Critics’ Picks

Jesse Sugarmann, California Bloodlines (parts 1 and 2), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 29 minutes 30 seconds.

Portland

Jesse Sugarmann

Fourteen30 Contemporary
1501 SW Market Street
September 6 - October 13

California-based artist Jesse Sugarmann’s recent work reimagines the barren, gridded expanses of California City, a planned community built on forty square miles of the Mojave Desert in the 1960s. The city was constructed in response to an anticipated branch of the California Aqueduct, but like so many failed utopias the water never reached the area, and California City now exists as a crumbling site of fifteen thousand inhabitants. For Sugarmann, whose work has long investigated the masculine sensuality of American automobile culture, the city epitomizes the fantastical—and brutal—nature of colonization and forced relocation.

In the video California Bloodlines (GPS Dozen) (all works 2013), the artist navigates California City’s grids in a car whose windshield is cluttered with twelve GPS monitors programmed to locate streets that exist on the city’s official plans but either were never constructed or have degraded beyond recognition. The work’s clatter of electronic voices assaults the senses and possesses an eerie science fiction quality, describing a future in which useless information circulates a corrupted infrastructure incapable of healing itself. For Sugarmann, California City’s enduring confusion and dislocation have also become a metaphor for the Alzheimer’s disease that afflicts his mother.

In two additional video works from California Bloodlines (Parts 1 and 2), the artist and his assistant carefully resurface a stretch of road on which they coat a sand dragster with homemade napalm and ignite it. The dragster burns with a crisp cinematic brilliance. The artist also uses the napalm to burn navigational patterns into Plexiglas. These charred abstractions are enclosed in pristine white frames, lending the works a surreal, clinical quality like the confines of a spaceship or a hospital. While Sugarmann’s work is arduously gritty, it turns a tender eye toward a more reparative and considered future.