Los Angeles

David Mocarski


David Mocarski’s recent show, “The American Life Ritual,” was a fascinating and complex exhibit. Mocarski describes it as “a body of work examining the educational process by which one internalizes a culture.” Like his 1976 show “Suburban Delusions,” “The American Life Ritual” dealt with concerns of sociology and behavioral psychology in an art context.

The ten works in this installation, all completed in the past year and a half, ranged in complexity from a single, framed drawing of an electrical cord to a multi-media, room-size installation called House/Home dealing with the roles a woman may play throughout her life. The works examined ways in which we react to words, receive information through illusion, and make choices based on conditioning. Perception Test #2 consisted of a 12-foot-long cut-out drawing of two intertwined power cords stretched horizontally between two hooks on the wall. A power cord is the visible route by which invisible energy travels from a source to an activity. Here we have a three-dimensional object (the power cord) rendered realistically in a two-dimensional way (the cut-out drawing). But by placing the drawing slightly away from the wall and allowing it to cast a shadow, Mocarski turns it back into a three-dimensional object. In a sense, only the shadow is real: the real shadow of a three-dimensional object which is really a two-dimensional drawing of a three-dimensional power cord that is the visible path of invisible energy.

In Test Desk, a plastic-covered display case contained detailed cut-out drawings of common objects which can be considered as extensions of the hand: scissors, keys, a pocket knife, etc. A drawing above the desk top contained the words hand, handle, and handled, as well as more cut-out drawings and tracings of some of the objects in the display case. The tracings of the objects suggest they have been moved from one place to another or “handled.” The use of the tracings seemed to be based more on esthetic considerations than on behavioral psychology. Likewise, the splatters of paint, scribbles, and roughly torn pieces of masking tape imposed on an otherwise precisely drawn surface reinforce the drawing rather than add sociological meaning. The scribbles contrast with the tight drawing of the objects and have a spontaneity the accurately rendered scissors and keys lack.

My favorite was Point to Point, a pair of drawings which were elegant and simple in both conception and execution. In the first, a cut-out drawing of a stretched green scarf appears to be held horizontally by masking tape to two vertical lines at either end of the picture. The drawing is realistic right down to the scarf’s shadow. In the second, the vertical lines remain, but the scarf—redrawn and slightly crumpled—sits at the bottom of the drawing with the masking tape still attached, apparently having fallen. There’s a sense of moment lost, and the work seems both whimsical and sad. While either drawing is adequate alone, one’s knowledge of the second adds anxiety to one’s perception of the first; and one’s knowledge of the first gives the second a history.

Despite the rather heavy sociological freight Mocarski intends the show to carry, these works avoid being didactic. Rather, they are subtle and even have a low-key wit. They begin working for one long before one realizes why they’re working.

Jeffrey Keeffe