Clocks and other problems

Pressed for time and the need to maintain a respectable appearance, Will Rogan’s show “Clocks and Other Problems,” at Misako & Rosen in Tokyo, presents a balance of time and expectation amidst uncertainty. An antithesis to the rigidity of cities, Rogan’s work deals with things that, as he puts it, “keep falling down.”

The show doesn’t make reference to any object or place in particular, but his understated sensibility does, as it joyously talks of “things” that bear the realistic image of failure and obsolescence. His works offer an ideal chance to understand how things fall out of date, and out of love, by purposely presenting them as railing against becoming irrelevant. Simply put, Rogan’s work is about the world and our place within it.

Whether he’s blowing up a hearse (Eraser, 2014) or removing figures from the cover of a magazine (Silencer, 2010– ), Rogan lives with an idea until he’s able to realize it and acts on ideas that, in one sense, appear permanent, treating them as something ephemeral.

Over time, he has collected magazines and monographs and gradually put them to use. With MEDIUM 4 III (2015), for instance, he has stacked three discarded artist portraits on top of one another, which are images from monographs unearthed while he worked in the library of the San Francisco Institute of Art. With each monograph that was systemically removed from the library, Rogan would “liberate” them with the distant hope that one day they would be returned to the Institute in some way, shape or form—most likely re-appropriated into artworks themselves.

Each figure seen in MEDIUM 4 III mirrors the next, with all of them arranged on a table that is fixed to the wall at one end and resting on a single leg at the other. These states of suspension create a narrative that runs constantly throughout the exhibition. EXITS and LOOSING TRACK (both 2015) hang as mobiles, forming vague impressions of a face, which shifts with each gentle rotation. In NO NOON (2015), clock hands are replaced with a single copper coin and a Civil War-era domino balancing by sheer gravity on top. Additionally, the pieces that make up SHREADS and ADAM (both 2015) appear like curiosities rather than clocks.

Elsewhere, stories of things that go missing emerge within characters undergoing their own form of strange transformation. The book Broken Wands (2014) is Rogan’s collection of Xeroxed obituaries of magicians, written by fellow magicians, which were pulled from the pages of an out-of-date trade magazine. The texts retell life stories involving watches or watch-making, unexplained or unexpected death and, in one particular instance, even recount a bizarre performance that involved an audience of blind children.

With Rogan, his works range from the compulsive to those delicately produced, each piece responding to the next in some way—such as the propped tabletop resting against the wall and the domino perched on the diamond clock—evoking a sense of reassurance and cooperation. A mere gust of wind or sustained tremor could knock everything over, and it’s half-expected that they will. In this way, problems are presented as opportunities waiting to happen. In his work, there is no unnecessary production or spectacle; but the possibility of sudden change is ever present.

With Misako & Rosen having recently moved to an interim address, in anticipation of a redeveloped gallery space, this temporary site and the wider city of Tokyo have both given Rogan’s show an ambient backdrop that is both weird and strangely relevant. “Shit falls down all the time, constantly,” he said in 2013, in an interview with the Kadist Art  Foundation. “Eventually everything does . . . (though) something falling down is also an opportunity.”