Each of Sohei Nishino’s photographic collages is a record of the artist’s interaction with a city. He spends weeks photographing on the streets and seeking out high vantage points from buildings or parks. Then he prints contact sheets, cuts out individual frames, and reassembles them into mural-size collages as large as six by seven feet, which are then re-photographed. The hallmarks of the “Diorama Maps,” 2004–, as the artist calls them, are their vertiginous shifts in perspective. From a distance they appear to be panoramic or bird’s-eye-view maps, which depict a city’s geography from a fixed, oblique angle––but up close, they reel between detached cartography and the immersive experience of walking on urban streets crowded with people and buildings.
The seven works on view from this series are anchored by their inclusion of iconic sites, so it’s easy to recognize Diorama Map Rio de Janeiro, 2011, Diorama Map London, 2010, or Diorama Map San Francisco, 2016, even if one’s mental maps of these cities are vague. Since the invention of handheld GPS devices, blinking blue dots have rendered obsolete the spatial translation skills normally required to find one’s way. Nishino makes visible the inherent partiality and contingency of situating oneself in space.
The poetry of this series is also a reminder that mapping is a discipline bound by convention, not a natural reflection of the world but rather a construction of it that privileges some sites and paths of movement over others. The kaleidoscopic perspectives of Nishino’s work challenge the unary point of view inherent in traditional cartography, offering something more organic, improvisatory, and personal.
Anouk Kruithof’s first solo exhibition in the United States comprises a tongue-in-cheek body of work, ranging from photographic tableaux to blobby, photo-sculptural hybrids that complicate the relationship between form, content, and representation. When photography can be altered—to present “alternative facts,” for instance—the photograph’s ability to serve as proof becomes deeply problematic. Kruithof expands and exploits this now-perennial trope by turning the evidential weakness of images into a spatial, material problem.
One of the artist’s tactics is to use an accumulation of screenshots, usually of commercial images, as source material. When displayed on a two-dimensional surface in a search-results-like grid, as in Carry On (all works 2015), a montage of pictures of cutout silhouettes of guns, the studies appear to be mere formal explorations of patterns. Their content is literally absent. But when they’re amassed three-dimensionally for semiorganic sculptural forms, as in Sorry No Definitions Found . . . and Another Universe, the way in which images circulate as both materials and representations is performed gently but trenchantly: the irregular and vague shapes of these sculptures make them appear spectral and oddly insubstantial.
The series “Neutral (Sculpture),” featuring delicate, blurred-to-abstraction photographs printed onto materials such as latex, PVC, and vinyl that hang on metal armatures, emphasizes the fragility of pictures that seem to be stable when seen on flat, digital displays. Neutral (Restless) Sculpture—a precarious upright figure made of pipe insulation and a largely hidden folded photographic print on PVC curtain—seems to be waiting to unfold, umbrella-like, into a triumphant display. Meanwhile, Green Is More than Just a Color . . ., a set of images printed on Plexiglas and emblazoned across a PVC curtain, appears to be nothing more than a customized shower curtain—just one more unsteady screen through which our own worldview is mediated.
The nearly life-size pastel, pencil, and charcoal drawings in Toyin Ojih Odutola’s exhibition ostensibly offer a privileged look at the private lives of an aristocratic African family. The subjects’ nonchalance, combined with the artist’s use of foreshortening and flattening effects, makes these works feel like they are derived from photographs, prompting the question: Whose gaze do we inhabit while viewing them? This query lingers, even after learning that the background story is actually an elaborate fiction that Ojih Odutola has invented to explore the physical markers of wealth.
Her earlier work focuses on individuals, often posed against a plain ground, which emphasizes her stylized rendering of skin: sinewy patterns of rich blacks, highlighted with white and sometimes iridescent blue, orange, and gold. If those drawings collapsed the distinction between visible and invisible aspects of the body, in this new series Ojih Odutola adds to her inquiry the porous boundaries between the self and its surroundings. Her mark-making reinforces this line of research, especially in such superbly complicated compositions as The Marchioness or Lazy Sunday (all works 2016), where overlapping designs on drapery can be read as depth or simply more flat pattern.
These drawings ask not only what does enormous wealth look like but also what does it feel like to look on this life with your own eyes? The artist’s conclusion seems to be a lonely one. Little remains to define individuals if they cannot be separated from their background, in both the literal and the figurative sense.
In 1987, Bay Area Conceptualist David Ireland focused a talk at the San Francisco Art Institute on Giacometti’s concept of the “disagreeable object,” a term the surrealist artist had used to refer to a group of his small, ugly sculptures that were meant to be thrown away. This new exhibition of Ireland’s work, along with astute interventions by Virginia Overton, considers the disagreeable object as a traveling, translated concept.
The centerpiece is Ireland’s A Decade Document, Withcomet, Andcomet, Andstool, 1980–90, a post-Minimalist tribute to ten years worth of toilet paper tubes. But the show’s crucial language can be found in the many small concrete, potato-like untitled sculptures the artist has called “torpedoes”—his own version of the disagreeable object—that irregularly punctuate the space (including the ceilings) like exclamation marks. Hovering in a state somewhere between abstraction and mere detritus, they emphasize the inherently humorous failure of Ireland’s other makeshift, ramshackle sculptures here.
Within this conversation, Overton’s site-specific sculptures and installations add a subtly different flavor by affecting cartoonish awkwardness and impending disaster, as in Untitled (Ham Chandelier), 2017, a huge cured ham that hangs precariously in the dining room of the venue, and out on the roof is an untitled section of a wooden piling beam bisected by a sheet of Plexiglas, as though it fell from invisible window above. The positioning of the show at this site, where Ireland lived for decades and where much of his work and collections reside as well, deepens the intimacy of the conversation among the three artists.
In this group exhibition, twenty-five artists depict the spiritual and physical ways in which water preserves life on this earth. Many of these works also politically attest to how water in various areas is being threatened. The exhibition’s title, “Échame Aguas” (“Keep a Lookout for Me”), gestures to solidarity with these communities and, ultimately, the wellbeing of the planet.
Blue flows throughout, from the walls to various pieces on view, suggesting the circulation of water. But even the gallery itself addresses a current crisis, through the installation Flint, Michigan, 2017, where visitors are asked to create prayer bundles that drape down from each letter of the city’s name, in order to commemorate those who are fighting for access to basic necessities every day. One wall showcases thirteen Risograph prints—each produced by a different artist from the Justseeds collective—that make a personal statement about the value of water. One, by Colin Matthes, titled Improvised Water Filters, 2016, presents three possible means of enhancing current filtration methods. Bec Young’s What We Do to Water, 2016, depicts a young child sitting by a lake containing roughly sketched bodies attempting to reach the surface. This image rests above a caption that reads: “what we do to water, we do to ourselves.” These works’ messages, positioned so closely to one another, highlight the necessity of a critical comprehension of water’s impact on all beings and communities in order to protect it accordingly for generations to come.
This intricately composed show of work by international artists living between two places is deeply self-reflective about the ways that human habitation is fundamentally shifting before our eyes. The nomadic art world is a relatively privileged site from which to observe these shifts, but it operates on many of the same principles that dictate mass migration and population relocation: opportunity, flexibility, annual patterns of movement, and an ever-increasing economically driven need to be able to be in more than one place at a time.
Here, sites overlap both in a literal sense, as in When 2 Places Look Alike, 2012–13, Clarissa Tossin’s study of Ford factory towns in Michigan and the Amazon forest that offers worker-housing analogues, and at a more abstract level: Formal layering and overlapping dominates the show, whether between the interactions of living and taxidermy birds in Dana Levy’s Silent Among Us, 2008, or in the surprisingly affecting small pebbles covering the windows of airplanes on postcards in Runo Lagomarsino’s OtherWhere, 2011. The lodestone of “Lives Between” is Enrique Ramírez’s International Sail, 2017, a tattered and heavily mended sail from a one-person Laser sailboat. Mounted upside down to both disorient and point to the global south, it yields a rich metaphor for precarious international workers caught up in currents, winds, and tides beyond their control. The overall curatorial argument suggests that, increasingly, the model for living between forgoes simple back-and-forth trajectories, demanding instead a simultaneous absence and presence in multiple places.
Lonnie Holley’s solo exhibition “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship” is a miniretrospective of sorts, featuring some twenty works from as early as 1994, including assemblages, steel sculptures, and paintings on paper. At a time when civil rights are still under attack, the works read as poetic and powerfully charged. Take, for example, The Water Fountain, 2015, a beat-up fountain with two coat hangers emerging from the spout like a Calder sculpture, one black, one white. Or Church and State, 2014, a flag stand with a wooden crucifix hanging from its brass eagle. There is a plainspoken directness to the adjacencies of these found objects that is sincere and deeply moving.
Sounds from a video featuring Holley’s many music collaborations emanate across the galleries, adding rich textures to the show. Most of the works are accompanied by wall texts conveying first-person accounts of the inspiration or stories behind the works. Holley often remarks on the dangers of information and technology, and the way they can foster an almost paranoid need to remember the past. “The journey to the top of the mountain will be long and hard, but if we want to get there we must learn how to be a part of the change,” the text for Waking Up in the Bed of Death (Watching the Marchers’ Dream Die), 2016, states. “Become alert. We can’t keep dreaming and letting those dreams die.”
Spanish artist and retired MIT professor Antoni Muntadas’s show, “Activating Artifacts,” includes two three-channel video projections, About Academia I, 2011, and About Academia II, 2017, that index the conditions of higher education in the United States through quotations from educational theorists, snippets of interviews conducted in 2011 and 2017 with liberal professors and students, and looping scenes of campus life—lecture halls full of empty chairs, a closed door with a sign that reads “Computational Materials Meditation Room,” and students in sweatshirts walking to class in the rain. A freestanding thick windowed wall bisects the dark gallery, with the three screens suspended on either side. On one side are edited fragments of the 2011 interviews with well-traveled faculty such as Ute Meta Bauer, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn, as well as with a professor who reported feeling as if he had become less important within his institution when his research didn’t attract funding. On the other side, interviews recorded in 2017 feature recent students—more visibly diverse than their elders—reflecting further on the stresses of institutional intellectual life, among them low-paying part-time work, oppressive architecture, and imperialist attitudes toward diverse communities.
Muntadas’s installation might be a warning: If the post-secondary experience as framed here seems to value status, efficiency, routine, and blanket indoctrination over disruption and open philosophical investigation—and if colleges and universities promise hyper-professional careers and bend too much to receive any investment available—it threatens to only transmit the values of certain corporations, governments, and other undifferentiated educational institutions. In this context, Muntadas makes the ubiquitous lecture-hall chair look like a possibly restrictive device; its hinged tablet arm threatens to constrict and confine rather than aid and support.
“Concealing what is shameful to you will never lead to anything of value,” Norwegian diarist Karl Ove Knausgaard told the Paris Review. Uninhibited, soul-baring autobiography has never been more in demand, and the demand has never been easier to fulfill. Which makes Frances Stark, whose recent videos incorporate dialogue plucked from her online sex chats, possibly the most representative artist of our navel-gazing age. This retrospective, which originated at the Hammer Museum, in the artist’s hometown of Los Angeles, attempts to encapsulate Stark’s rambling, passionate career but fails to capture how complex and radical her oeuvre truly is. Her numerous collages (most shown here were made between 2005 to 2010), which often feature strutting peacocks and women in frocks, are overly precious, compositionally inert, and lack muscle—one searches in vain for a sense of challenge or risk on the part of the artist. In this entirely too-conventional exhibition, these facile works dominate––a format that is particularly ill suited for Stark, whose ideal métier is media-driven. Fortunately, Stark’s peculiar and fearless brilliance comes through in her writings used in the wall labels. One text, commenting on the architect R. M. Schindler’s relationship with his wife, bemoans the “unfathomable struggle of human being vs. artist/author.” The artist also deploys her confessional practice to great effect in videos such as My Best Thing, 2011, in which she appears along with one of her online lovers in the form of toy avatars, discussing David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the LAPD, and other topics. If only the MFA had downplayed the two-dimensional pieces and used their ample galleries to give pride of place to Stark's 2013 video installation Bobby Jesus’s Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention Is Free, in which an intoxicating hip-hop beat accompanies images and text that sum up the artist’s admirable MO: “As I prance about/ club in hand/ seeking new idols to smash/ I am precise man and I take a chance man.”
For the information-rich group exhibition “The Artist’s Museum,” various artists have arranged the work of others, mostly using video and still photography in order to capture and reorient their frequently modernist objects of interest. Carol Bove’s collection of brass, wood, and stone items paired with photographs recall René Magritte’s painting La traversée difficile (The Difficult Crossing), 1926, while Pierre Leguillon’s La grande evasion (The Great Escape), 2012, originally made for the Musée de la danse in Rennes, consists of mounted photographs sourced online. Many artists display their collections as overlapping three-dimensional arrangements that cover tables and floors, suggesting everything from the curator’s exhibition maquette to an Amazon wish list.
Anna Craycroft’s piece The Earth Is a Magnet, 2016, comprises two rooms of Berenice Abbott’s scientific photographs from 1920 to 1968 (a subject of local interest, since some of the pictures here were part of MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee in the 1950s) intermingling with the work of current artists such as Katherine Hubbard and A. L. Steiner. Christian Marclay’s video-in-the-round, Shake Rattle and Roll (Fluxmix), 2004, orchestrates, quite literally, historical Fluxus objects that resound musically in response to the artist’s handling.
The ability to hear (rather than see) Marclay’s piece all at once makes it exceptional in a show that otherwise demands much of the viewer’s capacity to draw latent connections among the works on display. But this is not another birth of the reader. No longer the cobbled-together images of postmodernist appropriation, these pieces perform a near-didactic role for the viewer and suggest the possibility that, if read correctly and historically, they might yield something not at all arbitrary, something nested within a set of actual conditions that produce a newly complex set of subjective categories.
The titular installation at the center of Jean Blackburn’s current exhibition, “Warp,” comprises connected domestic scenes evoking something like a bedroom, laundry room, and kitchen. Where another artist might have separated the elements into autonomous, salable sculptures, this work appears intended just for this sort of encounter with an audience, rather than for Instagram-then-freeport afterlives—as if to match the disappearance of the unremunerated gendered labors native to its subject matter. The title’s homonyms, for weaving and distortion, limn the psychic space that overgrows a household over time.
The installation seems to read within the gallery from left to right, beginning with a bed and a dresser that are partly deconstructed and shot through with textiles that connect them to a space beside the windows, housing pennants like on a clothesline. It is here that the connective grammar of the space begins to warp, as the work becomes a chain of altered, interlocking spoons that drip down from the ceiling through a table full of holes whose positives sit on its surface as dishware. Beside this tableau, the dresser’s drawers have been shoved into a pile of sawdust that appears to have been generated by subtractions from the furniture; a doorframe sits alone in space as if in architectonic fade-out. Upon entering this melancholy celebration of the things that come along with us and then depart into uncertain futures, I thought: What if all furniture lived on like this, changed as the living do, as if to counteract the longing that a bygone space can summon in us, which Gaston Bachelard articulated as remorse at “not having lived profoundly enough” in it?
Tommy Hartung is one of a number of artists—including Huma Bhabha, Ry Rocklen, and Allyson Vieira—who assemble scavenged materials to make sculpture that evokes ancient civilizations. Hartung sets himself apart largely through his use of video and animation. The centerpiece of this compact overview, which also includes a selection of sculptures resembling African or Phoenician statues and a series of dreamlike Polaroid photographs, is the twelve-minute video King Solomon’s Mines, 2017. The video is the second installment in a three-part series inspired by Solomon, the biblical figure of vast wealth who serves as a perfect foil for the artist, who is fascinated by religion, epic tales, and the insurmountable gulf separating the rich from the poor. Although it doesn’t quite reach the level of Hartung’s astonishing masterpiece, THE BIBLE, 2014, this video has the same hypnotic energy and arresting imagery, such as a recurring figure in a turban who has, where his face should be, a moving image featuring white fluffy clouds in a blue sky. Also memorable is footage of a van traveling through the desert, kicking up a trail of dust in its wake as a crowd of riders cling to the roof and sides, and a clip from a commercial for a Land Rover, showing it as a rotating, gleaming object of desire. The title of the video is borrowed from that of an 1885 book by H. Rider Haggard, which is set in a fictionalized realm in Africa. Hartung, ever-sensitive and thoughtful, strikes a delicate balance between critiquing cultural tourism as exploitative and patronizing, and himself exploiting images of the Sahara (specifically the Tibesti Mountains in Chad) for its harshly sublime landscape. Using videos from a French tourist company, he taps into a history of the Sahara as a route for those seeking capital or imperialist gain, used by both adventure-hungry tourists and human traffickers.
The community of artists and writers revolving around saloničrre Mabel Dodge Luhan’s compound in Taos, New Mexico, in the early twentieth century provides the fulcrum for this sprawling exhibition. Works by well-known artists, such as Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin, occupy space alongside pieces by more obscure figures, including Rebecca “Beck” Salsbury James, Dorothy Brett, and Agnes Pelton. Many artists and writers traveled to Taos at the behest of Luhan, a prolific writer herself. Her fourth husband, Taos Pueblo Indian Antonio Lujan, opened the community to artists and writers, thus fostering a creative exchange between modernist and native traditions.
A highlight of the exhibition is an upstairs gallery where Pueblo artist Awa Tsireh’s watercolors and Brett’s vivid paintings depict native dances. The exhibition repeatedly refers to Luhan’s own complicated relationship with New Mexico’s multicultural heritage; her relocation to Taos was partly motivated by what she believed was a need to “save” the Pueblo culture endangered from American encroachment. Luhan’s exhibition of “primitive” (her term) devotional objects as modern art in a New York exhibition in 1919 likewise points to Luhan’s—as well as many modernist artists’ and audiences’—difficulty accepting the art of non-Anglo cultures on its own terms. A striking visual example of this complex dynamic between modernism and Hispanic art is on view in another gallery, in which Luhan’s own Hispano santos, which she donated to the Harwood after she was criticized for her treatment of the paintings in a 1925 essay she wrote, appear with Hartley’s own riff on a santo. The juxtaposition underscores the ways in which modernist artists often appropriated other cultures’ works, emptying them of original meaning yet creating new meaning as well.
Questions of ecology lie at the core of Zina Saro-Wiwa’s exhibition, though her approach to the subject includes more than addressing the natural environment. The show features works produced by the artist since 2013, when she moved from Brooklyn to her birthplace of Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Her photography and videos represent a reconnection to and an exploration and celebration of her homeland, even as it suffers dramatic environmental degradation from rampant oil extraction. Karikpo Pipeline, 2015, a multichannel video presented across five LCD screens, envelops the viewer in the verdant lusciousness of Ogoniland, a landscape riven by signs of an industry’s rapacious intrusions. Masked dancers lunge and flip their way toward the camera in a performance of Karikpo, a whimsical acrobatic masquerade that’s a mainstay of Ogoni festivals. An antelope-horned visage leaps through the video like an avatar of local cultural tradition that calls forth a future where the welfare of Africa’s people and land are considered inseparable. These intersections of nature, technology, and cultural tradition are exemplary of the artist’s boundary-blurring examination of environmental issues in the Niger Delta.
Another multichannel series of videos, “Table Manners,” 2014–15, demonstrates the simple act of eating as one such point of collision. Shown across eight televisions radially aligned amid a pile of periwinkle shells, the piece achieves a quiet grace by simply displaying footage of Ogoni men and women as they eat. Their stares, which meet our gaze with wordless potency, draw us into an everyday reality in which identity can be articulated through small variations in the straightforward consumption of food. These seemingly insignificant gestures beckon the viewer into an intimate bond with the eight diners, an alternative relationship based on more than what we can extract from their world.
In concurrent shows at the Southern, Juan Logan and Tonya Gregg use distinct approaches to upend notions of black identity. Logan’s show, titled “Fatal Links,” examines the riddle of American blackness as it has developed from the transatlantic slave trade to today. More specifically, he argues that blackness ultimately gives definition to all other features of modern American identity.
In Elegy I, Elegy II, and Elegy III, all 2017, Logan draws this fatal link with a combination of acrylic paint, glitter, puzzle pieces, and olefin on canvas. The disembodied, featureless black heads present throughout his work become enigmatic symbols of their race, reflecting both the light and the viewer’s racial projections with their inscrutable dark shimmer. While Logan’s work is abstract, viewers can recognize a journey in the “Elegy” suite: the prow of a ship, a sea of water, a middle passage. In Elegy I, the heads appear to have reached a new shore—their backdrop the red and white stripes of the American flag—but they are confined in a grid-like pattern, effectively held in mass incarceration. Radical, indeed: Logan’s work demonstrates how without blackness as a frame, there’s just negative, white space.
In “After Midnight in the Dynasty,” Gregg takes another route, choosing to subvert how we think about race through detailed images of black women sitting, lounging, and dreaming in surreal landscapes. By situating her subjects in surrealist fantasy-scapes, complete with floating Afro-ed fairies, she casts them in new light, reminding viewers how seldom they see black women depicted in repose, in scenes at once romantic and banal. They are rendered in the style of drawings for Japanese manga; big eyes and curved lines make her subjects soft and dreamy. They become, in fact, not so much symbols of black womanhood, but simply fanciful individuals.
Basim Magdy’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is the Egyptian artist’s first large-scale exhibition in the United States. Collecting a number of his psychedelic films, drawings, and photographic works from the past decade, the show offers a view into Magdy’s career-spanning fascination with dystopia, hope, and visions of futures that never came to be. From the strangely subdued neon hellishness of his early drawings to his newer experiments with “film pickling,” the artist’s term for submerging his photographs in chemicals to achieve riotous color effects, the works on display impart a cohesive if jangling stylistic approach and worldview. The drawings especially, which are exhibited in a visual heap on a large fluorescent wall painted a crepuscular pink, provide an oblique and disturbing portal into an alternate dimension of sociotechnological waning where antiquated technologies exist alongside fantastical creatures and strange extraterrestrial forces. Equal parts futuristic excess and outmoded disrepair, these small works represent a world in perpetual dusk that is occupied by spacecraft (some resembling giant squid) and weird, unidentifiable machines.
Magdy’s newest work shows a shift toward serial photography. An Apology to a Love Story that Crashed into a Whale and An Island Recalls the Tangled Details of Its Past Life as a Poem of Solitude and Unrecorded Events, both 2016, dominate two walls of the exhibition with grids of brightly hued images and blocks of text. Like his films, these series tell dreamy narratives snarled with revolution, violence, death, and the potential for hope amid dystopian times. That Magdy is able to present these apocalyptic tales with such prismatic color and effervescent charm comes as a small miracle.
In David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One day this kid…), 1990, a photograph of the artist as a young boy is surrounded by descriptions of the violence he will someday suffer at the hands of a homophobic society. Curated by Danny Orendorff, this survey of contemporary North American artists’ responses to HIV and AIDS sets up similar relays between a “chronic disease” in the present, defined by unequal access to treatment, and a devastating epidemic in the past. For many younger artists, Wojnarowicz’s ominous future tense––what will happen––has shifted to what could have been, a sense of the possible marked by profound struggle and loss. For “The Papi Project,” 2010–13, Oli Rodriguez researched his own father, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1993, and solicited his friends and former lovers, perhaps in vain, via Craigslist. Matt Wolf’s early video Smalltown Boys, 2003, devises for Wojnarowicz a fictitious daughter whose activism consists of lobbying for the 1990s television show My So-Called Life to remain on the air.
Contradictory registers coexist—journalistic photography, video vérité, educational pamphlets—and are matched with Orendorff’s welcome insistence on the experiences of people of color. Nancer LeMoins’s acrid screen prints testify to the challenges of aging while HIV+ on a Native American reservation. Samantha Box and Rashaad Newsome document and memorialize primarily African American and Latinx ballroom communities. Tiona McClodden’s video Bumming Cigarettes, 2012, presents a black lesbian’s first HIV test as an intergenerational encounter. Aay Preston-Myint’s supercharged violet mural is accompanied by a DJ set by Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero, also known as CQQCHIFRUIT, linking the dance floor and abstraction in a utopian proposition (they are both members of the Chicago-based queer collective Chances Dances). Are Preston-Myint’s flitting forms simply paint, the virus regrouping, or a cure, just on the horizon?
One might contend that art exhibitions, perennially hawking some ideology or creative vision, have more in common with the late-night infomercial—that most unseemly of genres—than we care to admit. Roe Ethridge makes that argument in “Nearest Neighbor,” a two-floor retrospective of sixty large-format photographs from 1999 to 2016. Aesthetically, these images hover above a Bermuda Triangle, one whose vertices are the ambience of luxury magazines, the innocent nostalgia of a family snapshot, and the corporatized, euphoric limbo of stock photography.
Pigeons midflight; empty Coke bottles; women in swimwear, double-exposed against a throb of sunset; a Thanksgiving banquet—anything goes in the aggressively styled, unsettling camp in which this show revels. Borrowing from previously published iconography to recast his works in more playful, ironic roles, Ethridge plumbs a résumé that includes showing in a Whitney Biennial, shooting for publications such as Vice, and commercial endeavors for companies including Goldman Sachs. This artistic arbitrage invests the show, whose title is both a digital imaging term and a pattern-recognition method for data optimization, with the intimate distance felt between image and intent.
These photographs mine the distrust and desirability evoked with product placement, as in Nancy with Polaroid, 2003–2006, where a dimpled, retouched model beams as the instant film is disgorged from her name-brand camera. A candle’s slavering wax and a rind of Brie morbidly deliquesce in Chanel Necklace for Gentlewoman, 2014, a starkly decadent vanitas that also includes cherries, soap, pearls, and a plastic fork. These photos could pass as editorial ads, scrapbook entries, even postage stamps. Within the idiom of the purchasable, licensable and standardized, these pictures belong everywhere and anywhere. In a post-truth world besieged by unverifiable images, it’s suggested, you too can enjoy the same majestic abysm declared by empty vessels of Coca-Cola.
Since the 1980s, Albert Oehlen has routinely deployed the tree as a programmatic conceit, a rudimentary scheme that has allowed for mischievous invention within the language of painting. As a rhizomatic figure, the tree offers vast and circuitous navigation potential. It possesses a core (trunk), diverging pathways (branches), and an infinite number of regenerating underground conduits (roots), and thus it is an ideal trope for routing and re-routing painting’s histories and influences. It is not surprising that the artist insists on using the anatomy of a plant over purely abstract and inorganic conceptions of networks to stretch, grow, and poke at painting and its potentiality. After all, the tree is a traditional and lauded vertical fixture within the genre of landscape painting.
The splintering of figuration and abstraction in this exhibition extends well beyond pictorial inventions within individual paintings. Here, the artist, along with a team of friends and arts professionals, choose to punctuate a selection of his work from the past forty years with pieces by other artists. Formal alliances are made by juxtaposing Oehlen’s painting Strassen, 1988, with two late de Kooning abstractions: Untitled XIII, 1985, and an untitled work from 1987. Three of Rodney Graham’s photographs of inverted trees make an appearance, as do pieces by Jackson Mac Low and Harun Farocki. A collaboration between Oehlen and the composer Michael Wertmüller yields a new musical score that accompanies a strobe-light projection installed at the exhibition’s entrance. Yet it is a suite of seven large black-and-white etchings (all Untitled, 2016)—each print hosting a fantastical image of a woody aberration and a hefty amount of lavish plate tone––that best demonstrates the utter abundance of pictorial invention that Oehlen has been able to achieve from pondering the tree.
We are all painfully aware of the mechanisms, duplicities, and abuses of power omnipresent in our current political climate. Carey Young’s prescient exhibition “The New Architecture” focuses squarely on how human agency directs or is harmed by power. The title is meant to suggest a speculative model of authority, yet much of her intention is tied to actual architectural edifices. In the photographs gathered within the series “Body Techniques,” 2007, we see the artist in a business suit among expansionist construction in Dubai and Sharjah. One photo shows her prone in a concave pile of desert rubble, with an encroaching city in the background. Another displays Young senselessly taking a sledgehammer to a barren plain as a formulaic housing development looms in the near distance. Each image suggests individual weakness against the intrusion of industry and unchecked growth.
In the video Palais de Justice, 2017, Young films the setting and proceedings of numerous trials within a nineteenth-century courthouse in Brussels. Architecture again stands as a symbol of imposing power. Inside, however, she focuses on women judges and advocates. An occasional man is present, but only in a minor or hierarchically weaker position. We see judges through small porthole windows embedded in large wooden doors. A muffled sound track of voices is heard as if we were under water. We become voyeurs, held distant to the implementation of matriarchal judicial power. Ironically, the camera brings us slowly closer to a kind of unearned intimacy as we watch the nuance of each individual’s facial expressions and hand gestures. In a mesmerizing display of shifting power, we are simultaneously at the mercy of this system and observers of something that we perhaps should not be watching.
The show’s thirteen artists inhabit a dual space straddling the US–Mexico border: All either split their time between the two countries or have immigrated from one side to the other. Asked to engage with the idea of home, the artists present simultaneously personal and political works; issues of identity, social justice, and history all coalesce in this multifaceted and complex exhibition.
In One-Way Mirror, 2017, Jaime Carrejo projects two videos—one of the Mexican landscape shot from El Paso, and one of El Paso as seen from Mexico—on the acutely angled walls of a cavernous passageway. Bisecting the projections, a surface of tinted acrylic both obscures and reveals the scenes behind it, evoking the sense of limited access and desire inherent in the borderland experience. Some artists in “Mi Tierra” collaborated with Denver’s immigrant population: Daniela Edburg’s knitted Alpaca wool reproductions of local rocks, grasses, and lichen accompany photographs of Denver residents styled after Hans Holbein paintings, while Daisy Quezada combines porcelain castings of clothing—much of it worn by recent immigrants either during or after border crossings—with sound recordings of narrated migration experiences. Sometimes abstraction conveys notions of place and identity: In Xochi Solis’s large-scale collages, solid colors and imagery from books and magazines together become a metaphor for lives formed by multiple national identities or environments. In Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus No. 36, 2016, thousands of threads form a gossamer prism spanning an entire gallery wall. Inspired by the strict gender binaries governing Dawe’s own boyhood in Mexico (he was not allowed to sew as a child), the work exuberantly celebrates transcending cultural limitations.
It’s tempting to remark on the timeliness of a show featuring work that confronts issues surrounding immigration and identity during such a contentious period in United States history. But one should also note that the exhibited artists’ practices predate the election—and these concerns have informed their work long before the rest of the country awoke (or were reawakened) to their importance.
Joy is an uncommon aspiration in contemporary abstraction. The easy gratification found in art exclusively intent on formal pleasure leads many artists to pursue other approaches, such as irony or the suggestion of narrative. At a minimum, a countervailing formal dissonance is usually present—think of the peculiarities of a Charline von Heyl or a Raoul De Keyser. Stanley Whitney’s paintings, however, are unusual in their candor and plainness. They are bold declarations that name color as their principal subject. To his credit, Whitney evades the soppy trap inherent in such an ordinary commitment; a lesser artist would likely falter into cliché.
Whitney avoids empty formula by seeking, in his own words, “a space in color”—to paint “intelligent color, not decorative color.” One can question what this means, but these directives give vitality to Whitney’s art. All the works in this exhibition showcase this uncertain aim. For instance, Love in the Time of War, 2016, features stacks of colorful shapes, curiously bent like flexible Lego bricks. The canvas contains a landscape of mark-making; one section brushed vigorously, another flat, undisturbed, and opaque. This variation of touch and the wobbly line that delineates these gravity-bound slabs of color breathes life into the paintings. For all their structural repetition, the works have an unpredictable looseness; in Kongo, 2014, one is confronted by a turpentine-brown slush, pitted like a cratered moon and offset by an adjacent pink and a nearby resonant black. The impact of diverse paint applications demonstrates that, despite any sentimentalities of Whitney’s project, a Morandi-like directness remains an effective connection to the human facture of painting.
Against all odds, much of Andres Serrano’s photographic work remains intact. While the publicly funded Piss Christ (Immersions), 1987, is absent from this selection, a history of volatile reception lurks like a shadow throughout the exhibition. This is overtly legible in his series “History of Sex,” 1995–96, a collection of evenly lit portraits of diverse sexual practices. During a 2007 showing in Sweden, neo-Nazis mauled the framed photographs with crowbars and axes, and, in a telling gesture, the only face undisturbed among the works on view here belongs to an image of a pale man with a blond buzz cut. Following the incident, Serrano applied red semitransparent tape over the damaged sections of the other photos. It conceals as much as it repairs, deftly integrating extremist reaction into the work itself.
In his photographic series “Torture,” 2015, the artist digs into other systemic forms of violence. Each image shows a lone figure (sometimes an actual prisoner of war) assuming the role of a torture victim. These photographs of hooded men appear like staged versions of the viral image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, which was revealed in 2004 along with other American abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Serrano saw his artwork become the catalyst for threats to abolish the NEA in 1989, with Newt Gingrich lamenting that some facets of publicly funded art are “designed to undermine our civilization.” But surely it is better that Serrano’s art alludes to the federal money that subsidizes torture and prejudiced legislation than never addressing it at all.
For two days during the winter of 1993, Guillermo Gómez-Peńa and Coco Fusco performed as ostensible natives from the mythical island of Guatinaui in the main lobby of Chicago’s Field Museum. In a sturdy cage, the pair of artists enacted supposedly traditional dances, crafted voodoo dolls, watched TV, and paced the interior perimeter of their confine. Fusco wore a grass skirt and face paint, while Gómez-Peńa donned a wrestling mask and blue shorts. The performance was an act of absurdist cultural appropriation, which in turn exposed the unethical and routine practices of Western colonization and museology. The outrageousness of this work was stunning then, and more recently I found myself craving its critical brazenness when viewing Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition of hard-edge paintings and beaded works that also challenge assumptions of cultural ownership.
Gibson, who is half Cherokee, draws a formal line from the visual languages of native heritages to that of twentieth-century modern abstraction. These expertly converge in an acrylic painting made up of gradient bands of orange, red, green, and blue. Titled Thinking of You, 2015, the diptych supports a substrate of stretched rawhide that is visible along the edges of the triangular composition. This painting, along with the artist’s other acrylic abstractions, stands in contrast to his bedazzled objects. For example, a red radiant square motif densely patterned with glass beads, copper jingles, and metal studs is branded with beaded text that reads “In numbers too big to ignore,” abandoning abstract painting’s formal and analytic discourse for a radically indeterminate investigation into the contemporary complications of originality, invention, and authority. Moreover, all of Gibson’s beaded work addresses the ethically fraught issues and critical potential of cultural appropriation, a subject as pressing today as it was when Fusco and Gómez-Peńa performed as “natives” in a natural history museum.
An international group show featuring work by twenty-three artists, “Question the Wall Itself” probes compromised interiorities; the political bleeds into the domestic, while the institutional frames emotional bonds and bodies alike, most palpably in Akram Zaatari’s installation All Is Well on the Border, 2008. Poetic and cerebral, the exhibition features a wide range of media, including paintings, tracings, texts, drawings, moving images, sculptural objects, and room-filling installations, such as Rosemarie Trockel’s ominous As Far as Possible, 2012—an uncomfortably bright, white-tiled room where caged mechanical birds flutter and a plastic palm tree protrudes stalactite-style from the ceiling.
Curated by Fionn Meade with Jordan Carter, the show is dense with allusions to the history of art, architecture, and décor. To convey the unreliability of these echoes, Marcel Broodthaers’s parrot from Dites partout que je l’ai dit (Say Everywhere I Said So), 1974, presides over the works on view. Shifts in scale, color, and perspective heighten a degree of disorientation, as in the miniature tinted interiors shown upside down in Paul Sietsema’s film Empire, 2002. Materials, too, imbue objects with ambiguous sensibilities: oil on canvas masquerades as marble in Lucy McKenzie’s Loos House, 2013, while ceramic floor tiles mimic cracked dirt and raw cement in Nina Beier’s Tileables, 2014. Things are not as they seem.
The air of uncanny déjŕ vu thickens with Cerith Wyn Evans’s slowly rotating potted palm. As the show unfolds, objects appear increasingly withdrawn, and our ability to know them, dubious. The empty vitrine in Danh Vō’s All Your Deeds Shall in Water Be Writ, but This in Marble, 2010–, best intimates the pervasive sense of suspended certainties, which is perhaps all the more reason to question the walls that surround us, any and all walls.
Claire Morgan refigures the tradition of Minimalism and post-Minimalism in the whimsical yet startlingly affecting works in her first solo exhibition in the United States. Using nylon thread to stitch together shreds of plastic, insects, small pieces of lead, butterflies, and other materials into constellations of three-dimensional geometric shapes, Morgan creates a meditative fragility out of the scraps of environmental degradation. Caught within the ghostly matrix of her sculptures are taxidermy animals, seemingly trapped by the artist’s meticulous structures. If you go down to the woods today, 2014, quietly dominates an entire gallery with its subtle forms. The wraiths of three boxlike forms emerge as the viewer walks around the work, with tiny fragments of pastel orange polythene absorbing the room’s dim lighting and producing a suffused, contemplative aura. Butterflies punctuate the exquisite web and a small taxidermy Muntjac deer stands tensely amid the gossamer threads, as if awestruck by its strange surroundings.
The show also displays a number of Morgan’s two-dimensional works. The large 2016 triptych Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds imagines ecological devastation as a quiet apocalypse playing out on the surface of a nearly blank canvas that the artist used as a preparation surface for the taxidermy process. Gestural black marks and the barest outline of a snarling, supine creature appears from the dried fluids of dead animals, succinct but messy moments of crisis in a void of white.
In this solo exhibition comprising primarily live performances and installations, the Los Angeles–based and gender-nonconforming artist Cassils uses their naked body to explore the often pervasive violence against LGBTQI subjects. Their performance Becoming an Image, 2013–, pivots around the artist pummeling a 2,000-pound mass of clay in a pitch-black room. What the audience experiences, positioned around this main action, is chiefly aural: They hear Cassils breathing or the moments when their fists hit the clay. However, the artist has strategically positioned a photographer, whose camera’s flash illuminates the scene for brief moments of time. The resulting, spectral afterimage is a metaphor for the fugitive yet irrepressible histories of trauma hinted at by the exhibition’s title, “Phantom Revenant.”
When the light intrudes, the passive viewer becomes visible, too. The six-channel video installation Powers That Be, 2015–17, further meditates on those who bear witness to trauma yet fail to act. Each channel plays a recording of a performance in which Cassils has a brutal fight with an invisible opponent. The video is composed entirely of an amalgamation of cell-phone recordings of this scene by an audience, who become implicated as voyeurs.
Also on view are selections of ephemera from the Queer Omaha Archives. They ground the exhibition within the queer culture of Nebraska, as will a performance on April 29 involving the artist pushing a 1,300-pound bronze piece—cast from the clay of a previous iteration of Becoming an Image—around locations in downtown Omaha where violence against LGBTQI people has taken place.
In an intimate gallery below a spectacularly fabulous Andy Warhol prints retrospective rests Sister Corita Kent’s contemplative antidote: a pithy hotbed of rainbow-hued prints that chart her trajectory from art-teaching nun to politically radical Pop art maestra. While at first one might feel that Big Andy upstairs dwarfs Underdog Kent in a wrestling match for best silk-screener, looking at Warhol situates Kent as a fellow genius appropriator of commercial advertising and lover of mechanical art’s democratic potential. This art-historical repositioning is significant because the forthright, earnest messages in her early works have arguably, and unfortunately, freaked out some viewers. Now, those squeamish about spiritual conversation can simply eye-candy away on the formal splendor of the artist’s geometric overlays, valiant treatments of scale, unorthodox typographic experiments, and striking color palettes. In The Word Pitched His Tent, 1962, solid cadmium red, magenta, and black tunnel shapes are stacked on top of one another, with a crude yellow sun stamped above them. The title references John 1:14, in which Jesus pitches his tent with humankind: With this, the image becomes an abstract ode to alliances and modesty.
To detach Kent’s empowering sociopolitical, epigrammatic slogans from her graphic sensibility, though, would mean missing her subversive wordplay: memos about benevolence, love, peace, and transforming media bombardments into simplified, reflectively humane insights. Later works borrow snippets of D. H. Lawrence, Navajo chants, and e.e. cummings, such as Crazy Enough, 1968, a lush, shoegaze-y yellow-and-black floral collage (a paean to a bumblebee?) with the poet demurely quoted at the bottom: “I thank heaven somebody’s crazy enough to give me a daisy.” Absorptive and inviting, Kent’s prints leaves one invigorated.
Without being escapist, New York–based artist Adrianne Rubenstein’s newest works are sensually delightful paintings that transport the viewer to another world: one full of color, joy, and raw innocence. Exploring playful subjects such as a bunny and a children’s toy, they offer a refreshing experience of painting’s visual language unfettered by self-consciousness and theory.
Rubenstein’s marks are quick and free, shifting direction and transparency across each painting. At times they make more use of impasto; at other times they appear scrubby and drawn, as if with crayon. Educational Toy (all works 2017) is a feast of gestural and chromatic abstraction. In the center of this vertical work are the squiggled outlines and circular forms of a well-known developmental toy made of beads that can be moved along thickly coated wires. Blues, yellows, and greens (the show’s primary palette) are mixed wet with red and white, both defining and exploding the shape of the toy. The plaything is designed to foster perceptual and motor skills—which could be a metaphor for painting itself. There are two little cars in the foreground, their kinetic brushwork setting them in motion across the picture plane. In Die Brücke, Rubenstein quotes some of her influences: German Expressionist painters such as Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde. This horizontal painting is focused on a large, chartreuse, caterpillar-like shape grounded in an expressionistic landscape. Like the Die Brücke artists, Rubenstein celebrates the familiar and the everyday while expressing something new and discoverable about her experience, encouraging the same in the viewer.
For more than a decade, Ken Gonzales-Day has been exploring the history of racialized violence in America, creating several bodies of work that are brought together for the first time in this exhibition. Cumulatively, his work is a powerful and complex statement that challenges what we thought we knew about this country’s great dilemma. The Los Angeles–based artist has extensively researched lynchings in California, where Mexican Americans and Asian Americans were widely targeted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This work resulted in a nonfiction book—Lynching in the West, 1850–1935 (2006)—as well as the series “Erased Lynching,” 2006–16, comprising photographs of executions that have been altered to remove the victims’ bodies, and “Searching for California Hang Trees,” 2002–14, in which the artist photographed trees in locations where hangings occurred.
Examples from both series are included here. Also included among the works that fill the entirety of the museum’s single gallery are photographs from his 2005 “Memento Mori” series, featuring original portraits of young men the same age and race as those of specific historical victims of racially motivated violence, as well as more recent works in which photographed re-creations of historical killings are composited with photos of protests against latter-day slayings of people of color.
The works here serve as powerful documentation of Gonzales-Day’s ongoing efforts to call attention both to the complex history of institutional racism and its extrajudicial expressions and to his own vantage point as an observer. By extension, viewers question their own relationships to this history.
Jessica Halonen’s exhibition has more than the color blue in common with author Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009), which features a prose style that threads together 240 fragments around blue and its many historical associations. Halonen’s elegantly precise exhibition comprising four discrete works advances an appreciation for refined craft, art history, the aesthetic of wonder, and scholarly research into the eighteenth-century discovery of Prussian blue. Similar to the literary snippets of Bluets, each contribution to this show commingles the familiar with the inexplicable, science with enchantment, history with illusion. Yet taken together, the installation also hums with classical representations of beauty.
New Years Gift 1883 (Flowers after Manet), 2016, is an iconic blue cyanotype reproducing one of Manet’s last still lifes. Halonen printed the appropriated image on a piece of unstretched linen and juxtaposes it with an uncommonly long horizontal composition titled A Clock Stopped (Flowers after Manet), 2017. This acrylic painting depicts twelve bouquets against a nondescript black ground. Gestural yet homogenous brushstrokes that make up the colorful peonies, roses, and lavender glow like stained glass and offer a contrast to a graphic beige painting Mother’s Day (White Vase), 2016, which hosts a generic silhouette of vase incised with bands of parallel lines. The sole sculpture in the collection, Untitled (Interior Wall), 2016, imitates a stud-and-frame construction. Wrought in reclaimed pine and set perpendicular to the gallery wall, a decorative and heavy plank of marble takes the place of a cross support in this faux wall framework. But as with the transitional light of the blue hour, that fleeting moment of time between day and night, Halonen’s work also reminds us that Manet’s realism, cut flowers, polished marble, and this hue are unstable, unknowable, and ephemeral.
One can circulate around Jennifer West’s latest installation, Film Is Dead . . ., 2016, but it is most potent when you are standing in front of it. A giant static curtain of 70-mm filmstrips comes down to the floor and spreads toward three seamlessly joined horizontal monitors positioned on the ground, creating a peculiar silent landscape. The screens play digitized versions of the filmstrips’ movies, resulting in vibrant, hypnotic, often colorful abstract collages in motion.
Although there is no explicit narrative in these films—made with leftovers from the artist’s hand-manipulated, camera-less films and film stocks—a story lies behind each strip, one that goes beyond the aggressive handling of both the materials and the ideology of Hollywood cinema. Observing how the artist applied salt, a nipple, spray-paint marks, or even stabs, kisses, red splashes, and stripes—all alluding to the movie industry, except for the stripes, which is a wink to Godard—on these ribbons and then translated them to the screen is as fascinating as trying to decipher what is secreted by each of them. Her gestures and multiple references to cinema history, as well as the artist’s own background, are intensely embedded in the celluloid.
The shift from analog to digital is incarnated in this monumental installation, as are the origins of cinema: attraction and spectacle. The obsolescence or death of analog film is clearly the subject here, though, and West is able to convey the melancholy such a passage engenders. It is indeed dying, but it can still enthrall.
The announcement for British artist Haroon Mirza’s first Canadian solo show, “Entheogens” at first reads like an edibles review. Promising all new work, the statement includes a list of main ingredients as pseudospiritual anchoring points: a scattering of the scientific names for LSD, magic mushrooms, and peyote. The artist’s previous self-regulating installations provided an interesting context for his recent references to ethnobotany and West Coast trip culture, especially when examined by a Brit in a city with a strong First Nations artist community.
Mirza often works with light and sound, and he refers to everything he produces as an act of composition, whether or not it’s audible. That said, some of his pieces are a bit too on the nose in using audio components as drawing materials. Those that feel more engaging take chances with imperfection, and even push the envelope on some of the wordplay underpinning his overall project. For instance, take Acid (all works 2016), a copper PCD blank over which the artist sprinkled a handful of morning glory seeds (natural producers of LSD) that had been dipped in ferric chloride, the same acid used for etching copper circuit boards. While Mirza’s Lamp for Williamsii, made up of blinking lights and peyote, is the show’s main attraction, other more subtle copperplate works captivate, too. For those pieces, Mirza elecro-etched photogrammic analogs of Psilocybe cubensis––the mushrooms appear as a kind of hallucination themselves.
Henry Moore once said, “A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things.” Simon Starling is an artist who is interested in stories, and, as evident in his exhibition here, they often involve the twentieth-century sculptor. Starling’s photograph Musselled Moore (Reclining Figure, 1950), 2008, depicts a maquette that riffs on a Moore sculpture—Warrior with Shield, 1953–54—acquired by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in 1955. In 2006, Starling submerged his steel copy of Moore’s work into Lake Ontario, where it became covered with a foreign species of mussels. The creatures, introduced to the lake by trading ships in the 1980s, were intended as a metaphor for the tension following the AGO’s purchase of a work by a British artist, when many felt the Canadian gallery should be focused on supporting more local artists.
In 1963, Moore was commissioned by the University of Chicago to create a public artwork commemorating the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. The shape of the bronze work, Nuclear Energy, 1966, suggested an atomic cloud, but Moore’s later guilt for exalting a destructive technology led him to suggest the form was more innocent. Starling’s eight spotlighted masks in Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima), 2010, all made in collaboration with a traditional Japanese Noh theater mask-maker and facing a mirror, represent various characters in the sculpture’s history: the sculptor himself, scientists, and even a likeness of Colonel Sanders, who has the most unlikely connection to the narrative. Opposite this plays a video with an actor’s voice-over recounting Moore’s conflict about his own piece, reminding viewers that art is often used as a smoke screen for troublesome objectives.
For her latest exhibition, Peruvian artist Ximena Garrido-Lecca has turned the gallery into a botany lab. A wooden structure that climbs up three walls like bleachers supports bean plants (grown and nurtured for five months) and an irrigation system made of clay inside a room with a regulated temperature and water supply. The exhibition’s subtitle, “Phaseolus lunatus,” references this species of bean, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times. On a small table facing the botanical structure, a copy of an Edict Against Idolatry (written in 1621) regarding the native tradition of worshiping plants is placed next to a wooden grid that will be periodically filled with a selection of beans during the exhibit, enacting a cultural (re)assessment and restitution of the edict as a metaphor of other beliefs condemned by the Spaniard missionaries—for instance, that no Moche language ever existed (the Moches where the original settlers in the area), even though archeologists have determined they had a spoken language represented in ideograms. Garrido-Lecca effectively and symbolically turns the invader’s language back on itself as she’ll perform a shamanistic translation of the edict from Spanish into a graphic form using the beans during the exhibition. The particular shape and colors of each bean placed inside the wooden grid will be painted on the facade of this institution as the work evolves. Botanical, sculptural, and architectural in nature, the entire installation works on an aesthetic level, but also on a historical-political one.
The show develops questions about colonialism and its burdens—issues that remain relevant today—and the reticent existence of these pinto beans. Each time a leaf sprouts, the plants continue to vanquish their violent past, and it is this work’s underlying hope for survival that allows us to breathe.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.