K Contemporary’s inaugural exhibit, “GAS LIGHT LOVE BOMB,” featuring new work from Scott Young, is a precisely controlled look at volatile love in the digital age. Lovers here are opposing forces, their relationships forever flying towards the sun, and Young delights in harnessing both the sublime heights of a relationship and the messy fallout. But it’s not a before and after thing for Young; he collapses the distance between the two and makes them simultaneous. It’s not a nuanced look at modern romance, but it’s bright, beautiful, and fun.
The title of the show alludes to the four primary elements of the story being told: the possibilities and promise of a young relationship, then its giddy apex and its turbulent dissolution. Young’s primary materials are indeed gas and light, and he uses both to play with the language of love, manipulating words to illuminate, simultaneously, opposing emotions.
The show begins at the early stage of a relationship. Mounted on the wall is a video screen framed by a neon-filled glass tube rapidly cycling through Tinder profile pictures (all Denver members, I was told). “Hey There – We Are All the Same On the Outside” both celebrates the excitement of the sheer number of possibilities in modern dating and, in Young’s dichotomous world, that number’s overwhelming sense of future failures. A few pieces later is “Emotion Engine,” which consists of twelve smartphone-shaped screens cycling through emotional texts. Every few moments, one of them will pause long enough to allow viewers to read the text, before spinning away again. They read as heartfelt singularities, moments of a unique relationship before getting lost in sheer numbers again.
The romance peaks halfway around the main gallery space, with a piece titled “I Desire Nothing More.” The text (the title itself) is spelled out with argon-filled glass tubes and placed over a furry white pillow, mounted on the wall in a splash of pink. It’s cute, warm and fuzzy. You could read it as romantic fulfillment, but for a show that derives its energy from the push and pull of oppositional emotions, its stasis is foreboding. And as with most of Young’s pieces, the language is the gravitational center and the source of the work’s conceptual movement. To desire nothing more is to be fulfilled, but it’s also, literally, to no longer have desire. Where’s the fun in that?
The fun is in the way Young uses light to bring out oppositional emotions in the same piece, as in “I Love You/I Hate You,” which reads either sentence depending on what your eye focuses on: the argon “I Love You” or the black painted text behind it, “I Hate You.” There’s “This Is Never Going to End,” with the “Never” scribbled out with a bright blue squibble of neon-filled glass, and there’s “Light of My Life,” the title text in neon over struck-through “Maybe Go Fuck Yourself.” Where a writer or filmmaker would have to present the ecstasy and anger over time, in a plotted arc, Young collapses the distance between the two in the time it takes for your eye to consider the piece: oppositional forces at the same time.
Is that a modern development in dating? Young’s work seems to think so, floating the idea that the advent of digital dating apps have drastically shortened the amount of time a relationship plays out, collapsing love’s swirling emotions into such a short arc, such a small space, that they play out simultaneously. And what used to be shared among friends and family is now, with social media, shared with strangers all over the world, Instagram-filtered pictures and heartfelt posts on Facebook amplifying and altering and pressurizing the already volatile nature of romance.
So it’s fitting that Young explores all of this messiness with impeccable control. His manipulation of language hinges on one or two words, as in “I Miss Who You Were” (the “Who” and “Were” scribbled over to read “I Miss You”) and “I’m Not Done Yet” (the “Not” and “Yet” scribbled over to read “I’m Done”). At times, the simultaneity is achieved with blinking light. In the case of “Beautiful Life,” it’s the “f” that blinks on and off, alternating between “Beautiful Life” and “Beautiful Lie.”
The use of color also lends to Young’s thematic control. The brightness of neon and argon is often constrained by the tenor of the language in the pieces, as in the “You Are My…” triptych (“You Are My…Obsession,” “You Are My…Deception,” “You Are My…Desire”), whose cool, concerned frosty white lettering immediately follows the bright pink “I Desire Nothing More” piece.
Again, it’s not nuance that drives “GAS LIGHT LOVE BOMB,” though Young clearly has a nuanced understanding of language and light and how both can be used to manipulate the other. Oppositional energy is more fun when the distance between the two emotions, or lovers, is big, which is surely why there’s no piece called “I’m Sort Of Into You/I’m Not That Into You.” This is Hollywood love, teenage love, the kind that burns bright and hot and then not at all, its sudden absence cold and dark.
The final piece, “That Is All You Need To Know,” features a swirling, circular line of neon-filled glass with block text behind it that reads: “I Am Going Back/ To The Day I Met You/ So I Can Run In The Other Direction/ That Is All You Need To Know.” The simultaneity is circular too, the end of the relationship the beginning of another. And why not? Modern dating is nothing if not full of possibilities — volatile, passionate, ecstatic, heartbreaking possibilities waiting to explode.