Los Angeles

Björn Copeland

China Art Objects

Björn Copeland possesses considerable visual prowess, and his obses- sively crafted mixed-media works on paper make for compelling viewing. The Brooklyn-based artist and musician is clearly familiar with the ever-changing fashions of printed concert flyers—from acid-drenched, Bill Graham–era psychedelia to Xeroxed No Wave grit to fluorescent, ecstasy-laced rave exuberance—and evinces a catholic aesthetic that whirls a mischievous Surrealist bent, Pop referentiality (owing more to the silk screens of Eduardo Paolozzi than those of, say, Warhol), and hypnotic Op affectation into carefully synthesized eye candy.

Copeland’s hip pedigree as a founding member of experimental/noise band Black Dice—part of the energetic music scene that emerged in Providence, Rhode Island, in the late 1990s—was hardly irrelevant in a recent show at China Art Objects. The pointedly titled collage Cover Potential, 2007, prominently features the band’s initials, B and D, in the midst of its dense pileups of black-and-white checkerboard patterns, rainbow stripes, illustrations of flowing orange hair, and fragments of paper that appear to have been attacked with a dry pen. Copeland’s visual and musical collages are unavoidable analogues; both deploy, then disrupt, structural patterns with psychotropic precision. Vertical Change, 2007, features a mesmerizing bilateral grid interwoven with triangles and punctuated by a band of vertical black and white stripes that unexpectedly undermines the overall symmetry. Two eyes, collaged into the grid, emphasize—almost comically—the intense retinal experience.

Several sculptural works extend Copeland’s sensibility into the third dimension, with mixed results. Amplified Sounds of California (Dolphin Calling Device), 2007, is an ungainly Rube Goldberg–inspired sound sculpture incorporating a boom box, a tripod, and a Kenmore sewing machine. It emits a babble of sound from a speaker embedded in a found ceramic tchotchke of swimming dolphins when the viewer steps on a pedal duct-taped to the floor. More intriguing is Expanding Chair with Leak Potential, 2007, an uneven pair of boxes—a cube abutting a larger block—with a cover of woven white and yellow plastic strips. The block serves as a pedestal for a white-bearded head covered in an organic blob of black and white beads; the matching cube appears, at once, as a step and as an awkward, malignant growth. While it lacks the visual punch of the surrounding collages, it operates like much of Copeland’s best work by building complexity from the carefully orchestrated collision of simple parts.

Throughout the show, Copeland juxtaposed organic and synthetic motifs and inserted glimpses of the human body—hair, limbs, patches of skin, eyes, a woman’s ass cheeks—to suggest, I think, a fragmentation of human subjectivity common to psychotropic experience. Or maybe that’s reaching. Money Shot, 2006, features an image of a topless woman with her face obscured by a bunch of green grapes. I am left to wonder whether anyone will question the sexual politics of this image while, ironically, Martha Rosler’s potent collage of nude models extracted from Playboy magazines—Body Beautiful, Beauty Knows No Pain: Hot House, or Harem, 1966–72—concurrently on display a scant mile and a half away at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “WACK!” exhibition, is receiving critical scrutiny as the cover for that show’s catalogue. Copeland demurs on the radical, transformative political potential of collage—so important to the work of Rosler, Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, and many others—in favor of delirious optical disorientation.

Michael Ned Holte