Los Angeles

Lucie Stahl, Powder, 2017, ink-jet print, aluminum, epoxy resin, 47 1/4 x 65 3/4".

Lucie Stahl, Powder, 2017, ink-jet print, aluminum, epoxy resin, 47 1/4 x 65 3/4".

Lucie Stahl

Freedman Fitzpatrick

Lucie Stahl, Powder, 2017, ink-jet print, aluminum, epoxy resin, 47 1/4 x 65 3/4".

“This is the only story of mine whose moral I know,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to Mother Night (1961). “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” In her latest exhibition of works at Freedman Fitzpatrick, Berliner Lucie Stahl showed us bullets pretending to be bears, boys soldiers, and fascists patriots. To supply a setting for these props and characters, Stahl pitched two rectangular tents with the markings of ammo boxes in the middle of the gallery, each titled after the bullet brand name emblazoned on its sides: American Eagle and Brown Bear, both 2017. The tents flaunted additional signage that proudly read MADE IN USA and MADE IN RUSSIA, respectively. Inside American Eagle sat a couple of World War II–era student chair desks with scratchy green cushions, and contemporary military magazines on the floor beside them. In the center of the tent, bare flower stems were clustered in a teepee formation like sticks for a campfire, while six electric candles glowed at their base. A sheetless cot with a battered baseball mitt and a teddy bear resting on it occupied Brown Bear, with cut flowers littering the ground.

It’s easy to forget, more than a century after its founding, that the Boy Scouts began as a paramilitary organization to prepare the sons of soldiers for the armed services. Yet, as Stahl references in the show’s accompanying artist statement, when the forty-fifth US president recently addressed the organization, his blustering, aggressive speech stung in part because it evoked the memory of this anodyne camping club’s militaristic origins. In line with this fact, the Scouts are organized according to a strict hierarchy: Its members start as Bobcats, graduate to being Tigers, and eventually finish as Eagles, their rank eponymous with the most regal of American patriotic symbols. Seeing the mascot—a loaded signifier of stateside sovereignty—brandished on the side of one of the installations, one imagined the tent as a campsite both for pretending boys and for the soldiers they’ll become. On a nearby wall, suspended in Plexiglas casings, were a trio of actual bullet packs, covered with collages of figurine soldiers, tanks, and battle-torn urban wastelands.

In an adjacent room hung a suite of five photographs making up Berlin Babylon, 2017, in which men attired in Third Reich uniforms mix with contemporarily dressed film crew members at the shoot of a television historical drama set in the 1930s. It’s an uncanny mix: In a present during which a reality-TV star thumped into a presidency, across the globe the old far right doesn’t seem so deep in the past.

These objects and images set a stage for the artist’s most potent works on view: flatbed scans of hands and various 3-D objects blown up into large prints mounted on aluminum. In one of these cryptic images of disturbingly high resolution—Powder, 2017—fingers scratched at a sickly gray-green dust coating a glass bed. In End of Tales, 2017, thick blond braids coil around a shadowed skull ringed with wilting pink flowers and sawtooth leaves. A couple of errant flies and a single moth caught in the picture crawl across the surface of a sheet of glass pressing down on the grim still life. The texture and smear on these surfaces carry a precise beauty and unsettling physicality. Despite the flatness of these works, you feel every topographical nuance: the pores and creases of each fleshy digit, the crush of each flower petal. All the rhetoric eventually finds a body. This, after all, is precisely what Vonnegut warned us about: The war games become war, and angry citizens become what they pretended to be.

Andrew Berardini