Keith Kaziak (b. 1980) lives and works in Madison, WI. Recent solo exhibitions include The Paradox of Things at Abel Contemporary, Stoughton, WI (2022), Rule No. 8: Don’t Look Down! at Backspace Gallery, Madison, WI (2022), Turn on the News at Quad City Art Center, Rock Island, IL (2021), Against the Wall at Backspace Gallery, Madison, WI (2021), and Welcome to Bliss Point at the Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, WI and the Trout Museum of Art, Appleton, WI (both 2019). Group exhibitions include the Trout Museum of Art, Appleton, WI (2022, 2021, 2019), Koehnline Museum of Art, Des Plaines, IL (2022), Creative Cube, Milwaukee, WI (2021), Valade Family Gallery, Detroit, MI (2021), Real Tinsel Gallery, Milwaukee, WI (2020), Quarter Gallery, Minneapolis, MN (2019), CICA, South Korea (2019), DeVos Art Museum, Marquette, MI (2018), and Ground Floor Contemporary, Birmingham, AL (2017). He was a UW-Madison 2019-2022 Interdisciplinary Artist Research Cohort Fellow, a 2022 US Fulbright semi-finalist, and 2021 recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award. Kaziak received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2022 and a BFA from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2004.
My research-based work finds me mining ephemera and the vernacular of the human condition, seeking to answer the restless and existential question of why? Through artistic gestures that embody doubt, illusion, faith, and expectation, I create staged absurdities between sculptures in immersive environments (sight, cite, site) that conjure associations rich in cultural and visual references to challenge our assumptions about the physical world. Working between dichotomies—existential feelings of Albert Camus’ Sisyphus and the trials and tribulations of Wile E. Coyote, comedy and tragedy, real and counterfeit, assumption and disbelief—I create tension that gives my work power and presence.
Illusion, or a lack of sight, is the means by which the magician exposes our assumptions of the things we think we know. When our eyes can no longer be trusted, how do we understand estranged perceptions and sensory experiences? Through alchemy, I transform the mundane to become magical and menacing through the uncanny reshaping of useful objects rendered useless by shifts in orientation and material composition. In addition to employing found and common construction materials, gravity and water are intuitive motifs I use to further draw into doubt our assumptions of the physical world. The invisible and constant force of gravity not only keeps us grounded but also plays the role of corralling the formless material of water as both a necessary resource and a destructive force. Their interplay reveals a tension that furthers the notion of illusion, mirage, or optical hallucination. In this way I simultaneously elevate or float things to the realm of sculpture, while pushing sculpture to its most mundane variants that challenge the very terms of reference we often assign to reality and binary meaning: heavy or weightless, sink or float.
Though I tread familiar ground found in contemporary sculpture (minimalism, surrealism, and the readymade), and my work references or cites the classic Duchampian model, my quotidian appropriations are differentiated as assisted or (re)readymade. Each work’s disorienting dichotomy between useful and aesthetic value—or exhibition value as Walter Benjamin suggested—with an uncanny effect when encountered in domestic and art settings further reveals our precarious nature and relationship to the world. Additionally, each of my imposters often contrasts with farcical innuendo that references conversations concerning consumption, the environment, and labor through phenomenology and a metaphysical lens—which pushes the limits of what seems so extraordinary, when it is all too ordinary.
The nuances and architectural features of each exhibition site also inform the curation of my work and are the point-of-entry into which I first ‘see’ a body of work in conversation. For example, my work Tower of Boxes (2021) not only referenced the ubiquitous nature of the cardboard box experienced during the first months of the pandemic but was a pastiche of modernist pioneer Constantin Brâncuși’s most famous work, and as an architectural façade which disguised the 20-foot structural support column that was the impetus for the work itself. In a similar way, and as part of my recent solo, immersive installation Rule No. 8: Don’t Look Down!, the work Creativity is the Enemy, Failure is the Friend (2022) used dramatic lighting to understate the gallery’s massive and looming wall. It is through the unique architectural character and space of each site that the structure of my creative research and process comes full circle.
My work is as much about its arrangement in space as it is about the objects themselves, that encourage exploration in unfamiliar and evocative ways. To arrive at something unique and in pursuit of answering this difficult dilemma of why is to step in the only direction that can be trusted—inward. In doing so, I reveal the social phenomena of our existential dissonance that constrain mind and body, and desire to metamorphose our assumptions of the physical world through artistic actions that replace inattention with contemplation.