Patent Pending: 5&J Gallery

"Over the course of the exhibition’s opening night, people didn’t just watch things move. They pressed buttons and pulled cranks to varying effects."

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Panoramic perspective of Patent Pending at 5 & J Gallery (photo credit Victoria Maria Bee).

I remember seeing stacks (and stacks and stacks) of massive tan-colored hardcover books in the CASP Print Studio several months ago, each book containing hundreds of pages of patents dating 1961-1965. It was sort of overwhelming and fascinating, a collected history of invention, personal and commercial triumphs and failures, and ownership and rights-protecting protocol.

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Piles of patent books. Photo credit: Jonathan Whitfill.

And I found out they all belonged to Jonathan Whitfill (gifted to him by the Texas Tech University Library system). And it made sense. He’s a science head, a physics teacher at Estacado High School in Lubbock, TX, and a brilliant artist with a track record of repurposing shit-tons of books, particularly those of an outdated encyclopedic nature (see below).

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Left: Jonathan Whitfill and Tom Matthews, Ink (2006). Right: Jonathan Whitfill, USAYesterday (2011). Image source:

In a recent interview with Paul of KTTZ’s 24 Frames, Whitfill refers to his patent books as “beefy,” “amazing objects,” and “just too precious.” And he (with the help of friends) has given away and shipped (even internationally) some of these 980 beefy amazing things to over 130 artists of his choosing, on the condition that they’d give something back– a new, original work inspired by the individual volume they recieved. This enterprise culminated in the recent exhibition Patent Pending at the 5 & J Gallery in downtown Lubbock, which opened in conjunction with the city’s July First Friday Art Trail.

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Outside looking into Patent Pending at 5 & J Gallery (photo credit Victoria Marie Bee).

It was a salon-style installation, with works crawling up the walls and crowding the corners, or like pivots in a maze of three-dimensional pieces across the gallery’s floor. It was eclectic, and sometimes electric (figuratively and literally). Although the exhibit had some common reoccurring elements, like the appearance of the abbreviated word “fig.” and numbers all over the place (sometimes in the form of intricate mechanical diagrams, sometimes not), no artist’s response to the singular question of ‘what are you going to create based on this big-ass book’ was remotely the same.

With my biases, my fetishes for, sort of ironically, both paper and recycling, I gravitated toward works that engaged the physicality of the book itself. Like Brandy González’s winding wall installation, a feat of painstaking folding and unfolding. The paper plane by Matt Weaver and Julie Weaver, suspended from the ceiling, both sinister and nostalgic. Tim Best (haunting and a little bit shiny). Cecil Touchon (chopped and screwed). Brian R. Jobe (my personal favorite. 1964 patent volume treated with concrete dust and bisected by a sheet of yellow vinyl. (Love those colors, love those lines).

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Left to Right: Tim Best, detail (photo credit Victoria Marie Bee), Cecil Touchon (photo credit Charley Wasson), and Brian R. Jobe (photo credit Victoria Maria Bee).

It was cool to see Lubbock-based artists doing the things they do while keeping to curatorial confines. Like, the new addition to Dirk Fowler’s body of badass prints, wherein he produced a letterpress print of a meticulously mapped humanoid robot skull. Painter Shannon Cannings continued her exploration of plastic water guns, with just as much bold coloration, fine modeling, and dynamic force of line as her previous works, but with a more explicit bent toward deconstruction and darkness, and a reference to I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold by Charles Demuth. There was Will Cannings’ subtle stunner, where the simple presence of stylized text (a “fig. 1” notation) on the front of his piece marks a major deviation from his canon of unmarked, pristine pillow-y inflated metal sculptures. Chad Plunket’s steel sculpture showcases his ability to draw out a kind of humility and earthiness from a material associated with modern industrialization. With its arrangement of defunct typewriter keys, Plunket calls it a “machine that makes silence.”

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Left: Dirk Fowler, Skull Plans. Image source: Right: Shannon Cannings. Photo credit: Victoria Marie Bee.

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Left: William Cannings, photo credit Victoria Marie Bee. Right: Chad Plunket, photo credit Victoria Marie Bee.

As each patent book was loaded with mechanisms and machines, the plethora of kinetic sculptures was not surprising. I watched Suguru Hiraide’s piece, elegant and odd, consisting of a curvilinear metal rod from which was suspended a futuristic highchair that held a small plastic baby doll, hypnotically rotate for a while. But over the course of the exhibition’s opening night, people didn’t just watch things move. They pressed buttons and pulled cranks to varying effects. Gallery visitors freely tried on for size Joe Barrington’s metal sculpture of a brassiere, based on a patent from the early 1960s, even as the piece recalls modernized efforts at standardizing and controlling the female body (would Barrington’s heavy-duty piece survive a bra burning, I wonder). And, Joshua Goode’s piece was subjected to after-hours catapulting experiments in gallery’s outdoor courtyard.

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Left to Right: Suguru Hiraide, detail (photo credit Charley Wasson), Joe Barrington (photo credit Victoria Marie Bee), Joshua Goode (photo credit Victoria Marie Bee).

Jon Whitfill was beaming that opening night. Maybe with the sweat and tears of hauling 980 heavy books, organizing, curating, and installing Patent Pending, and making the piece he contributed to the show (see below). But I think too he was just really excited to share something he thinks is inspiring (amazing even), and to share in such a massive, mad-scientisty creative effort.

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Left to Right: Jonathan Whitfill, in progress; Jonathan Whitfill, still in progress; Jonanthan Whitfill (photo credit Charley Wasson).

Patent Pending brimmed with creative exchange and public participation. At the same time, the show’s central theme generates a consideration of individuality and ownership. It’s about, in a way, the entrance of new things into the world, and the people who claim responsibility for or are credited with the things’ invention (patent-owners and participating artists alike). It’s an interesting address and expression of human ingenuity past and present, and the mechanisms by which it can be owned, preserved, protected, commercialized, controlled, and reworked, over and over.

Jon Whitfill is in the process of creating a book featuring the works contributed to Patent Pending. He also plans to continue unloading his patent books on artists (another 40 were given away the night of the opening) interested in participating in future exhibitions.

Patent Pending featured works by: Jonathan Whitfill (Lubbock, TX), Chad Plunket (Lubbock, TX), Scotty Hensler (Lubbock, TX), Victoria Marie Bee (Lubbock, TX), Jim Johnson (Lubbock, TX), Jeff Wheeler (Lubbock, TX), Maisie Alford (Lubbock, TX), Alvaro Perez (Laredo, TX), Diane Doty (Lubbock, TX), Shree Joglekar (Manhattan, KS), Ian F. Thomas (Slippery Rock, PA), Ryder Richards (Dallas, TX), Sue Anne Rische (Dallas, TX), Brian Jobe (Knoxville, TN), Lynwood Kreneck (Lubbock, TX), Dirk Fowler (Lubbock, TX), Wes Harvey (Red Lodge, MT), Carson Murdoch (Washington, DC), Sara Waters (Slaton, TX), Lloyd Patterson (Chicago, IL), Trevor King (Slippery Rock, PA), Valerie Chaussonnet (Austin, TX), Matt Weaver (Lubbock, TX), B.C. Gilbert (Wichita Falls, TX), Byron Rich (Meadville, PA), Roger Holmes (Lubbock, TX), Suguru Hiraide (Wichita Falls, TX), Jacob Guzan (Morgantown, WV), Ven Voisey (Oakland, CA), Joe Barrington (Throckmorton, TX), Dewane Hughes (Tyler, TX), Kurt Dyrhaug (Beaumont, TX), Jordan Vinyard (Chickasha, OK), Jake Weigel (Odessa, TX), Joel Kiser (Plano, TX), Jaci Ross Hunt (Emlenton, PA), Ryan Collins (Somerset, MA), Cory Chandler (Kyle, TX), Eric Simpson (Lubbock, TX), Andrew Martin (Lubbock, TX), Victoria Shields (Lubbock, TX), Matthew ‘Maddog’ Williams (Amarillo, TX), Casey Dellis (Amarillo, TX), MOLOV (Amarillo, TX), Kimberly Rumfelt (San Antonio, TX), Conor Callison (San Antonio, TX), Annie Gedicks (Germany), Cecil Touchon (Santa Fe, NM), William Cannings (Lubbock, TX), Shannon Cannings (Lubbock, TX), Catherine Prose (Wichita Falls, TX), Alberto Careaga (Missouri City, TX), Harrison Brooks (Lubbock, TX), Nicolle LaMere (Madison, WI), Lucia Simek (Dallas, TX), Tim Best (Dallas, TX), Michael Mazurek (Dallas, TX), Joshua Goode (Dallas, TX), Julie Weaver (Lubbock, TX), Andy Moon (Red Lodge, MT), Shawn Kennedy (Amarillo, TX), Eli Blasko (Spartanburg, SC), Brandy González (Lubbock, TX), John Hancock (McGregor, TX), John Poch (Lubbock, TX), Sean Scully (Lubbock, TX), Katrina Prow (Lubbock, TX), Naomi Hill (Lubbock, TX), Ashton Thornhill (Lubbock, TX), Brianna Burnett/Shaun Foreman(Lubbock, TX), Nisa Touchon (Santa Fe, NM), Valerie Komkov Hill (Lubbock, TX).

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