Born 1972, San Francisco, California; lives in New York, New York

Aaron Young’s performative actions, videos, and sculptures deal with art’s capacity to aestheticize extreme behavior and the margins of culture. Influenced by Chris Burden’s high-risk performance actions of the 1960s, Young is no clinical voyeur, but an accomplice within the scenarios he orchestrates, acutely aware that his motives are always implicated. For his video High Performance (2000), Young hired a biker to do tire “burnouts” in a studio space at the San Francisco Art Institute. As the revved-up motorbike creates black circles of burnt rubber on the floor, the space is gradually engulfed in thick white smoke. In its displacement from a parking lot to a studio context, this extravagantly indulgent though otherwise unremarkable stunt becomes inflected with a curious formal elegance. Playing off two meanings of the word “performance,” Young recontextualizes this high-powered motorbike as a tool of boisterous live drawing. Good boy (2001) likewise draws on a subculture of cultivated aggression. The video records a muscular pit bull terrier writhing in midair as it dangles from a leash by its powerful teeth, as if performing in some kind of a canine trapeze act; the dog’s intimidating growls are accompanied by the owner’s equally aggressive tauntings off screen Young’s exhibition Tender Buttons (2004) provided a crescendo to his practice involving staged events that aestheticize power. For almost an hour during the opening night of the show, a helicopter hovered outside the gallery, training a searchlight through the windows of the building onto the crowd inside. There, visitors watched this mock law-enforcement operation through multicolored aviator sunglasses provided by the artist. The sculpture “LOCALS ONLY!” (Bayonne, New Jersey) (2006), one of a series of bronze rocks, responds in another way to the marking of a territory and the current climate of suspicion and fear. After casting the boulder in bronze, Young hired professional scenery artists to paint it so it would resemble boulders from a location in New Jersey characterized as a marginal, suburban “non-site” in several works by Robert Smithson. Young then spray-painted the phrase “Locals Only” across the rock, suggesting the kinds of barriers that people put up in their intolerance toward outsiders and steadfast defense of a territory. Young’s work evokes a cultural and psychological hinterland within which lies an ever-present potential for violence, exploitation, and instability.


...read more about this artist in the Biennial Catalogue

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“LOCALS ONLY!” (Bayonne, New Jersey), 2006. Bronze and acrylic paint, 42 x 30 in. (106.7 x 76.2 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Harris Lieberman, New York