Critics’ Picks

Charles Gaines, Skybox I, 2011, acrylic, digital print, polyester film, LED lights, 7 x 12'.

Los Angeles

Charles Gaines

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Boulevard
September 10–November 5

Whether in peacetime or in battle, freedom is reanimated whenever it is demanded by a people who have risen up around its cause; Charles Gaines’s new body of work embraces the historical tide of protest and change fueled by these recurrent calls for liberty and, as such, is flooded with dimension and vitality in the wake of the Arab Spring. A three-panel LED light box, Sky Box I (all works 2011), experientially engages viewers in the ebb and flow of struggles for sovereignty over time. Each panel is inscribed with a text on human rights, starting with “A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed of England” (1649) by Gerard Winstanley and ending with Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence from 1945, with texts by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Frantz Fanon in between. As viewers peruse these passages, pinpricks of light appear in and around the words, while the space surrounding their letters gradually shifts to gray and then black, effecting a transition from bland type to starry night or virtual universe. Whether in eternal toil, eternal hope, or a quixotic fusion of the two, liberty is eclipsed by the forces of time and space.

In a group of large drawings on view in another room of the gallery, Gaines supplants Georges Bataille as author of his words via a complex system of self-made rules that grant the artist a wide degree of freedom as he recombines Bataille’s sentences. Applying this system to two Bataille texts, Gaines selects a page, then a word, and so on, essentially using Bataille’s prose as inspiration and linguistic font. In graphite-on-paper works, the new texts appear surrounded by a smoky haze suggestive of the fecund mental space that emerges between author and reader, or art and viewer, as a site for multiplicative meanings. Gaines’s rewrites are rife with poetic allusion; one of the drawings, String Theory: Rewriting Bataille #8, ends with what could serve as a fitting subtitle for the show, “But the edge is set to fear only leaping mystics.”