Critics’ Picks

  • Katja Farin, Dog Attack People Stack, 2019, oil on canvas, 8 x 6".

    Katja Farin

    in lieu
    231 N. San Fernando Rd
    September 7–October 5, 2019

    In Katja Farin’s eight-by-six-inch painting Dog Attack People Stack, 2019, three standing figures bent at the waist are piled on top of one another in an intimate but inexplicable arrangement. Their brown-, green-, and ocher-skinned bodies are purposefully unresolved—their musculature is unarticulated, their facial features barely marked. They stand on an imperfectly rendered tile floor whose wavering pattern hints at receding space but, in the end, draws more attention to the means of its own making. The painting, like most of the others on view, is self-conscious and self-referential: Within the composition is another painting, hanging on the wall, that depicts two dogs locked in a similarly enigmatic embrace. Some works include more explicitly theatrical settings (in fact, Farin loosely based these pictures on photographs she took of friends within a stage set in her studio), invoking the performativity of making a painting, of posing for a painting, of seeing a painting. In this sense, Farin continues the long legacy of queer artists giving the finger to Michael Fried’s homophobic screed against “theatrical” works by employing theatricality to open their practices to interpretive exchanges between all kinds of bodies.

    Titled “Carry, Carries, Carried,” the exhibition builds on Farin’s recent work exploring the “fireman’s carry,” a rescue method used by emergency workers in which they drape another person across their shoulders. Here, the artist has expanded her investigations to other, less utilitarian ways that bodies might hold one another and hold space. In queer slang, to “carry” also means to care too much, or to earnestly try too hard, but often with a self-conscious wink—an apt description of Farin’s sincere and theatrical bodies. Her figures embody the iterative (and often inexplicable) gestures, poses, and movements that make up the relational self.

  • Thu Van Tran, De Vert a Orange, 2019, photograph, alchohol, colorant, rust, 70.87 x 94.49".

    “Where the Sea Remembers”

    The Mistake Room
    1811 E. 20th Street
    July 13–October 12, 2019

    “Where the Sea Remembers” is roughly titled after noted antiwar Vietnamese singer and composer Trịnh Công Sơn’s wistful tune, often sung during the Vietnam War as a farewell between those departing and those remaining at refugee camps. Encompassing work in a variety of media, the show is unfettered by an overarching theme, though the interests of the thirteen exhibiting artists—most of whom currently live in Vietnam—overlap in their exploration of notions of belonging, displacement, technological advancement, and wars waged in and devastation wrecked on their homeland.

    Standout pieces weave cultural commentary into a poignant evocation of place. For Traces of Infinity, 2018, Trương Công Tùng buried plastic fertilizer bags in soil from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, allowing them to acquire a tannish translucence vaguely resembling human skin. A swath of these hang on the gallery walls and serve as a background for When the virtual becomes the actual, and the actual becomes the virtual, 2018, a beleaguered pair of toy-horse sculptures covered in obsolete computer-keyboard keys that seem to slough from their degenerating bodies. A light one stands precariously as though barely alive, and a black one prostrate, as if charred and dead.

    The show’s most powerful image is Thu Van Tran’s De Vert a Orange, 2019, a large-scale photograph depicting a jungle enveloped in scarlet vapor. Created by chemically reddening a silver gelatin print, this abstracted landscape refers to the United States military’s use of Agent Orange and napalm during the war, lethal substances dropped from warplanes that destroyed forests and caused horrific health problems—from cancers and birth defects—not only for those who were exposed at the time but also for current residents. When viewed from different angles, its murky incarnadine surface subtly shifts from acrid orange to blood red, yielding faint suggestions of vegetation and figures that emerge and then vanish.