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May 19 - July 20
“Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.” This disclaimer, lifted from Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller video, serves as the epigraph to Figuration (A), 2017, the title work of Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s exhibition. The single-channel video is a mediatic dumpster dive through the not-yet-historical past, its fantasia of purloined images flowing to an interruptive, channel-surfing logic. A petite Darth Vader superimposed on a young Seth Rogen’s audition tape; the opening credits of the 1980s African American sitcom Amen; Rick James’s appearance as a plaintiff on Judge Joe Brown; Damon Dash and Cam’ron debating the (now-disgraced) Bill O’Reilly on the merits of rap: All are woozily doubled and played backward and forward, spasmodically dissolving into pink fuzz and throbbing triangles.
The anxiety and violence percolating between the nostalgic comforts of 1990s television boil over in First Person Shooter, 2016. As the video’s title suggests, the relevant structure here isn’t TV but videogames, and the struggle for black lives its political condition. Positioned in the driver’s seat, the viewer navigates through a nightmare Sim City besieged with cops and exploding digital kitsch.
For all the accessible humor, pop imagery, and antiracist politics of Huffman’s work, its poetic excess of aesthetic, cultural, and semantic input accumulates into an opaque mass, overwhelming expedient readings. But the lyrically suggestive text interpolated throughout First Person Shooter’s high-octane surrealism hints at a possible bicameral meaning between the likelihood of a “black fantastic” and a cosmic pessimism contained in the notion of “freedom as a condition for slavery.” Anxiously vibrating between these two modalities, Huffman’s monster mash of cultural refuse puts a materialist accent on the occultism Michael Jackson invoked and immediately repudiated—a haunting not by paranormal forces but by history.