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Essay

More than This: The Art of Jason Bulluck

By Gregg Bordowitz

Jason Bulluck’s exhibition and all the work included under its title Let’s Believe Brief Utopias proceed from the foundational premise that the privileged site of art—art’s placement in the gallery, art’s here-and-now—is dispersed. The show’s manifestations in many forms are distributed through time, space, motion, and exchange—here, there, everywhere, and nowhere—all at once.

Installation view of Jason Bulluck: Let’s Believe Brief Utopias, Hamiltonian Artists, July 23–September 17, 2022. Photo: Vivian Marie Doering

Take for example the cellphone app BLEEF, designed by Bulluck, to be downloaded and used by the gallery viewer. The artist describes the app’s purpose:

At its most basic level, BLEEF allows users to post identity-based reviews of public and commercial spaces, based on the sense of comfort and community experienced. BLEEF allows for robust discourse, however as a range of lenses, filters, and content offers opportunities for thinking and participating in broader anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-heteronormative discourses.

Welcome to BLEEF, 2022, video (black and white, sound) and performance. Photo: Vivian Marie Doering.

BLEEF as an app is a model of sculpture that recognizes how location, geography, and time can all happen differently for each viewer, who is potentially a unique intersection of identity formations. The app functions the same way a pronoun performs in language. I is a place in language, not the person speaking it. When I say I, all people around me, present or virtual, know that I’m referring to myself. When someone else in the crowd uses the first-person pronoun, we know that they are referring to themself. So, the pronoun or shifter locates people in relation. The site of the sculpture is potentially anywhere, everywhere—and nowhere in particular—as BLEEF mediates among people, places, and social conditions. Still, the information it collects and archives becomes a record of real-world, consequential determinations: safety.

BLEEF App, 2022, sculptural mobile app and free nonfungible token-coin (NFT-coin). Photo: Vivian Marie Doering
BLEEF App (detail), 2022, sculptural mobile app and free nonfungible token-coin (NFT-coin). Photo: Vivian Marie Doering

The artworks that constitute Let’s Believe Brief Utopias are forms of sculpture that include the art objects and the space surrounding them, seamlessly conjoined as many aspects existing and overlapping simultaneously in multiple locations, durations, and places all together, all at once. Gyres and spirals traverse by airwaves and satellite links; they exist as multiple surfaces spreading and unfolding across walls, floors, thresholds, paper, glass, computer devices, maps, and minds. As pieces-in-pieces, these works demonstrate that art can now be nothing more and nothing less than the naming of an atmospheric condition.

Bulluck’s art is not merely sculpture; it is about the shaping of spaces. Its forms can’t be reduced to conceptual art, simply because ideas and discussions are included as the works’ materials. The viewers of Let’s Believe Brief Utopias are witnesses to an etherealization of art’s substances. This condition exceeds established genres and disciplines forming a polyhedral–polyphonic—manifold—dispersion of the very stuff that constitutes ensembles of matters. These ensembles matter to both the bodies depicted and the bodies viewing the art, wherever they are–were–will be. The artists’ works are matters of physical endurance and survival. They are the substances of all kinds of labor encompassing composition, thought, speech, visual observation, the five senses of human bodies, our senses of duration as we artist and viewers move through and in-and-out-of-sync within a viscosity.

To write about Let’s Believe Brief Utopias is to contemplate the necessity for reformulating the fundamental inquiries informing the very problem of composition. Historically, aesthetic methods of composition unfold from limited antinomically structured thinking that still serves artists. The opposition between psyche and soma. The opposition between thought and sensation. The opposition between the idea and the body. These distinctions remain useful in limited ways for parsing aspects of experience, but mostly for the sake of provisional descriptions. The opposed terms are very limited to their definitions that rely on each other to uphold their meanings. They are rendered antinomically as inherited binaries only as thought experiments that apprehend each term as a fixed state.

In my opinion as an art writer, dialectical formulations remain useful, yet they have reached their limits. The tools of classic historical materialism are dated. The oppositional motors of dialectics are structured by contradictions framed as structuring binary oppositions inexorably superseded by provisional resolutions. These method of dialectics in Marx’s historical materialism are not adequate to address the problems of current racial capitalism, a dominant mode of production regulating the movements of unprecedented numbers of people affected by rapidly changing market wages, reroutings and collapses of supply chains, multiple environmental catastrophes, global pandemics… all the conditions that now fall under the category of permacrises. The term permacrises refers to many intricately arising crises compounding each other and worsening without any resolutions at hand.

Today, quantum mechanics provides the most generative example of compositional forms. In problems of quantum mechanics, some particles exist in several places all at once. We know these features exist, but their exact location amidst the swirl of phenomena cannot be determined with certainty in any given moment at any given point in a process. The recognition that constant movement is part of any observed arrangement requires that aesthetic propositions intending to excite curiosity, necessarily recognize the indeterminate conditions of sensual engagement.

Returning to the app BLEEF as a model of sculpture, the virtual space described by the positions of the app’s users increase the data-set through multiple uses in their physical-world locations over time. BLEEF realizes a composition that is grounded in the terminus of the gallery—the group of artworks exhibited in the gallery. Additional information accrues, transmitted by the viewers’ app contributions, extending the art into a constantly refiguring network among numerous geographic coordinates. And most importantly, numerous points of view from varying subject positions.

BLEEF App (detail), 2022, sculptural mobile app and free nonfungible token-coin (NFT-coin). Photo: Vivian Marie Doering

Inspired by physics, the conundrums of contemporary art can be sensed only in parts as trans-disciplinary propositions. Bulluck’s art is an excellent example of trans-disciplinarity. Some clarifying definitions are required: Multi-disciplinarity means that the artist adopts various methods and media while retaining the established defining features of the multiple disciplines employed. Inter-disciplinarity means that the artist purposely traverses the boundaries of disciplines to unsettle or upset their definitions, but the vibratory or cacophonous array of procedures rely on the friction among settled boundaries. Trans-disciplinarity aims to not only render the disciplinary boundaries permeable; it aspires toward the emergence of new forms, genres, and materials. Trans-disciplinarity is unsettling. Bulluck’s artworks are and are not what they appear to be: a video, a photograph, an app, etc. Consider Let’s Believe Brief Utopias as a process never at rest, including and exceeding the limits of terrestrial location—

It is and is not sculpture.

It is and is not earth art.

It is and is not conceptual art.

It is and is not a gallery exhibition.

It is and is not a service.

It is and is not an analysis.

Triptych of Mom’s Labor Thrown into High Relief, 2022, video (black and white, sound) and inkjet print, dimensions variable. Photo: Vivian Marie Doering

Bulluck’s art has art historical precedents. We can list several fine artists who establish precedents for Let’s Believe in Brief Utopias: stanley brouwn, Nam June Paik, Charles Gaines, Hans Haacke, Adrian Piper, Robert Smithson. Contemporary artists whose concerns and methods can be viewed as adjacent include Carolyn Lazard, Sondra Perry, Martine Syms. None of the artists and their practices are identical. They are not of a type, nor part of any specific movement. They are all connected by associations, playing around with words, like measure, movement, transmission, ecology, and transition.

All these practitioners are concerned with upsetting the antinomically paired terms of state and process. At what juncture of a process can we determine when a state is achieved? Jason Bulluck’s Let’s Believe Brief Utopias resists stasis while acknowledging and accepting processes that extend beyond visible comprehension, processes that are necessary parts of a composition, processes for which no discipline has a name.


Gregg Bordowitz is the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program. He is an artist, a writer, and an AIDS activist known for his work with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Past Exhibition

Let’s Believe Brief Utopias

July 23–September 17, 2022

“Let’s Believe Brief Utopias” is an exploration of liberatory discourses, especially those centered on historically marginalized identities; and the collaborative mapping of safe spaces, especially…