83 Bowery FL2 NYC

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Despair Engine


Joseph Buckley

01–04–2024 to 02–10–2024



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Island Gallery is pleased to present Joseph Buckley’s first solo exhibition with the gallery titled Despair Engine.  

Buckley’s practice draws its vernacular from science fiction, industrial processes and historical recordings to generate speculative fictions that coalesce around the matter of factness of the sculpture medium.

In the front room of the gallery, atop a green flared platform reminiscent of a Warhammer figurine base, lay two emaciated humanoids in Amazon Essentials clothing. These figures, possessing both alien and early human features and paper-thin limbs, tirelessly balance an epoxy tabletop with their extremities.  The head shapes are partially influenced by the oldest hominid fossil ever found known as “Java Man”.  The sculpture, titled Peasant, references the history of genocide and mass graves and the people that fill them (the literal bodies and those that put them there). Rather than being didactic references to historical events, these echoing forms expose the dynamics and structures that recur endlessly throughout history in different contexts.

Processes of replication are mirrored not only in the content but also in Buckley’s forms. The endless feedback loops of an assembly line, a neural network, or an advertising campaign become physicalized as fractured, disfigured, and cloned orc-like forms in the show. In the work Extinction, three larger-than-life police officer figures stand together in a formation. Their copy-pasted stances suggest through a practice of psychic mastication and design, that a British colonial police officer, in Hong Kong in ’67, and an occupying Legionary of the Tenth Legion, in Galilee in 67AD, are, in fact, the very same thing. Buckley is interested in what he terms as “a fractal dynamic of violence, and of cruelty.” Works in the show are hand sculpted in epoxy clay, laser scanned, 3D-printed, and cast in urethane from silicone molds. Plastic, with its inscrutable yet ubiquitous manufacturing process, permeates almost every modern object and serves as the medium of choice for Buckley’s monsters by virtue of its intrinsic artificiality.

A vinyl sheeting spans the entire gallery floor. Its image, a devastated and barren forest of trees in a hot red haze, is pulled from a painting by British war painter and surrealist Paul Nash titled We Are Making a New World. Despair Engine points at a contemporary moment seemingly filled with infinite despair and possibility foisted on us by ever complexifying and malevolent societies recreated on networks. Against a backdrop of escalating regional wars, spiraling inflation, and decimation of labor forces, to hope feels naive, to be asked to hope feels cruel. Buckley is interested in dwelling in this despair and continuing nevertheless – in trying to use despair as a fuel in the engine of his practice.


Joseph Buckley (b.1990, Ellesmere Port) lives and works in New York City, USA. Buckley’s work brings a formidable knowledge of science fictional premises, traumas and catastrophes into uncomfortable proximity with contemporary class and race politics. Through a critical sculptural practice, he foregrounds the violence of fabrication as an analogue for the social reproduction of inequality, bigotry and ecological collapse. Selected solo projects include Letter From The Home Office, Lock Up International, London; Traitor Muscle, Art in General, New York and Brotherhood Tapestry, Tetley, Leeds. Selected group exhibitions include Poor Things, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh; Friends & Family, Anton Kern Gallery, New York; Trouble in Outer Heaven: Portable Ops Plus, Southwark Park Gallery, London; I Don’t Know Whether The Earth is Spinning or Not..., Museum of Moscow and Cellular World: Cyborg-Human-Avatar-Horror at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow as part of Glasgow International. In 2021 he received a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. In 2022 Buckley was appointed faculty in the Sculpture Department at the Yale School of Art, New Haven.

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