Critics’ Picks

The Grove, 2007, mixed media. Installation view.

Los Angeles

William Pope.L

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Bergamot Station G1 2525 Michigan Avenue
September 8 - December 23

To many Angelenos, “The Grove” is synonymous with a West LA retail shopping experience, one of the ubiquitous outdoor malls that crowd much of the American landscape. William Pope.L’s new, large-scale installation of the same name could perhaps be the environmental subconscious of such a site, the residual ghost of nature overrun by capitalist drives. The Grove, 2007, a forestlike arrangement of potted palm trees power-sprayed with white paint and slowly dying, is one of three parts of Pope.L’s first major West Coast museum exhibition, “Art After White People: Time, Trees, & Celluloid.” Drawing the psychology of the local landscape into the exhibition space, The Grove is a conduit from a public exteriority to an intimate and provocative interiority. Navigating through the trees, viewers encounter several hatch doors with portal windows that reveal narrow hallways stacked to the ceiling with archival boxes. Although the boxes’ labels are blacked-out, VHS tapes are strewn about and puddles of fake blood congeal on the floor, hinting at the boxes’ contents. The use of videotape rather than celluloid (as enumerated in the exhibition’s title) emphasizes a lingering material absence brought on by unceasing technological evolution. This eerie passage leads to a billboard-size video projection situated among domestic furnishings—drawers, a hospital bed, a high chair, desks, a staticky television set—piled high in the corner. Here, Pope.L’s new video APHOV, 2006–2007, whose title is an acronym for “A Personal History of Videography,” acts on the idea of “art after white people”—that is, an art at once superseding and based on (or perhaps simply masquerading as) a hegemonic population. The video shows a man, wearing a Donald Rumsfeld–like mask and with black-painted hands, toying with a diorama of a sinking ship. As his rubber eye holes begin to cry syrupy blood, we catch glimpses of what looks like the man’s secret hideout, a cache of archival boxes dating back to the eighteenth century. As an uncomplicated (but heavily symbolic) narrative, the video might act as a prophecy for the men in power today, which is to say they are ultimately an endangered species. However, Pope.L’s video could cleverly double as a warning for the otherwise complacent masses, in that “the man” can always have control (over people, over nature, over technology) so long as he has control over history.