Jah Maskell Rust BeltOpening: January 17, 6-8pm Dates: January 17 - February 10 2024
‘Rust Belt’ draws upon a scene from a movie that really stuck with me. Paul Schrader’s 1978 masterclass, Blue Collar, sees Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Koto as checker-cab manufacturers trying to improve their working conditions through union action in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, now in its deindustrialised state is known as the Rust Belt. Finding their union as useless and self-invested as their workplace management, they snare themselves in a plot to bend the union to their will, ultimately backfiring. There is a moment in the film in which one of the characters asphyxiates after being locked in a spray booth. Murder by spray booth, pretty wild.
I became fixated on this scene, as he winces and convulses choking on the paint fumes gasping for air, which drags on for an uncomfortable three minutes. I started to draw parallels between the imagery of factory life, factory farming, unionisation and scabs, suffocation of industry and pest management. It got me thinking of Ratsak - a second generation rodenticide introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, the same period in which the film is set. Throughout their production, Ratsak uses the chemicals Brodifacoum, Bromadialone and Difenacoum, all of which inhibit the rodent’s desire to take on water. This inevitably leads to forced dehydration, brain swelling and forms of coagulopathy. Again, just wild and really grim shit.
I think what I’m finding interesting in unpacking these points of interest are the comparisons that could be drawn between the factory line in Blue Collar and the baiting of rodents. There’s a weird synchronicity between the mass destruction of life, the suffocation of industry and corruption, and how it all fits this hierarchical model of how life is valued? Weirdly referential at times to Heidegger’s “being-towards-death,” which is incredibly rogue, but someone smarter than me could probably explain that a lot better. The works reference geographical locations along the Rust Belt, as the industrial and pitch of the American Dream suffocates to its death.
Jah Maskell is a sculpture and video based artist living and working in Naarm/Melbourne. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) in 2021, at the Victorian College of the Arts. Selected exhibitions include Undoing at George Paton Gallery (2018), No it Aint World War 4 at Discordia (2020), Away at COMA Gallery (2020), and Paris Will Survive at Blindside (2023). Maskell was also commissioned by The University of Melbourne to contribute work to the 757 Art Project, and in 2021 was awarded the NGVWA Award.