A man jumping out of a window.

Digital video
08:00 min., color, sound
Courtesy of Blackston, New York and Tif Sigfrids, Los Angeles

Awkward situations abound in the work of Joe Sola (b. 1966, Chicago, IL); however, a sense of discomfort easily translates to one of thrill. Why else would the notorious eye-slicing scene of Luis Buñuel’s film Un Chien Andalou have inspired Sola to become an artist?

Sola earned a BFA from the University of Michigan followed by an MFA from the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA, where he continues to reside. It is not just eyes, but the entire body, or physicality—particularly male—as well as its sociocultural implications that he utilizes, represents, and scrutinizes in his art. That is, Sola explores what it means to be a man, and especially the ways in which this notion contrasts with himself.

Themes of masculinity, sexuality, strength, heroism, and violence underlie works like Male Fashion Models Make Conceptual Art (2006). For this piece, Sola hired five beautiful, shirtless male models and instructed them to make art during the opening reception of his exhibition. The title of the video, Riding with Adult Video Performers (2002), also describes the action: Sola went to Six Flags in Santa Clarita, and filmed himself riding the Colossus rollercoaster with three gay male porn stars. For another work, Saint Henry Composition (2001), he recorded himself in actual danger when he was tackled repeatedly by an Ohio high school football team.

Sola also investigates, or rather skewers, the art world and its mores. The video A Short Film about Looking (2010) depicts an artist and collector staring at each other. They do so fixedly until their heads (literally) explode. Some Blood of an Artist (2011) shows a man engaged in violent acts upon corpses, the body parts of which he turns into paintings and sculptures. Finally, a body part does not become, but instead displays, art in Sola’s 2013 exhibition Portraits: An Exhibition inside Tif Sigfrids' Ear. Painted under a stereomicroscope with an acupuncture needle, six tiny oil paintings measure around 4/64 by 5/64 inches and hang in an exhibition space constructed to fit inside gallerist Tif Sigfrid’s ear. Perhaps a critical, creative twist on the insularity of the art world, Sola’s show also refused passive viewership. Viewers could not see “Portraits” unless they directly, intimately encountered Sigfrid.

Studio Visit (2005) combines Sola’s interests in popular representations of masculinity and the patterns and behaviors of the art world. Conceived after a disappointing studio visit during an interview for a post-graduate art program, the piece shows a series of Sola’s meetings with curators, collectors, and the like, in which the artist takes a flying leap through his second-story window. A hidden camera behind the scene captures the actual reactions of Sola’s guests, who were visibly stunned, confused, and even amused by this feat, which evokes a Hollywood action film. (In fact, Sola trained with a stuntperson and jumped through the kind of breakaway glass used in films to land on a bed of cardboard boxes.) Nonetheless, while Sola emulates the macho action hero who narrowly escapes a threatening situation, he also physically portrays real feelings of vulnerability and desperation that are oblivious to gender. —Kanitra Fletcher