“Krokus,” an exhibition of collages at Relax, It’s Just Coffee; a review by Jason Kaufman

Just a word or two (thousand) to urge you to see the collages of James Lee Van Horn and Riley Kemerling at Relax, It’s Just Coffee!

Over the last two years I’ve kept tabs on the progress of James Lee Van Horn’s massive collage project, titled “B’reshith.”

The collage began with the Milky Way chocolate bar advertisement in the lower left corner. In the advertisement, the bar is broken and the caramel center stretches enticingly between the halves. Behind the stretching caramel, James inserted the image of a woman parting the stream of caramel, revealing a deeper orb of light. He was smart to begin with a reference to the Milky Way, because he was indeed setting off to create a virtual universe of images, whose complex (absurd, poetic, accidental) referentiality open and sustain a kind of internal ‘space’. B’reshith is 8ft. x 4ft., but most of the images that fill the space are taken from magazines of a standard 9in. x 11in. format. Because the relatively large space within the frame dwarfs the comparatively small images (figures), there is really no dominant figure in the piece. No protagonist, or unifying subject, but a homogeneous spattering of subjects vying for our attention. If we stand back and view the piece as a whole the figures go out of focus, and we are forced to read it as a formal surface of rhythms, colors, and lines. It’s only when we approach the piece, taking it in section by section, that we can clearly see the images and begin to tease out possible narratives. This visual limitation is important because it simulates an epistemological limitation, which I believe is central to James’ worldview and which can be summed up by Bucky Fuller’s maxim, “The world is non-simultaneously apprehended.”

B’reshith has gone through many stages since then, and it’s great to finally see it in its ‘finished’ state. The beauty of James’ approach to Work is that he rolls with whatever happens. I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t have certain intentions when he begins his work. He does, and those intentions continue to shape it throughout the process, but he isn’t afraid to lose control. Example: In one of B’reshith’s later stages it was vandalized pretty heavily with graffiti. This might lead others to abandon the project, but I swear to god when he told me about it he was giddy as a school girl. He loves the accidental. He welcomes the Other. His starting place is the external. He curates fragments of others, appropriates, adds to, removes from, referees the most disparate aspects of our culture. I see him more as a caretaker of these small public spaces than an author. His work is a disorienting blend of gaudy found materials, the most banal pop-cultural references, and references to esoteric wisdom traditions. Though his work begins from the outside, it’s clear the work is praxis for internal change (psycho-spiritual): for James in the creation, for us in the reading. I’ll leave you to the reading.

The collaboration between James and Riley Kemerling started when James gave her the collage scraps left over from B’reshith. From these scraps she made two collages (Fig. A and Fig. B).

Riley’s approach is significantly different than James’. James seems concerned with simulating the sensation of rapid change, spacial disorientation, and the anxiety we all (unconsciously) feel as inhabitants of the contemporary imagescape, something akin to what Fredric Jameson called post-modern hyperspace, where technology and information processing leave us unable to locate ourselves within space. We are smeared out, at all times, online, in television. We circle the globe in nanoseconds and are everywhere but here, quietly, now. Riley, by contrast, seems to neutralize the onslaught of images by digesting them. Whereas the images in James’ collages remain distinct because of his clean-edged style, Riley paints the collages, obscuring the edges and burying the images within the surface of the work. It’s as if she is changing and blending the appropriated images into her own Being-substance. The soft, diffused surfaces and the subject matter itself lend her work a feminine, sexy quality that James’ hard-edged, brutal compositions don’t possess.

I claimed the starting place of James’ work seems to be the joy he takes in displacing his own Self, by opening himself up to the Other. For him the work begins with the external. By contrast, I sense that Riley’s approach is more internal. Her work feels rooted in a deep, sensitive relationship to her own interior life. In James’ work, the appropriated images are never really altered. They operate much as they always have, as referents to things in the world. James offers us a sea of images to drown in, and the pleasure of viewing his work is that he simultaneously teaches us how to swim in the randomness. By contrast, because of the way Riley has manipulated these same appropriated images, they no longer seem to refer to the outside world, but to disclose something intimate about herself.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas of how to approach the work. Please, please, please go to Relax, It’s Just Coffee, grab a latte, and spend some time with their work. This is a great collaboration! Here are a few more images from the show.


James Lee Van Horn

James Lee Van Horn

Born in the thresholds of dial-up and hypertext James Lee Van Horn, aka Teenwolf, stalks the Rust Belt as a trickster and a pundit’s worst nightmare. Nourished on the teats of Maybe logic and ontological graffiti he searches for the silver bullet that will signal his PERICHORESIS.

Riley Kemerling




Riley Kemerling is an Ohio born and raised artist, now studying Illustration and Drawing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Riley uses a variety of materials in her work, such as charcoal, acrylics, oils, watercolors, graphite, and pen and ink.


Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, poetry & prose open-mics, and writes reviews of regional art exhibitions. Jason works for The Renaissance and Main Street Books, a local independent book store.


Within the Happy Crowd, by Kate Shannon; a review by Jason Kaufman

“There’s the life and there’s the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it’s consumed.”

“No body knows how to feel and they’re checking around for hints.”

                                                                        ― Don DeLillo, Mao II

In Within the Happy Crowd Kate Shannon extracts the backgrounds from photographs, leaving only the Subjects floating in fields of white. This is no hatchet job; these are no cardboard cutouts. The detail is incredible. Every gossamer hair has been salvaged. I can picture Shannon, sitting at her computer, dismantling these worlds one pixel at a time. The people in the photographs are so finely disinterred from their surroundings they might never have belonged to any world at all.

She photographs people in situations of orchestrated excitement, such as carnivals and amusement parks. She tends to shoot photos from the hip, so the Subjects don’t know that they are being photographed. Perhaps this captures them in some truer state. Probably not. More likely we all presuppose the camera, living our lives as if on screen. Lined up on the gallery wall, the photographs are a parade of unreal, highly saturated colors passing in the neutered white backgrounds. The Subjects are so detailed, so plastic they could be advertisements. They appear all the more lonely for their vibrancy. None of them smile.

What are they advertising? American culture, as it really is, without the distortion of ad agencies, models, and studio effects. Shannon’s work is the light-bearing twin of the dark art of marketing. They operate by similar rules. They even have a similar look; replace her Subjects with models and any one of the photos could be an ad for Mac. The difference is that while Mac ad models promenade as the great beneficiaries of American culture, Shannon’s real-life Subjects are its victims. Their arms overflow with the paraphernalia of theme parks: dart game trinkets, inflatable toys, a Dixie Cup-potted flower, a Cro-Magnon sized turkey leg. They glisten, sweaty as the obscenely sized soda cups they carry. They’re draped with eye-assaulting slogans of consumerism. A Hispanic boy cocks a fake chromed pistol sideways; a posture gleaned from the movies. An old man wears a shirt with a cowboy vignette. Horses erupt across his shoulders. An American flag luffs in the billows of dust as a bald eagle circles overhead. The myth of the Old West used to inflame contemporary jingoism. All the threads of US history converge in these Subjects. Their individuality squashed out by the mass psychology of consumerism. Reduced to clichés in Shannon’s lens. Utterly indistinguishable in the crowd.

We can sense the crowd, without the crowd being present. The crowd is implied in the postures of the Subjects; it is written in their bodies. We can sense the collective energy into which the Subjects have yielded. We can sense the potential violence, just waiting to froth up in the crowd. We can also sense their hearts, longing to be buoyed up on the surge. Longing to be part of the great seething hive. The crowd encapsulates. The energy mesmerizes. This is what it means to be Within the Happy Crowd, to be one of countless bodies yoked in a single action. Therefore, the Crowd is a reflection, or simulation of what Lacan says is our true desire, which is “the desire for nothing nameable.” On one level this means that we desire what the Other has. As soon as we possess something we no longer desire it, because to own a thing is to name it. Therefore desire is always faceless, existing on the periphery of a person’s life. On a deeper level, “the desire for nothing nameable” means that we desire a mode of experience that is not tainted by language. Our perception of the world is grown out of language. Though the world is a continuum of matter, in which no clear boundaries exists between ‘things’, our minds use language to parcel the external world into arbitrary symbolic units. This allows us to step outside of the continuum of matter, to separate ourselves from the flux into which other types of minds seem blindly immersed. We inhabit a kind of secondary world of symbolic images and texts. Therefore a more fundamental root of all desire is our wish to be utterly yoked to phenomena once again. To be without boundary and distinction.

Shannon has captured the Subjects in moments when the energy of the crowd deflates. In moments when the Disneyland-like simulations collapse and the specter before them is realized for what it is. A shoddy hoax. A piece of china-silk dangled from the ceiling like ectoplasm in the Medium’s candle-lit séance room. The Subjects gaze into the distance, as if searching for something new to replace their deflated desire. Desire may take many forms (the girl at the bar, Google glasses, a show at Gagosian), but these are really just place holders for something more fundamental. We pull these things into our orbit in order to consume them, to become of one substance. Each new possession is a minor flare illuminating what it is we really desire. By removing the backgrounds of the photos, Shannon visually withholds from the viewer any specific objects that may be desired by the Subject. The Subjects seem caught in suspension, and we are forced to see the stark truth of their unfulfilled/unfulfillable desire.

Herein lies the charm of Shannon’s work. She shows us that the consumer events, the spectacles around which we gather into groups, are inconsequential. We may mistake them as the objects of our desire, but we really Desire to abandon Self, to become utterly indistinguishable within the whole. Being caught up in the energy of a crowd simulates this experience. At the same time, no matter how enchanted the Subjects might be by the crowd, they are also individuals. Shannon has plucked them from the obscurity of the crowd. She has reasserted the individual by blanking out the spectacle, pixel by pixel. The Subjects are caught in limbo, the strange implications between being singularly themselves and seamlessly merged Within the Happy Crowd.


Kate Shannon SelfieKate Shannon is an assistant professor within the Department of Art at The Ohio State University. She teaches Art & Technology and photography courses on the Mansfield Campus in Mansfield, Ohio.  The recipient of the 2013 Ohio State University Mansfield Campus Award for Excellence in Scholarship, she explores notions of desire, consumption, happiness, and loss through digitally manipulated images. She has exhibited her work across the United States.  Selected venues include the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, LA; Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, OH; the Zhou B Art Center Gallery in Chicago, IL; the Contemporary Arts Center in Las Vegas, NV; and TRACTIONARTS in Los Angeles, CA.  Shannon received her master of fine arts degree in studio art from The Ohio State University and her bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art from the University of Kentucky. She currently resides in Mansfield, Ohio with her husband and two cats.  

Aurelio Diaz’s rendition of Sovroncourt’s “el condor pasa”.

This feature is Aurelio Diaz’s rendition of “el condor pasa”. Please take a few minutes to listen to “el condor pasa” by sovroncourt before going on to listen to Aurelio’s rendition. Enjoy!

* * * * *

An introduction to sovroncourt’s “el condor pasa” by Jennifer Hurst
For the past few weeks I’ve been listening to “waves and wheels” whenever I’m in the car. I was hooked at the revival of the Peruvian folk song “Paso Del Condor”, which was covered by Simon & Garfunkel in my youth. Sovroncourt’s version is original. It retains a thread of independence tempered by love, while keeping a great song in the vernacular. What, I wonder, would the nail, the street, and the snail say?

* * * * *

An introduction to Aurelio Diaz’s autoharp/castanet rendition of “el condor pasa” by Jason Kaufman
“The Condor Passes” was written by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913. It is based on traditional Andean folk tunes, which are older yet. The song has taken various manifestations, most popularly by Simon & Garfunkel in the 70’s, and now a hundred years later Cameron Sharp has added another layer of adaptation to the song’s history. Concerning his further rendition Diaz said, “I omitted the bridge of the song to make it less melancholy, but tried my best to keep Cameron’s melody styles. His styling is much different than the original and I wanted to tackle the song with equal ambition. My first decision was to sing it in Spanish.” Thus after 100 years the Peruvian folk song has returned to its Hispanic roots.

“In Front of the Big Screen”, a poem by Jason Kaufman

“In Front of the Big Screen”

It was a fatal nihilism nurtured by the Big Screen.
An atrocity that belongs only on the Big Screen.
A fruit, beyond ripe, that spread its deadly seed before the Big Screen.
In the aftermath we devour it off of the Big Screen.

A half century of nihilism has culminated in him.
With a semi-automatic he has written his final doctrine.
12 dead. His grand work. His magnum opus.
In his doctrine, only Death is significant,
only Death is beyond temporal illusion
Death is absolute.
Death is charity.

His bullets were like unthreaded needles embroidering the dark.
Death leaked into the aisle ways.
It seems now that the theater seats were upholstered in blood-red fabric
in preparation for this occasion.

The survivors report that initially the simulated, movie bullets
and the actual bullets were indistinguishable.
I wonder what Jean Baudrillard would say about that?

I can’t get the image of him out of my mind—
The deranged, wide-eyed stare. The cartoon hair.
I imagine his mug-shot is already hanging
on the wall of the next mass murderer,
the next anti-poet.
Yes, another Dark Knight will rise.
They’ve already memorized the treacherous
and macabre stanzas of his “Aurora” poem.
12 dead; not the largest, not the least mass murder.
But an adequate goal for the next to yearn for,
to improve upon.

I have a portrait of Walt Whitman hanging above my desk.
He has a rapturous, wide-eyed stare and cartoon hair.
I yearn to achieve Whitmanesque gentleness.
I yearn for the world to yearn for Whitmanesque gentleness.
I look to him to guide me through this sorrow,
I’m counting on him to re-inflate my heart.
“Look at that,” he says to me, pointing to a remarkable star.
“Look at this,” he says to me, pointing to a blade of grass.
“That is marvelous. This is significant. Can you see?”

(Walt’s body is a bassoon but his voice is a flute)

We are searching for a motive
equivalent to the crime.
We want to wring it out of him.
We want to apply pressure
and a good deal of pain,
in order to make him repent,
to make him feel remorse.
In order to make him human.
But remorse can’t be taught
and no motive exists
that will make sense of this crime.
No humanity resides in him.
None exists in him.
None exists.

Walt’s beard is full of tears.
My beard is full of tears.

He says to me,
“Jason, my words love you.
My words will draw those bullets back into the barrel,
back into the chamber,
back into their casings.”

© Jason Kaufman 2012

bio pictureJason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, writes reviews of regional art exhibitions, and can often be found battling stage fright at local poetry & prose open mics. Jason is the Art Gallery Director for Relax, It’s Just Coffee and works for Main Street Books, a local independent book store.

“Simulation” a poem by Jason Kaufman

We are genetic-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am my mother,
and she carries within her a non-recombinant coda
replicated without change
since Mitochondrial Eve.
A phenotype expressed
for 200,000 years.
The genes the same,
the body, heart, and mind the same.
Only frivolous alterations
to the wardrobe have been made
—there is no end to the simulation.

We are television-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am Jordan Catalano
and this is my so called life.
Quiet bad boy.
Full of dark matter.
The kind of dumb that sparks with insights
he cannot name.
I am every grunge poet,
modeled on every existential absurdist.
Lovers of the void
that kills them
—there is no end to the simulation.

We are photograph-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am every photograph that came before,
but for a moment,
between the red-eye lamp
and the flash bulb,
I am a non-self.
Without ego or linear contingency,
and then it happens.
My pupils constrict.
My face morphs into a prior face.
I rock on my heels,
peeling myself from the earth
to appear lighter.
I am orchestrating a moment
of spontaneous levity
on some dim recollection of bliss
that probably never was,
and some dim intuiting of my descendents
who will have no place for a sourpuss
in their touted lineage
—there is no end to the simulation.

From the page we are made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am Rimbaud,
and Rimbaud is the seething
bad blood of a mongrel race.
Taking a blade to Verlaine.
Taking a blade to everything known:
every folk tale, every moral
every unquestioned cultural meme.
Reveling in the blood
and the wound like lips pouring
forth the nuance of a word first spoke.
But no word is spoken once and
anything said twice is useless to the poet.
So like Rimbaud, I too will give up words
for something I can touch:
African sands, caravans, and some king’s money
—there is no end to the simulation.

From the page we are made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am Jalaludin Rumi,
and Rumi is ten generations of desert mystics
with only words for flowers.
And you are Rumi,
and Rumi is God, and I am his Bride.
He fills me with his womb blessing
until the vessel of my body shatters
and I fall towards the glass-blowers breath.
I am reborn in his image.
Rumi, God, Bride,
Rumi, God, Bride
—there is no end to the simulation.

We are quark-made,
reduplicated on down.
I am not I.
I am a great ghost waltz.
What you see before you is impossible,
a palanquin of air carried forth on sylphic shoulders.
Trace backward this labyrinth of atoms
and discover it’s all born from nothing.
A holographic essence.
Quarks snagging telepathic codes
from entangled partners.
Information replicating without digital degradation.
My image reflecting endlessly
in each node of Indra’s net of diamonds.

Draw back the cover,
draw back the cover,
draw back the cover,
but you won’t find the lover

© 2013 Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman lives in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, writes reviews of regional art exhibitions, and can often be found battling stage fright at local poetry & prose open mics. Jason is the Gallery Director for Relax, It’s Just Coffee and works for Main Street Books, a local independent book store.

*This poem was read at the “Finding Identity” reading at Main Street Books, July 5, 2013. Are you interested in reading or listening to live poetry and prose? Please visit Main Street Books every month for their First-Friday, Poetry & Prose Extravaganzas. ‘Like’ them on Facebook or check out the events calendar on their website