Critics’ Picks

Modou Dieng and Damien Gilley, So Serious, 2009, ink-jet print, 30 x 40".

Modou Dieng and Damien Gilley, So Serious, 2009, ink-jet print, 30 x 40".

Portland

Modou Dieng and Damien Gilley

Rocks Box Contemporary Fine Art
6540 North Interstate Avenue
February 14–March 1, 2009

Since the advent of relational aesthetics and the proliferation of DJ culture, the gallery space has often served as both backdrop for art and site for its production. At the opening reception for “Shoot You—Shoot Me,” artists Modou Dieng and Damien Gilley spun records on turntables in front of a Mylar backdrop, while Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche, 1985, played on a television nearby. The environment—by all appearances hastily assembled—was a slight reconfiguration of ephemera remaining from a photo shoot staged in the gallery beforehand. In the jumbled and tightly cropped photographs that now adorn the walls of the gallery, Dieng and Gilley pose with various props, lounge on a black leather sofa, and mill around an immersive, reflective Mylar room wearing camouflage pants. At times, they appear solemn and directly confront the camera, evoking Black Panther militia; at other times, their 1970s sunglasses resemble something closer to a Halloween costume.

So Serious, 2009, is more difficult to pin down, as a scene in which they use a shotgun as a pipe. The slang term shotgun, or shottie, derives from the use of the firearm as a marijuana pipe in the Vietnam War. Typically, a pipe would be placed into the open breech of the unloaded shotgun. One soldier would then blow smoke down the barrel for another to inhale. Dieng’s puffing smoke into Gilley’s mouth seems oddly homoerotic, but also complicated by unclear power dynamics, as Dieng, clearly in control of the exchange, is black, while the white Gilley accepts his role of submission.

A day after the opening, the gallery feels like a relic, with vacated turntables, hastily lined Mylar walls, and coffee cups littering the sofa, giving viewers the overall uncanny sense that the site has witnessed two distinct but related events—the staging of an exhibition and the party for it. The fete is over, and in its wake are the artifacts. The significance of this detritus remains appealingly ambiguous, representing a cycle of artistic production that does not aim for specific meaning but generates it along the way.