Carl Cheng: John Doe Co. Presents New Alternative Channel

5 November - 1 December 2020

Philip Martin Gallery is proud to announce, "John Doe Co. Presents New Alternative Channel," an on-line exhibition of sculptural works by Carl Cheng. In 1974, at the end of the oil crisis, the height of Watergate, and in the last years of America's military involvement in Vietnam, John Doe Co. - Carl Cheng's intentionally anonymous corporate DBA - produced a series of "Alternative Televisions" crafted per its corporate literature "for highest definition viewing of new alternative channel." 

Today, John Doe Co.'s Alternative Televisions feature LED lights that illuminate their highly detailed interiors with a range of colors. They combine natural elements like stones, machine-made plastic plants and "samples" - small sculptures made from the materials Cheng found foraging on the beaches and in the woods of not only California, but also Japan, Indonesia and India, where he lived and worked throughout the early 1970s.

The benefits of the Alternative Televisions are extolled in John Doe Co. corporate literature. With an eye to what we might call hyperreality, and a goal of returning individual agency, John Doe Co. products take on the syntax of corporate language. They address the power of image and media in advanced technological societies, such as our own, and comment on our own place in relation to both technology and nature. 

Cheng installed his Alternative Televisions in a number of public and gallery locations, doing so first in bookstores on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, like Moe's Books and Shambala Booksellers. He later included the works in "Tableau" (1980) at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA), where they appeared on stands alongside pieces by artists like Chris Burden, Kipper Kids, William Leavitt, and Alexis Smith.  

"We never watched TV. We didn't have one in my family." Born in San Francisco, Cheng was raised in a family of five brothers in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, during a time of tremendous development and urban change. Alert to the language of both technology and nature, Cheng adapted television "carcasses" by removing their tubes. Initially he re-fashioned them as aquariums, and homes for fish; later, Cheng removed the fish, citing the same environmental concerns he addressed in performance/sculpture pieces like "Last Fishing Trip" (1967).

Carl Cheng has been thinking about the Anthropocene era since the late 1950s. As Mark Johnstone writes, Cheng's pioneering works explore, “technology and nature as levers, one applied to the other, in order to discover and reveal the beautiful wonders of each.”  Cheng comments, "To me picking up a handful of nuts and bolts is similar to picking up a handful of rocks or pebbles." This material and conceptual approach pushes the boundaries of post-minimalism, systems and environmental art, and, as John Doe Co.'s corporate literature proclaims, result in "Art Tools" and "Nature Machines" that “model nature, its processes and effects for a future environment that may be completely made by humans.” 

Carl Cheng (b. 1942, San Francisco, CA) is currently featured in “Potential Worlds 2: Eco-Fictions” at Migros Museum of Contemporary Art (Zürich, Switzerland). Cheng's work has recently appeared in such exhibitions as "3D: Double Vision," Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); "Specters of Disruption," de Young Museum (San Francisco, CA); "Soil Erosion," Altman Siegel, (San Francisco, CA); and "Emerald City," K11 Art Foundation (Hong Kong). Solo exhibitions have been presented at Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (Santa Barbara, CA), LIST Visual Arts Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Boston, MA), and ASG Foundation Gallery (Nagoya, Japan). His work was featured in “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981," (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA); "Proof: Los Angeles Art and the Photography 1960- 1980," Laguna Art Museum (Laguna Beach, CA); "The Photographic Object 1970," Hauser and Wirth (New York, NY); "Photography into Sculpture," Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); "Vision and Expression," George Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY); and “The Photographic Object 1970," Le Consortium (Dijon, France). Cheng lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.