Softening the Blow: Daniel DeSure

I don’t usually get hung up on press releases, but there’s one phrase from the release for Daniel DeSure‘s current exhibition that I can’t forget: “things we use to soften the blow.” DeSure’s work is described as an understated, non-reactionary response to the fact that blows are a given. Things inevitably go wrong; technologies malfunction, people disagree, cars crash, natural disasters strike. But what if we stop worrying about the inevitable blows, asks DeSure? What if we accept malfunction and disaster and focus on living instead of preventing? He’s not the first to ask questions like these, but there’s something surprisingly relevant about the way in which he asks.


Wouldn’t it Be Nice, DeSure’s exhibition at Found Gallery in L.A., has a glacial quietness to it. I use the word “glacial” because the sort of quiet that DeSure achieves is both cold and big. Three of his photographs depict figures, their backs to the camera, overlooking spacious, hazy terrains that recall the austerity of the Rocky Mountains or the Cascades. The figures would be accessible–they’re wearing plaid, or granny-style sweaters, and they resemble any stereotypical, Urban Outfitter clad American–if they didn’t seem so engulfed in the abyss that they stare into. Is this what facing the inevitable looks like? Losing yourself in austere bigness? Not needing to soften the blow because you’ve become part of it?

When Doug Aitken projected his film Sleepwalkers on to the buildings at MoMA last year, he suggested that images could be ephemeral, personal, and monumental at the same time. When the shower runs in Aitken’s film, it not only calls to mind a waterfall; it seems to become synonymous with a waterfall, or with a torrential downpour. In the montage of bathroom vanities that Aitken moves through, the sinks and faucets have all the austerity and bigness of the mountainous landscapes in DeSure’s photographs.


DeSure produced Sleepwalkers and he also founded and co-runs the art production company Commonwealth. Commonwealth produces work for artists like Omer Fast and Francesco Vezzoli, specializing in experimental films, experiential design, and events that include new media installations. DeSure understands artists who want to find new technological manifestations of meaning and, if being hip means being on the technological pulse of what’s going on in art right now, DeSure has all the hipness anyone could want. He’s a young artist attuned to the mediums of his time and so he’s the perfect person to explore what inevitability and being in touch with the world looks like right now.

The second room at Found displays photographs of pills. With their baby blue backgrounds and their centered compositions, the pills are at once gentle and iconic. They also become cosmic, just like the faucets in Aitken’s film became transcendent–especially in DeSure’s print Wouldn’t It Be Nice, which replaces the baby blue with a glowing light and a black abyss. Surrounded by a celestial halo, the pill becomes the visual equivalent to a planet.


“Today, culture is created, understood and accepted as a commercial product right from the very start,” writes Camille de Toledo, in his book Coming of Age at the End of History. He pinpoints an idea with which DeSure’s work actively interacts. The fetish-finish production value of DeSure’s prints–and the LED lights on plexi, titled I’m having trouble sleeping–has a commercial cleanness. There’s no artist’s hand. DeSure invites his viewers to accept his work as technologically produced cultural moments, flawless in their physical existence. Yet their commerciality ends with their physique.

Later on in Coming of Age, de Toledo continues, “the delights and pleasures of capitalism are only capable of satisfying half our needs. It is only natural that the other half should occasionally awaken to remind us that in addition to our longing to possess lies is a longing to be.” This seems to be the conversation that DeSure’s work engages: commercially pristine objects, those things we use to “soften the blow” of life’s unpredictability, can’t really satiate our desire to figure out how to be alive.


No art work can tell anyone how to live, how to experience, or how to see the world. DeSure knows this and the images and objects in Wouldn’t It Be Nice achieve a simple but resonant task. They suggest that personal interactions with the world can be about feeling close to bigness, and that feeling close to bigness might be the same thing as feeling alive.