Los Angeles

Mitchell Syrop, Bifurcated Life (detail), 2011, twenty-eight framed color ink-jet prints, each 22 x 15 1/2".

Mitchell Syrop, Bifurcated Life (detail), 2011, twenty-eight framed color ink-jet prints, each 22 x 15 1/2".

Mitchell Syrop

Thomas Solomon Art Advisory | Bethlehem Baptist Church

Mitchell Syrop, Bifurcated Life (detail), 2011, twenty-eight framed color ink-jet prints, each 22 x 15 1/2".

It would be all too easy to describe Mitchell Syrop’s recent body of text-based works as the product of some loose stream of consciousness. But this show’s sole work, Bifurcated Life, 2011—comprising twenty-eight archival prints, each identically framed and hung in a single line across three walls—ultimately gives a more complicated portrait: The hastily generated, half-cocked thoughts scrawled by the artist in pencil suggest the hand of a Concrete poet crossed with a serial killer. Scanned from a lined notebook and enlarged to nearly twenty-three by sixteen inches, these “documents” were arranged in the space to be read in succession from left to right. To move from one to the next was to follow the flow of an erratic internal monologue from fatalistic to comic to mundane. Syrop’s exhibition was a portrait of mood swings.

The piece started with five pages bearing the sentence “I don’t want to have a bifurcated life” repeated over and over in various degenerate permutations (e.g., AYEDUNN WONT TWOHALVE A BY-FOR CATED LYFE). The words written messily across the page showed no regard for the vertical strip that bisects the stenographer’s notebook. While profaning the ruled limits of the printed ground was an obvious gesture of defiance, Syrop’s piece was filled with many subtler transgressions as well. For example, graphite smudges at the edges of each page suggested the frantic motion of a restless writer groping and fingering the notebook; as the orthography devolves into a rambling series of scribbled letters, the words seem to shape-shift, at times morphing into swastikas or assuming useless umlauts. Some letters even grow to cover the entire page, as does the sprawling “M” of MAN in one print, the remaining A and N canopied by the capitalized letter’s sharp peaks.

The use of text and repetition to probe the margins of (anti)social consciousness is not new for Syrop. His 1978 video Watch It Think It assumed the constructed spatial and situational parameters of a TV commercial, looping the content until it became disorienting and eerily unfamiliar. Syrop’s gridlike installations of found portraits from high school yearbooks and church directories (which he has been mining since the mid-1970s) similarly reveal hidden systems of signification at work in isolated social spaces or public personas. While it ultimately remains unclear if this sort of repetition is meant to unlock some third register of meaning or to subvert the apparatus altogether, Syrop’s structural formulas produce hypnotic portraits of collective subjectivity. And though the thought patterns that emerge in “Bifurcated Life” have little to do (at least in the first degree) with the shared orders of public space, the works nevertheless produce a snapshot of an individual in conflict with the normative, material world.

If Bifurcated Life seems to reveal the disarray and immediacy of interiority, it also serves to uncover the superego’s constant self-policing of the id. And, not surprisingly, the work as a whole seems prearranged for public consumption, as a poem or a song might be. Reading quite lyrically, the multipart text takes on a rhythmic cadence. And with lines that would have little trouble passing as song lyrics (whether for a country lament or punk anthem)—e.g., “if you ever/get fucked/get fucked up/you can get/fucked down/but its not/as god” [sic]—these texts might best be understood as performing bodies with paper skins.

Catherine Taft