Critics’ Picks

View of “A Book and a Medal: Disentanglement Equals Homogenous Abstractions,” 2014.

Los Angeles

Edgar Arceneaux

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Boulevard
September 6–October 18

More than a few tales tangle and collide in the hallowed half-light of Edgar Arceneaux’s Gesamtkunstwerk about the depths and vanity of human endeavor. All the disparate elements coalesce around Martin Luther King’s life and death. Amid theatrical tableaux walled by wood palettes, translucent mirrors, sundry wall works, and a feature-length video, Arceneaux’s installation pivots conceptually on the last major speech King gave against Vietnam and the perilous power of technology. This premise unfurls to include the coincidence of his assassination two days before the premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey; the auctioning of King’s Nobel medallion and bible against the strong wishes of at least some of his family; and two letters, one anonymously sent by J. Edgar Hoover intending to guilt King into suicide for the shame of his sexual infidelities, and another from Dr. Bernice A. King protesting the auction.

Sound from the film A Time to Break Silence, 2014, screened in a second room, bleeds throughout the exhibition. Composed by Underground Resistance—forceful players from the Detroit techno scene—their shimmying, militant, and dystopian dance music interweaves with a recording of MLK’s speech while onscreen, a Space Odyssey ape-man throws stones in the crumbling nave of Detroit’s Ste. Anne’s Church. Each coincidence collapses into the next, all leading from the dreams of the past and the potential ruination of our future with Detroit as the small stage for a civilization’s struggle. Though sometimes bewildering, Arceneaux’s grand vision coheres and contains just enough dark, dirty, funky, sinister, heartbreaking force to earn the redemptive potential it slyly offers in its shadows and reflections.