chain (he knows how much she loves gardening). One was for me—another simpler, gentler artwork—a small, layered, mixed-media drawing on paper. At the bottom of this paper is a little grid, with David’s signature blue-tape-bits and fruits; above that is a soft, smudgy drawing of a globe with what looks like an organ sack, or perhaps a placenta, hanging from it, all reminiscent of a hot-air balloon. Above that is a small graph-paper-like grid, almost like a blank area to write-in your own something; and hovering above the grid, the word Monday, written in bubble letters, floats in a hazy pink cloud. Around the edges of the drawing is an almost imperceptibly small script describing the many anxieties of Monday; the Monday blues. I fell so hard for this artwork; I was so touched by its intimacy, its smallness—I swear, it whispered things to me; it seemed...alive. For all his artworks, with their over-abundance of nature, their flamboyant ephemerality—for me, this is the one where his spirit really resides.

The UNPUBLISHED project has always been an experiment. I continue to be shocked at how profound it is to share space with an artist in the midst of their practice. One simply cannot tacitly observe—one is sucked in, subsumed by not only the art, but by the artist, and ends in a boundless, amorphous puddle of thoughts and feelings not all that suited to committing to words. There are many, many more thoughts and ideas I have for David—some kind, encouraging, useful—others more stern, or unworkable, or across too many boundaries. Art is like that. In its wildest moments, we cannot remember, discern, accept, who has authored it—it becomes something that seems as if it is an obvious answer to a question we didn’t realize we’d asked. It’s part energy, part fog; part inspiration, and part total disruption. In other words: David. 


David Aguirre - July 14, 2019 (42 of 7)

David Aguirre was the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO artist-in-residence winter/spring 2019.

Georgia is a writer in Los Angeles. She is a co-founder of and lead contributor to UNPUBLISHED, a recent contributor to X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, and is currently the Review Coordinator and Writer for the School of Art at CalArtsGeorgia also directs the UNPUBLISHED STUDIO, a need-based workspace and mentorship program for artists in Los Angeles.

Click here to read her recently published review of Matthew Lax’s Brunt Drama at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive.

Click here to subscribe to UNPUBLISHED essays and events.

As always, thank you to Sarah for editing this text!

Photos by Cedric Tai.