New York

View of “Kamau Amu Patton,” 2015. From left: Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014.

View of “Kamau Amu Patton,” 2015. From left: Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014.

Kamau Amu Patton

Callicoon Fine Arts

View of “Kamau Amu Patton,” 2015. From left: Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014; Untitled, 2014.

In Kamau Amu Patton’s recent exhibition, chaotic input gave rise to surprisingly orderly results. Using electronic feedback as a generative force work, Patton allowed the technological to bleed into the more outwardly organic, showing multilayered prints rendered from screen grabs of a video produced by training a camera on a monitor receiving that camera’s signal. He also employed sound, broadcasting a related audio piece, via FM radio, into the gallery space and beyond.

Occupying the walls of the main gallery were seven large, scroll-like, unstretched canvases silk-screened—three times over—with dense black fields of interference. Beneath these patterns float soft-edged, amorphous blobs of bright acrylic color, applied with an airbrush, that add glimmers of light and depth. The overall texture resembles wood grain, while the tinting suggests a tapestry or rug. In the background, a vaguely melodious drone faded in and out like a kind of aural background radiation, an echo perhaps of some earlier big bang. This was the aforementioned radio transmission; squirreled away in a back room were the transmitter and, on a curved flat-screen monitor, the video.

If there was a slightly sci-fi feel to the canvases and sound, the pairing of transmitter and video made this atmosphere explicit. The retro-futuristic construction of the former (radio transmitters being a near-obsolete technology) and the mise en abyme vortex of the latter (picture the vertiginous “time tunnel” title sequence from the original Dr. Who television series) immediately thrust the viewer into deep space. For viewers familiar with the arc of Patton’s work, this would have been unsurprising—much of his earlier art is concerned with diaspora cultures as refracted through imagined narratives, bringing such figures as space-jazz innovator Sun Ra into play. More recently, he has employed an oscillation between hi- (or at least medium-) and low-tech; the composition of 2011’s 5000K, for example, is derived from measurements of the intensity of the 5,000-Kelvin fluorescent lights in the gallery.

Patton also performs live from time to time, again using the gallery space as creative trigger; a recent performance at Lisa Cooley, for example, involved the real-time manipulation of environmental sounds recorded onto reel-to-reel tape, broadcast with an overlay of mixer feedback. Unfortunately, the excitement of such events was missing from this exhibition. Multimedia projects need not always be “immersive,” but they inarguably work best when their components build on one another to generate something newly complex. Here, the roles of the exhibition’s separate elements were clear enough, but their effect somehow failed to achieve a cumulative impact. Finally, one almost wished for a more stripped-down approach to the same raw materials: what do these canvases gain, really, from being multilayered, or the radio transmitter from being so ostentatious? Patton is following a potentially interesting and fertile—if fairly well-trod—route, but does so a little too enthusiastically on one hand, a little too politely on the other. What’s that line from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies—“Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them”? It’d be great to hear Patton pump up the volume.

Michael Wilson