Los Angeles

Tariq Alvi, Deep, East (No. 44), 2014, digital C-print, 38 x 30". From the series “Deep, East,” 2014–.

Tariq Alvi, Deep, East (No. 44), 2014, digital C-print, 38 x 30". From the series “Deep, East,” 2014–.

Tariq Alvi

Michael Benevento

Tariq Alvi, Deep, East (No. 44), 2014, digital C-print, 38 x 30". From the series “Deep, East,” 2014–.

London-based artist Tariq Alvi has long used collage to imbricate politically charged photos with the crude consumer imagery of tabloids and circulars, arranging his productions into decorative patterns that exude elegiac panache. The effect reminds me of the work of Derek Jarman, who could produce both the ecstatic rush of Jubilee (1978), and the venomous, seething The Last of England (1988). While Alvi’s work nods to the often disturbing ways in which images are subsumed and exploited by the market, it doesn’t deliver clear commentary, offering instead a series of affective and confounding provocations. Alvi’s response to a recently discovered strain of HIV in 2005, “Super Pride and Super Prejudice,” an exhibition at San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, featured a wheelchair (hoisted to the ceiling) covered with hundreds of tiny, squished-up gleams of cock and flesh torn from gay-porn mags. In The Importance of Hanging, 2008, Alvi constructed a disturbing portrait of fundamentalist antigay violence: A widely circulated photo of two teen boys hanged for sodomy in Iran is set against a pattern of price tags snipped from Western advertising flyers. “Deep, East, Real,”Alvi’s recent exhibition at Michael Benevento, occupied both of the gallery’s spaces with linked efforts that took up a broader theme: the age-old conflict between nature and the abstractions of capital.

One room featured eighteen digital C-prints from the series “Deep, East,” 2014–, each a photo of flora (found in the artist’s tidy garden or those of his neighbors in East London) printed directly onto one of the crummy takeout flyers and menus pushed through the artist’s mail slot. The menus, from cheap Indian restaurants and Domino’s Pizza, lend a distorted, psychedelic glow to the otherwise bucolic garden scenes. Scanned and enlarged, the garishly colored compound images suggest music-shop posters for some unrealized 1960s Syd Barrett LP. A narrative of economic and social immobility also seems to course through the series: Can it be read as pictorially rehearsing the immigration debates that are currently polarizing the European Union? Of course, capitalist economies require the cheap labor of immigrants to provide factory-priced pizzas even as they withhold basic comforts from these workers (to say nothing of the consolations of bourgeois gardens). Emphasizing this denial was Alvi’s Real [meat 2], 2014, which sat low in the center of the room. Composed of stacks of takeout flyers, the work evoked something of the generosity we associate with the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but the prim precision with which Alvi’s souvenirs—configured with mosaic intricacy to fit into the space of a doormat—were arranged seemed to forbid stooping to pocket one.

A second room was bare except for the installation Always There, Always Three, 2014, an enormous floor-bound MDF panel on which thousands of prices torn or snipped from tabloids and circulars had been placed neatly, recalling the arrangement of letters in a ransom note. Here no scrap was glued or affixed: Had a gallerygoer walked by too quickly or had a gust of wind swept in from Sunset Boulevard, the colored fragments would have scattered. Atop both the MDF panel and the unmoored magazine scraps lay the trunk of a newly harvested oak. The viewer was left to contemplate these unfixed and isolated prices, which seemed to apply to the log, or to the work overall, but whose signification ultimately—pointedly—remained abstract. Alvi placed steep prices among the more reasonable ones extracted from tandoori takeout menus—I saw a tag for twenty-three thousand pounds, another for four hundred thousand. “Oh,” the artist quipped at the opening, “that is for a meal for ten in today’s Knightsbridge.” One felt the subaltern’s rage, the despair of the ironist, displaced across curious and startling aesthetic avenues.

Kevin Killian