It takes a while for the hot melt unit to warm up. It has to get to 350 degrees before the glue pellets (“little alien eggs,” Paul calls them) are liquid enough to shoot out through the hose.
“I’m excited to see how much trajectory we get with a pump,” Paul says.
Robert tests the hose with his finger. “Wow, that’s hot.”
Dana reads a warning sticker on the side of the machine out loud: “Never point at anyone.”
The hot melt unit—a kind of industrial strength glue gun for jobs like sealing the tabs on cardboard cereal boxes—will be used as we install ICA’s big fall show, Jason Rhoades, Four Roads, the first American survey of the work of an exuberant, prolific, provocative artist known for his enormous, often noisy and kinetic works. ( Rhoades died in 2006.) The glue is for a piece called Untitled (from My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage…) in which a gaggle of neon signs illuminates camel saddles, ceramic donkey planters, Styrofoam vegetables, and sticks of incense, all laid out on a patchwork of towels cushioning the gallery floor. The towels—hundreds of them—will be held together with glue. Ten big cartons of little alien eggs wait in the loading dock to be melted down and spurted out.
Today’s test run will help us see how the hot melt unit works, and to figure out how to use it more or less the way Rhoades would have. For comparison we have photographs of the way the towels looked in earlier installations, and also of Rhoades himself working the hot melt machine, for which he fashioned a kind of harness that positioned the nozzle at his crotch. The pictures of him working the thing—nozzle in hand, liquid glue spurting out—are quite something.
At last the dial on the cheese-yellow machine reads 350: it’s ready to go. Robert has laid down two towels on some cardboard on the floor, and now he takes the nozzle and squirts the glue in squiggles across the seam.
“That’s nice,” Paul says. He takes a turn then offers the nozzle to Dana. The machine makes a loud, buzzing racket, which I imagine Jason Rhoades must have loved.
When the whole length of the towel has been glued, we examine the squiggles.
“Mine’s the best,” Robert says.
“You’re a natural,” Paul agrees. Then, getting serious, he leans over and points to a small section of glue line. “That’s good.” He goes over to the machine and opens the lid of the glue pellet chamber. It’s empty. “We went through two cups,” he says.
The next question is what color the glue will be when it hardens. “Dry white,” Robert exhorts (it’s white in the photographs), but so far the line is looking kind of gray.
Paul pokes the seam gently. “It’s still soft,” he says. “It’s going to change.”
We wait, chatting about camel saddles and about where the towels came from (some of the ones Rhoades used have been discontinued, so we matched as well as we could using Ralph Lauren). Finally Robert has had enough: he has phone calls to make, emails to answer. “I’ll come back and take pictures later,” he says. “This is like watching glue dry.”
It’s always amazing to see what happens in the museum in the weeks leading up to a show’s opening. Sometimes installation is fairly straightforward—paintings uncrated and hung on walls—but not often. In this blog I’ve chronicled bedrooms being built, murals painted, baby bands ironed, plywood helixes suspended, windows inked, pendulums hung, and exercise bikes being wired to neon signs. But with its enormous and intricate sculptures made from tables, dictionaries, plastic buckets, extension cords, a car engine, Polaroids, bandages, PVC pipe, stickers, light bulbs, steer horns, Ivory Snow boxes, shovels, hand-painted gourds, lace, fake noses, and much much much much more, Jason Rhoades promises to be the wildest of them all.
Jason Rhoades, Four Roads opens September 18, 2013 and will be on view through December 29.
To stay up to date with all ICA’s material experiments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.