In the Neptune Society Columbarium, a miniature-shrine-filled dome nestled among modest homes in San Francisco’s inner Richmond, three textile-based sculptures by Josh Faught are currently on view as part of SFMOMA’s off-site SECA award exhibition. The first, suspended in the atrium and surrounded by rows of captivating little niches containing the ashes of loved ones and their personal effects, is a monumental panel of coarse fabric composed of muted violet-, mauve-, and pink-colored strips with a crocheted clock embedded in its top right corner. Cheap consumables are strewn haphazardly across its surface, echoing the candy and toy figurines scattered in and around the Columbarium’s cheery interior: cookies, a pile of cheesy nachos, a bottle of nail varnish tipped on its side which appears to spill out its viscous red content. A column of pockets woven into its fabric houses disposable gift cards and pamphlets. A quirky hodgepodge of knickknacks, Faught’s textile-assemblage is messy, eccentric, and tender.
His other two patchwork textiles are in the same vein, and have a worn, raggedy quality that brought to mind Tim Burton’s Charlie (of the Chocolate Factory) and his elderly family, wilting under layers of multicolor crocheted blankets. The fake foods, the recurring motif of spilled liquids — nail varnish, White Out, a cup of coffee turned on its side — and the kitschy gift-store objects and ephemera can be queasy-inducing, the feeling produced by those glossy plastic display foods in cheap Asian restaurants or the musty clutter of a thrift store. In two of Faught’s sculptures — those located on the upper floors, one at the foot of a staircase and another hidden in a nook on the top floor — what look like sequined and knitted penis cozies protrude from the textiles, evoking beds and the time we spend in them. Sex, sleep, dreams, death. In all of this crap there is something sweet and poignant. I thought of Jean Genet and of Tracey Emin’s semen-spattered Psycho Slut.
In one of Faught’s textiles (the one suspended from a wooden frame at the top of a stairwell) a pair of fairytale witch’s feet protrude from beneath, reflecting the childlike levity of the space; the Columbarium, with its rosy, well-lit interior, chintzy, romantic soundtrack — the comforting tones of Frank Sinatra played quietly in the background during one of my visits — and its cabinets filled with teddy bears and smiling photographs of couples and families, is almost womb-like. Faught’s work mirrors and amplifies the nuanced qualities of the Columbarium’s shrines: his textiles are secular, but fantastical and deeply fetishistic. The recurring references to witchcraft recall contemporary paganism.
Textiles inevitably conjure notions of craft and homegrown rituals, but Faught’s, with their assembled, patchwork quality, feel especially intimate and human — almost uncomfortably so. If these rough-hewn blankets memorialize lives lived, they are concerned with the body, and physical experience. Rather than the durable headstones of Judeo-Christian tradition, people here are remembered and honored with everyday matter that ages and decays; fabric fades, paper yellows, candies disintegrate. Each of Faught’s textiles integrates a clock into its design, striking a note of solemnity and commemorating the awful experience of loss, but there is also plenty of humor. His work left me wondering, why the uniformity in how we mark and remember the dead? Why not create space in our public and private memorials for the idiosyncrasies, the mess, and the matter of individual lives passed?