Los Angeles

Neha Choksi, Copy (Elementary Sympathy Worksheet), 2018, marker on ink-jet print, 64 × 48". From “measuring with a bent ruler.”

Neha Choksi, Copy (Elementary Sympathy Worksheet), 2018, marker on ink-jet print, 64 × 48". From “measuring with a bent ruler.”

“measuring with a bent ruler”

Actual Size

Neha Choksi, Copy (Elementary Sympathy Worksheet), 2018, marker on ink-jet print, 64 × 48". From “measuring with a bent ruler.”

The announcing dispatch promised this exhibition would “unravel,” and the unconventional group show was, indeed, deconstructed into a sequence of solo presentations—unwieldy exhibitions that embraced undoneness. Each iteration treated the exhibition space as a forum for making and showed works neither nascent nor completed by three artists (introduced in the press release as mutual strangers). Their pieces segued into one another conceptually as well as formally, offering distinct and complementary approaches to text, collage, and performance. 

PART ONE: Dylan Mira’s Night Vision (all works 2018) occupied the space first. Viewable only at night, Mira’s installation filled the storefront gallery with a wall-size video projection, a poem, a metal sculpture, and two improvisational music performances. At the start of the short film, two figures swing like pendulums on public exercise machines; later, they engage in ritualistic high jinks captured by a night-vision camera whose low-light amplification enshrouds the surroundings in purple mist. The figures move ghostlike through natural and urban terrains. Though interrupted by visibly mechanical glitches, they ultimately arrive at the south side of the Korean demilitarized zone. Established as a buffer between a divided Korea in 1953, the DMZ has since become the site of tense exchanges, reciprocal propaganda efforts, subterfuge, and lives lost. But in the half century since its demarcation, an unintentional consequence of the political hostility emerged: This patch of nature, left untouched, has become a vibrant and biodiverse ecosystem, host to numerous endangered species. Ending at this border in daylight, Mira’s footage flickers into full color. The artist appears, crouched on the neutral yet disputed ground, attempting, as she describes, to become a tiger.

SECTION TWO: Elementary Sympathy preluded an ongoing work that Neha Choksi began later, in the fall of this year, when she started attending grade school again as a student in an effort to understand firsthand the “boundaries, hierarchies and fantasies of the civilizing process.” This precursor, staged at Actual Size, opened with a conversational performance for which some thirty viewers squeezed into the small gallery space, where a series of oversize blank classroom worksheets hung on the walls. Throughout the hour-plus session, participants responded to the artist’s prompts by, among other things, recounting their childhood memories of learning environments. After the performative opening, the artist channeled the participants’ feedback to create “completed” worksheets, which remained hanging in the gallery. 

ACT THREE: The last ten days of the exhibition were dedicated to Kandis Williams’s Aphrodite Hera Metis and were bookended by two final public events. During the opener, the audience sat in the street on benches and chairs, facing the window of the gallery as if observing a stage. Inside, a green-screen backdrop and lights flooded the room while the artist directed her performers in pairs; their voices were amplified outside for the audience. At the closing of the show, the artist screened the raw footage on a laptop while dismantling her makeshift soundstage. This emphatically utilitarian use of the gallery made public the details of Williams’s process: On the prop table lay a reader that included portions of Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book (1987), by Hortense J. Spillers,as well as other slices of texts, whose compilation became the script undergirding the performance. The actors—some trained, others amateur—augmented this foundational dialogue with personal anecdotes summoned by the words they read. With this process, Williams proposed an experimental pedagogy, a “consumption of academic texts that has a nondiscursive output, an affective output.” 

These three projects comprising “measuring with a bent ruler” were, in some sense, aboutlearning and unlearning, modeling a new kind of institution that pushes against traditional modes of presentation and the bodies that house them (art and academia alike). The title, one may infer, referred to a crooked tool ill-suited to an existing reality; more importantly, it also suggested other rules of physics altogether, conjuring the existence of a new measurement system invented in a void. In that space of uncertainty, the viewer entered into a tacit agreement that everything would be improvised and that everything would be “performance.” These various courageous gestures indeed unraveled, and why not? An unruly, untamed landscape may be the most fertile territory for fostering culture.