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Esther Pearl Watson: Listen! Do You Hear the Weirding Field?

by Janell Hughes

These are different UFOs. Esther Pearl Watson, through delicate 8” by 10” acrylic paintings, glitter, aluminum foil and descriptive titling, gave the Flying Saucer character. Or, rather, many characters, as they are as varied as any other grouping of personified things.

            One such landed on a farm, caused “mischief, and took off”. Others were Lady Saucers, but only in CA, and some were painted entirely with glitter. Glitter is a material that can add a level of silly or fun to almost anything, and the thought of a flying saucer or car sparkling across the sky or street is definitely that. One piece is an array of flying saucer shapes in various small sizes. They are cut out of aluminum foil and hang about two inches from the wall around a square panel upholstered in a sparkly dark blue fabric —the starry night sky surrounded by flying saucers. Where else would they live but beyond the edge of the universe? Or as the title, Foil saucers that dance around a square Universe., suggests, where else would they dance?

            The use of aluminum foil in many of the pieces brings me to two places. The first is the dexterity of aluminum foil; it can be folded into a miniature boat or airplane or, depending on who you ask, prevent other-worldly signals from accessing the human brain. The second is the kitchen, wrapping left-overs and covering casserole dishes. Protecting and insulating.

            Beer can hunting. Sasche, Texas, Saturday, December 17, 1988., is a collection of drawings done in pen on the insides of what looks like cardboard food packaging. The drawings are in the same simplistic style as the paintings and use the same imagery- abandoned cars, empty lots, scenes with open spaces and buildings that evoke a feeling of rural life.

            Back to the paintings, the only car painted in glitter is the only one that still runs. All of the cars, including the glittery one, are modest sedans with slightly boxy shapes, nothing fancy; these are cars made for transportation. There are two series of paintings with glittery flying saucers. One day everyone will have flying saucers and they will have many lights and beautiful colors. Did I ever tell you that one day everyone will have flying saucers? I did? Well, I was just thinking how nice it’ll be. The glittery saucers along with the glittery car sparkle us off to Utopia. Maybe this is Slumberland, Little Nemo flying on his four-poster bed trailing stars. The figures dancing around these flying saucers appear to be celebrating their arrival. Maybe they see them as a way to go anywhere and not be stuck in Sasche, TX.

            There are no sparkly, benevolent saucers in Texas if the paintings are to be believed. They are in Pasadena and Sierra Madre, CA and amidst dancing figures. Elsewhere there are destructive and mischievous flying saucers. One hovers in The house on Masters St. has been knocked down. There is only a field where it once stood., implying that it is the reason the house is gone.

            The painting that shares the title of the show has no flying saucers, no cars, no glitter, and no dancing people. It has aluminum clouds, funneled towards the bottom like tornadoes but not touching the ground. Below is a long view of a fenced-in field at dusk. The Weirding Field waits.

 

Ana Garcia: Mid-Residency

by Vivian Lin

    A self portrait of Ana Garcia hangs in the center of a wall of color photographs of various sizes.  The image of Garcia is hung several inches above the rest, claiming her place as the orchestrator of the images that extend to her left and to her right.  In the self portrait, her face and left hand stand in dramatic contrast to her black hair, black clothing, black background, black gag placed across her mouth.  Her eyes gaze steadily, directly at me, cable release poised in her left hand—her claim to agency, suggestive of the power of voice through image making.  Even if one has been silenced, has been robbed of visibility, one finds a means to express herself.  This central image, the only one amongst the group taken in a constructed studio space, serves as the anchor from which to draw meaning and to make relationships to the images on the left and right.


    Playing the game of what are the similarities, what are the differences, I start to make meaning: Garcia is photographing the working class Hispanic community in Los Angeles and pointing out who has agency of voice, and who does not, and who claims it anyway in spite of the oppressive nature of the dominant mainstream culture.  Garcia suggests that the dominant culture grants babies and protesters the right to a voice.  Directly to the left of the self portrait is a photograph of a baby being held by the mother.  The baby could be crying, could be making sounds of joy, no matter, this baby is making noise!  The allusion to noise starts from the central “O” of the baby’s mouth, amplified by the circular patterns around the collar of his sweater, radiating blues, purples, and pinks, magnified by the fact that the baby nearly fills up the entire frame of the picture.


    Along with babies, protesters are also granted a voice.  There are two photographs of the Hispanic community speaking out against the recent scandal of the city council members in the city of Bell.  One of the documentary style photographs is of a protest, made up of mostly Hispanic mothers and children.  Male protesters are also present, lurking behind in the shadows of the crowd.  The protesters are holding up numerous signs that declare a variety of grievances.  On the right edge of the image stands a Caucasian male news reporter, dressed in a suit, adjusting his ear piece, tuned out from the crowd.  A reflector directs the warm California rays to fill his shadows, to properly light him as he prepares to address the world.  The pole upholding the reflector serves as a visual separation between the reporter and the crowd, as he stands in front of their banners of protest.   The message of the protesters reaches the larger community only through the filter of the mainstream media.


    Juxtaposed against the images that portray members of the community attempting to voice themselves, Garcia intersperses three portraits.  These individuals are obscured, as they place their hands between their faces and the lens of the camera and turn away.  Garcia implies that those who are left without a voice are the Hispanic youth.  Photographed against the background of the exterior of their homes, they have no space in the public sphere and are either discouraged to vocalize their thoughts or shamed into silence.

    Playing against the array of images depicting an attempt at claiming one’s voice, Garcia reserves an entire adjacent wall for a single image.  Garcia grants the middle aged Hispanic man, whose back is covered in an array of tattoos, with the largest image of all, and supplies headphones for the viewer to actually hear a voice.  She suggests that he is the only person among the array of members of the minority community who claims his voice without asking for permission from the mainstream community.  His voice is doubly heard, literally through the headphones as he talks about his relationship to his tattoos, and visually through the tattoos themselves that serve as symbols of his life as a man on the periphery of society.

    Altogether, these images are gentle probings into the agency of voice amongst the Hispanic working class.  They don’t scream at me in the voice of protest.  They nudge.  They politely suggest that I consider who has voice?  Who has agency?  Who is the largely invisible authority of the dominant race and class that grants what kind of agency to which members of the working class minority community and withholds agency from others?  What are the “proper” channels of voice, and who sidesteps those channels and uncompromisingly claim a voice of their own?

Rineke Dijkstra: I see a Woman Crying [Weeping Woman]

by Christopher Golden

 

 

        How do we view art— physically, emotionally— and what are the parameters for constructing an opinion of art, both as an individual and as a member of shared space? These fundamental questions lie at the heart of Rineke Dijkstra’s I see a Woman Crying [Weeping Woman].

       I was presented with three side-by-side frames of a young group of school children positioned in front of a white wall. There were both boys and girls, some sitting, others standing. Their faces were young, clearly tracing the brink of puberty. Dressed in uniforms— a white collared shirts, a red ties, and a gray cardigans— slightly ruffled, they wore the seasoned look of  uniformed students.         

        Having sat down part way through the video, I stayed to watch from the beginning. I watched well into the third loop. I was taking my time. Distracted by my original intention to rest, it wasn’t until well into the second viewing that I found myself caught in the emotion of what the students were saying. And it was in that moment that I began to articulate my own physical and emotional response. I began piecing together the various parts. I was constructing an interpretation of art in tandem with the students.

        The video fades in from complete whiteness, across the three frames, and presents a landscape of school children. Though it was not clear at first, I quickly realized that I was seeing various framings of the same scene. The framing changed throughout the video, cutting in and out, giving both expansive shots of the group (though never the whole at once) as well as close-ups of individuals.

        Containing them.

        Isolating their experience.

        At once, an individual thinker, and a mind that is a part of a collective voice.

        The students stared intently at something “stage left,” just below the camera’s line of sight. At first there was a great silence, one that is often found at the beginning of a thought that precedes a moment of realization. The students began to slowly describe something (I was immediately aware of their thick English accents, and was glad subtitles were provided), first the form and then various colors. Each student building his or her description from what had previously been said. Voices overlap, cut each other off, and inform the next thought and become nearly indistinguishable.

“Parts of a Mouth. A chin. Around the Mouth there’s fingers.”

“I can see the hair, and different colors.”

“There’s loads of different colors in the picture.”

“I can see different colors, shapes, and feelings in the picture.”

“I can see all the shapes that make parts of the face.”

“I think she looks a bit scared.”

“It looks like she’s been to a wedding and then she’s gotten lonely.”

“Yeah, and like she went to a wedding and she’s done something wrong, like…stolen cake or something.” A shared giggle waves through their faces. Then there is a pause.

“She got abandoned.”

“Yeah.”

“When she was a child or something.”

“No one likes her…people are scared of her. You know, like…people don’t want to be with her.”

         They go on describing the work in this way, building on each others thoughts, slowly digging through an interpretation. The students had become animated by this work of art. Telling a story of their own, of the art, and informing each other’s tales. They were mining their emotional history and finding the pieces that link them together and to the work of art.

        Art is simple. Art is complicated. Art is funny. Art is sad. Art (at its best) compels us to search the caverns of our mind for the emotional and physical language we use to articulate the experience of viewing art. These findings vary from the most mundane, to the most deeply personal. Dijkstra has shown the beauty in this exploration.

I left refreshed.

 

In need of repose for my tired feet and museum-dazed mind, I wandered into a quiet and dimly lit room. A video was playing. I didn’t mind. I’d tune it out, or so I thought. I was suddenly engrossed in the three-channel video projection I had decided to rest in front of.

Janell Hughes: Infestation and Connection

by Nicole Nayeon Kim

           It has been more than a decade since I first and last read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, once a staple in ninth grade English classes. I anticipate a flood of disaccreditation following this brazen statement: I hated that damned book.

            A bug. Brilliant!

            Question mark.

            In my defense, “hated,” is past tense. To whom do I owe— or does Kafka owe—credit for my change in literary appreciation and appetite?

            Janell Hughes’ thesis show, Infestation and Connection, quietly occupies a portion of one wall within the Main Gallery at the California Institute of the Arts. At surface, eighteen wall pieces hang horizontally and in close proximity to one another. Save three circular objects, the artwork is rectangular in shape and, with the exception of four “drawings,” the color palette is subtle— black, cream and variations of gray delicately dominate the retina.

            The show is comprised of text and image pieces; I call every piece a “drawing”— the text is handwritten, ink on canvas, and the images are largely created with needle and thread, if not with traditional “drawing utensils.” Marks are made on the artist’s chosen canvas carefully and deliberately. The images depict spiders, webs, human skeleton and bone, alone or overlapped within the same canvas.

            Similar to the prose found within The Metamorphosis, a good portion of the artist’s text concentrates on verisimilitude, when detailing both landscapes—

                      Color is nothing without light.

                      I look out my window and all I see

                      is grey, black, white.

                      The world has a paleness cast over it,

                      and brown bark looks black

                      in contrast to the purely white sky.

 — and character dynamic –

                      I don’t tell anyone everything

                      but I tell everyone something.

 

Though Kafka, in his opening line, introduces Gregor Samsa as a “gigantic insect,” Hughes allows the viewer-reader to move leisurely through a space of transition and nonexistence—

                      I turn off all the lights so I can walk on the
ceiling

                      Twist my fingers through the strings hanging

                      midair

                      Invisible and dense

                      I can feel the walls just out of reach in every extreme—

one that is articulated through free verse, and less through literary devices found in popular science-fiction. The “strings hanging midair” reference the spider web, and foreshadows that a space where (wo)man and spider metaphorically coexist, can exist.

            The metamorphosis of both Kafka and Hughes’ protagonists provides a physical escape from the psychological restraints imposed by outside presence. For Samsa, his family and job. For Hughes’ speaker, a similar social isolation—

                      I pass. I don’t twitch I smile I make

                      eye contact but not too much and I pass. I

                      slouch the right amount and I don’t walk too

                      fast and I pass. I ask polite questions about

                      how others are doing and say that it’s all

                      good and I pass.—

suggests, if not a physical transformation from human to insect, a symbolic shedding, “[rotting]” of flesh and evolution to a being that exists within a strong, self-made construct—a spider in its web. Both (Kafka’s) fly and (Hughes’) spider are lowly creatures in the animal kingdom, and denote each protagonists’ social standing pre-metamorphosis. However, the authors’ decisions to have human beings metamorphose into the bottom wrung declares a shift in who—or what—wields greater power.

         At the heart of Infestation and Connection are Hughes’ juxtaposition of the human skeletal system and a spider web. Of the “drawings” sans text, the colorful and vibrant circular pieces of stitched spiders allude to domestic interior space. The speaker’s metaphoric transformation, and the comparison of bone to web, begins as “[the speaker’s] nose (is) on [a] mirror, cold… unsure if [a small lesion] is an average blemish or if [her] skin has taken it upon itself to separate,” and questions, “What is that? Rot?”

         A “drawing” of a bone that is partly comprised of numerous spider webs directly proposes the two are equal in strength and function, but visually intimates the spider web overtakes the human structure by means of infestation—almost as bacteria cultures grow and survive as mold on rotting food (or human flesh). The spider webs consume what bone is left visible. The artist suggests that spiders’ physical defense mechanism is superior. After all, while bones enable man and woman to stand and shield vital organs, a broken bone can leave a person immobile, puncture and rupture the very lung or kidney it once existed to protect. A spider’s web catches prey for nourishment and can elicit paranoia and fear from the silly and susceptible human being that runs into it, thus preventing future disruptions. If the web is destroyed, another can be created and will be as well built as the one before. If a bone breaks, it never heals back to what it once was.

 

                      Blood spiders boil to life, weaving

                      platelets in an intricate and

                      hasty ease. Irked yet eager

                      to boast delicate skill.

 

         I often overhear individuals’ misuse of the clinical term, “schizophrenic,” when they more likely mean, “a person who wears many masks.” One could speculate that the first person narrator, the “I,” found in Hughes’ free verse displays symptoms of schizophrenia. Though illness and mortality are themes touched upon within Infestation and Connection, I propose that multiple speakers emerge from the text. If read as voices from different individuals, the audience is presented with a spectrum of “believers” and “non-believers” of an alternative “circle of life”—the need for one (human) to reach his mortal demise to maintain the life of one (spider) more capable of sustaining and creating life. One “I” “[drowns] the ants. Each little pissant…with spray cleaner. One squirt well aimed flattens the ant exoskeleton onto the counter…poorly aimed, the ant just drowns…” and feels just as warmly about the “spiders in [her] hair.” Another “I” speaks greatly about sickness and her “stale skin” and the a “smell…like burning plastic…from a distant fire (that lives) in [her] lungs, feeding and building an ashen warmth.” The artist, then, assumes multiple roles and personality traits that exist in binary—creator and victim; strength and fragility.

         Hughes’ thesis, like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, smartly comments upon the human condition by highlighting that which is most (literally) stepped on.

Clifford Landon Pun: Gay-*Sia

by Scott Oshima

Clifford Landon Pun’s MFA thesis show Gay-*Sia recreates classical and Orientalist paintings, as well as contemporary advertising, by replacing the subject, most often a woman, with himself. Pun becomes the sexualized object. He reproduces a sort of neo-Orientalist image which is still very much prevalent in mainstream American culture, especially mainstream gay culture: the docile, effeminate Asian man.

In the text accompanying the show, Pun discusses ‘the veil’, analyzing it as a tool to control the gaze and a viewer’s desire. The fashion industry uses this concept of the veil to provoke a viewer’s exotic desire and signify sex appeal in advertising. It seems potentially problematic, then, to emphasize the veil in reclaiming control over one’s sexualized image. Pun’s use of the veil, perhaps, recreates an eroticizing of the exotic and obscures the culturally-specific meanings of the veil, such as a symbol of religious piety.

Pun, in placing himself as the maker and controller of his own image, is defining his own desirability. He is aware that he is reproducing his sexualized image within an Orientalist stereotype. For me, though, the use of such stereotypical images, which have historically not been controlled by their subjects, leaves me uncertain as to Pun’s position in relation to this kind of criticism. The gesture of reenacting these classical images and advertisements – images discussed within a discourse of the gaze and objectification – suggests he is aware of the problems these images present; however, the work offers an issue without a point of access to further discussion. It does not completely place him or the specificities of his experience as a gay Asian man within the works and within the discourse. Instead the work reproduces, quite literally, the exact images of eroticizing the exotic.

By engaging in the discourse of Orientalism, the veil and the gaze, Pun makes broad claims about a shared experience of women, Asian men and those within the imagined Orient. I feel this detracts from a comprehensive exploration of a gay Asian man’s exotic desire and self-representation, and treads dangerously close to reinforcing the category of the erotic Orient.

But maybe it’s okay to eroticize himself as a gay Asian man. Because the work discusses identity, it is already working within models of inclusion and exclusion; to identify as anything is already an embracing of a shared difference or similarity. Perhaps embracing one’s difference as something erotic could very well be a form of self-empowerment. Sex-positive feminists celebrate their sexualities and bodies; the Bear Gay community empowers itself by celebrating and sexualizing the differences of their bodies. However, eroticizing difference or the exotic can disempower the individual subject by defining the subject as a sexual stereotype without consent.

Is there a way to embrace one’s own objectified, sexualized and desirable image without perpetuating and reproducing the same problematic images? The problem certainly isn’t only who is in control of the images, but also the passivity of the viewer who uncritically accepts stereotypes. While Pun is clearly self-aware and conscious of these issues, are these images critical enough?

Rowan Smith: HOW YOU ALL FEELING TONIGHT?

– with a composition and score by George Pritzker, A402 Feb.14th-18th 2011

by Malene Dam

 

“HOW YOU ALL FEELING TONIGHT?” the lead singer shouts from the front of the stage, spotlights are going around and smoke sends everything into a haze, the audience screams back in sheer ecstasy, and the show can begin. This is what rock and roll is about, the magic exchange between audience and performer.

Rowan Smith’s exhibition is not in front of thousands of people at a rock concert, but in a white room with spotlights directed at things we are to look at. The room is like a stage, transformed and oozing of rock and roll. It’s the highs and lows of a mythical trope we are all familiar with, and the stage lights tie everything together.  

An old hat lies on the floor with pennies, quarters and one-dollar bills in and around it. Above it, one of the ceiling panels has been replaced by a starry sky depicting an unknown future. There is a lot going on here; does it refer to a song, the romantic myth of a struggling street musician, to Rowan himself, or is it all an illusion?

The star of the show is a wooden Marshall amplifier, taking up half the exhibition space. There is room to go around, and only from the back do I realize Rowan has made this amplifier from an upright piano. The piano strings form the front grill where the sound comes out. The electric guitar and a piano are morphed strangely together in this sculpture. It’s truly a beautiful piece.

The room is filled with sound. It comes from a small amplifier on the floor and is recorded from the pickups of a Squier Electric Guitar as Rowan meticulously destroys it, string by string. The electrical guts of the guitar are attached to what looks like an antenna. The sound has been reworked into a composition by George Pritzker. Rowan is not the musician here, he is both craftsman and patron.

A simple platform made of a plank of wood is leaned against the gallery wall. It is a replica of a section of a Neil Diamond stage - - the stage has been in storage at CalArts for years, untouched.

I begin to wonder about Rowan’s titles. Each consists of several songs. Are they simply speaking about a mystical aura of rock and roll, the lives of musicians or of Rowan’s own life? I’m not entirely sure; the lines get blurred, which is often the case when you listen to songs. You identify so strongly with what the song is about that you forget yourself. It’s a form of escapism. Rowan’s titles touch on the melancholic side.

The Thrill of it all/Little Lies/The Misunderstanding

Teenage Riots/Same Old Scene

Born under punches (the heat goes on)

Star Power/Pretending to see the Future/The midnight Hours/Only After Dark

The sound of the Crowd/the Beginning and the End

Were these songs Rowan’s escape?

That hat on the floor resembles the hat that I see Rowan wearing everyday around campus. (I realized only while writing this review that the hat was not real, but made out of wood and acrylic paint.)Does Rowan identify with the freedom and hardship of the nomadic life of a street musician? Or is he talking about creating a persona that we know just as much from the art world as from the music world.

There is no simple read of this because there is no way of knowing where the references end and the personal begins, maybe because those references might also be more personal and complicated.

Everything here is more complicated then it seems. Rowan is a gifted artist, teasing his audience with a play of illusions, neither simply sculpture nor rock and roll. But why illusions, the fake instead of the real? Are these illusions Rowan’s way of mesmerizing an audience like a performer does from the stage? Maybe, but to me it poses the question of what is real. Nothing in this space is real. Is Rowan faking a persona, or is art in its essence fake? Where is Rowan being genuine and where is he performing? This tension intrigues me.

Fiona Conner: Reading the Map While Driving

by Marco Di Domenico

 

At first glance inside the gallery I see a collection of furniture, mostly benches. They are evenly spaced throughout. There is no clear path among them. I don’t feel like I have to walk around and examine every piece. There are a few people sitting and talking. I am intrigued but I spend very little time standing there.

I pass though the other galleries. I spend much more time on average in the emptied center space of them, each object gets at least a few seconds of my thought and time. I dig for more, trying to find meaning even if I can’t. Assuming something more is always there; my effort is always in question. I didn’t put any effort into examining the furniture. Maybe I was supposed to sit.

So I return. I am drawn to return to Fiona Conner’s thesis show. We don’t seem welcomed into the gallery, only one of the two double doors is open. Our approval is not sought. It is as if we should feel privileged to peer inside. It is Thursday night at CalArts; I expect more people, but there is only one person standing in the midst of the furniture. I know him enough to greet him but he is in a classic artful pondering pose, holding two fingers over his lips, so I don’t bother him. I realize I have my own glide and stance when examining an exhibit.

 

 

Most of the furniture is flat square backless benches, with solid clean earthy brown tones, wood, or black leather. There are a few small wooden end tables and shelves, all low to the ground. Everything is almost level in the gallery creating a flat terrain. The few backed chairs are against the wall so the backs don’t disrupt the uniform order. It appears Conner didn’t want any particular piece to stand out against the others.

Eventually, I glide around to the other person in the gallery still concentrating. I ask him what he thinks. He says. “I have a perversion for modern furniture.”  

Fair enough, I think. I let him talk. He has been thinking and he wants it to be heard. He explains that the furniture is aesthetically perfect. The designs are simple and minimal. “But they are so uncomfortable,” he says. I question this for a second. They look comfortable. He sits down for a moment at one of the leather backless sofas. “How long can someone sit without back support?” he asks. He gets up in a few seconds seeming to answer this question. “How ’bout those,” I say, pointing at two wooden chairs across the gallery. The smooth curved wood looks soft. “The Eames Lounge Chair,” he says. “Maybe for like five minutes.”  

At first I didn’t even think to consider them aesthetically. But I realize subconsciously I did; visually appealing in my mind meant comfortable. I get a similar feeling at an overpriced restaurant that oversells an ambiance to make up for their mediocre food. If the dish has an appealing presentation my mind assumes it will be delicious. It may take several bites to realize I’ve been stiffed.

“How about this one?” I ask as I move towards a black leather sofa chair against a wall. It is almost a cube wrapped and raised from the ground with stainless steel tubing. He says, “Le Corbusier.” I sit. I expect him to sit as well but he seems opposed, as if reclining is desecration. He explains how all these pieces were shown in galleries, an apex of design in their time. It is comfortable. I could sit there awhile but I would not want it in my living room, or any of the other benches. My concerns are solely comfort and Sunday afternoon naps. I think of my ugly brown couch. I threw a simple patterned blanket over it for contrast, but this slips off as I slip off into dreams draped in sunlight, always imagining something more. What is the point of furniture that fails at its purpose in favor of a superior design?  These designs, like all early twentieth century aesthetics, are everywhere. Whether imitation or authentic, I’ve seen them filling so much empty space. Their uniqueness is meaningless to me.

 

 

“It looks like Ikea,” he says. “Like any furniture store.” I look out from the chair. That’s exactly the way it feels. There is just enough space to walk while making the most of the gallery. The walls are left blank. That’s exactly what a gallery is, a store. He asks me if I smoke. Then we are outside the main entrance. He lights my cigarette. We talk about how the art world is evil and soulless and commercial. This is satisfying for a while. But I eventually have to say that everything is this way. What’s the difference, even if art traffics in ideals? I can’t help but look down the long approach from the parking lot, the wall of windows parallel to it, the lights over head in the coffered ceiling, and the pillars that hold it up. Sometimes I sit at that long flat stone bench in between the pillars. I smoke cigarettes and I think about how cool this place is, and how cool it is that I am here. How cool I am because I am sitting here, and I am smoking so I must look cool. It is times like that where I realize how stupid this all is. I remember how evil academia has become. We talk of it; we talk of how cynically perverted we are by our own ideals. We talk of it like it is some new idea while we know its been like this all along, and it’s always been worse, and if the world ends in a year and a half it’s not going to be because of some prophecy or galactic alignment, it’ll happen because we did it, because we are all the most highly educated morons in history. It’s so ironic. We laugh. But then there is just smoke. One cigarette can only last so long.

I am not entirely sure of Conner’s intention in her show. We may have entirely missed the point, but I had an hour long conversation with someone I hardly knew. It made us think and talk. That is a success.  

“I hate art about art,” someone else says. Somewhere else much later.

There is a dance party in the graduate courtyard. The weekly Thursday dance party is generally near the annex studios but this week the security shut it down. I feel bad for the security guards; they are nannies for overgrown children. They dance in front of us while we stand and talk. “What’s wrong with art about art?” I ask. He thinks I’m a writer; I’ve convinced many of this. He looks at me and says, “It’s like writing a novel about writing.” I laugh. There is a lot of writing about writing. Writers like to write about themselves. I am sure he knows this. I am also sure a lot of art is about art, but I don’t press this. I ask him, “What the hell is art anyway?” I am the asshole with big questions. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer. He says, “Writing’s an art.” “Don’t pull me into your mess,” I respond. “How is writing not an art?” he says. “No one reads books,” I respond and we laugh. Of course he’s right.

I look at the grass past the dancers. In a couple weeks I will walk through this courtyard and receive an MFA. Part of me hopes all the crazy evangelicals are right. They recalculated and the world is actually going to end on May 21, the day after graduation. It will be glorious. Then I won’t even have to recover from my post-graduation hangover, and take on the summer.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: Mid Res Installation

by Vivian Lin

              An eight foot long double-ended noose is displayed horizontally extended on a white wall.  Above and below are a series of words hand painted in black, spanning the left portion of the wall from ceiling to floor: “N i ig ga hah…ne grow…NIGS GROW KNEES…”  To the right of the noose is a framed portrait of an African woman, drawn in pencil.


             

 My initial reaction to Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s installation is visceral.  My body immediately recoils at the thought of a corpse hanging on each end of that rope.  That discomfort is further heightened by the series of words, painted large enough to be legible from across the room, that point back to the one word in the American English language that no socially considerate person would ever be caught uttering:  N-I-G-G-E-R. Approaching closer to the wall, as one makes out the portrait of the African woman, it’s easy to regard the installation as another angry voice pointing the finger at the injustice of slavery and the detestable culture it has instituted.

              But when one gets close enough to read the panel descriptions — evocative of the kind you would find in a natural history museum — naming and then explaining each artifact in the installation, all of the previous assumptions quickly become destabilized.  The language and content of the descriptions, the usage of the title cards, and the initial read of the objects start to meld together into an ambiguous, slippery space that is not so much about black identity politics, but about contextualization.   “Mating Ritual Object from the Overderyonder Region of Kentifrica,” refers to the double ended noose.  “KNI GA Tribe dialect,” is the title of the painted series of words.  “Commissioned Portrait of Delia Keneyenye, the Late Scholar and Activist of Kentifrica,” is the label accompanying the drawn portrait.  

            

  These objects are displayed as if on the wall of a natural history museum at pains to explain a distant, exotic culture to the museum-goer. The panel goes so far as to state “Portrait is on loan from the Kenfric Historical Society of Kentifrica,”.  There are multiple references to the continent of Kentifrica, the Kni Ga Tribe, and the Kenfric Historical Society, all written in the language of learned institutional authority.  Hinkle relies on both contemporary codes of social behavior regarding the issue of slavery and blackness, and familiar institutional signifiers to provoke questions of how race and history are constructed and contextualized.  Within the syntax of ethnographic museum speak, Hinkle interweaves, teases out, and reappropriates the language of racism.

              One starts to wonder was there ever a Kni Ga Tribe, whose name was misappropriated by slave traders and twisted through history into that loaded word today? Where is or was Kentifrica?  Would a double-ended noose ever have been used as an object to give Kentifrican women the illusion of power over their oppressor?  Could there ever have been a Delia Keneyenye, as she is so nobly portrayed in this drawing?  


              

  The interplay of ethnographic language and the language of racism is here, intentionally confused in order to remind us that both history and the current language of racism are constructions.  The gap between the horrors we have committed against one another and the tales we tell about them here leave just enough space to entertain, if only for a moment, that the side that won has repressed widespread knowledge of a place and history such as Kentifrica.

Michala Paludan: Mid-Residency Installation

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, “Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas”, The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, “Peoples of the world” and “Ethnographical Treasure Rooms”, Ethnological Museum, Berlin, “Art from Africa” and “South Sea - Collection Melanesia and Australia”.
2010 Video 15 min loop. No sound. 

by Molly Stinchfield

A large video projection takes up the entire space of a wall next to the door of a large, square gallery.  Between the projection and the door is a temporary wall fabricated from panels of wood and two-by-four supports, which serves both to block the light and to make a private, almost clandestine viewing space away from the other pieces in the gallery.  (The projector is suspended from the ceiling in a black metal filing basket attached to the ceiling grid with clips.)


The video is on continuous loop.  A video camera is being walked briskly through the wings of several museums, we see African, Asian, and Native American collections bouncing by us quickly.  We are never permitted to stop and look at the work, we must perceive it moving from the middle of the frame to the periphery; it is a challenge to focus on any one object.  A buddha sculpture bounces by shrouded in silence in its glass case, a straw mask mounted on a yellow wall, a body sized sculpture of a Native American with ceremonial dress all jauntily float out of sight. 


As we are denied the pleasure of examining the artifacts, the object of our attention becomes how they are displayed— as artifacts— mounted behind glass cases, like so many trophies in a high school gym.  Some walls are white, some warm tones (in Africa), some cases so full of spoils that we can’t read the wall color.  Also evident are the sparse populations in these exhibitions.  A few people move out of the way of the camera, a woman moves closer to the glass cases, peering in intently, and a couple passes by us in the opposite direction.  The camera is set to auto-iris, the image darkening and lightening to compensate for the change in exhibition lighting: one room black with dramatically lit cases, another full of a glorious wall of windows.

We bounce through the glass doors of the gift store with the same pace and attention to surroundings and see Native American Art replicas displayed in a disturbingly similar fashion to the actual artifacts. 

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Vivian Joyner: My Mother, Myself

by Nicole Yamagawa 

 “Reality” show competitions typically feature conventionally attractive and intellectually humble contestants vying for The One. Competitors will make spectacles of themselves—compromise comfort to an absurd extreme to serve The One’s happiness, (sometimes literally) jump through hoops to earn The One’s praise.
    It might not be too farfetched to argue that anyone with a mother plays a contestant on their own reality TV show, with Mother being The One that coddles and rewards one day (or episode) and shuns (or “votes off”) the next. While complicated father-son, father-daughter and mother-son relationships exist, the mother-daughter dynamic arguably stands as one of the most difficult and delicate to navigate.
    Is it fair to speculate that women might obsess over their relationships with Mother Dearest because human beings are motivated by fear? Not of the mother, herself, but the fear of failing to live up to her expectations, the fear of losing her compassion or, worse, the fear of becoming her.    Vivian Joyner’s MFA thesis exhibition, My Mother, Myself, attempts to address these complexities.


   

    Joyner’s show takes place in the D300 Gallery at the California Institute of the Arts; the gallery is divided down the middle, the two halves separated by medium—upon entering, five 20 x 24” framed, color archival pigment prints hang horizontally on the right with video work to the left. (There is one black and white 8 x 10” photograph included alongside the videos, but this placement complements the show’s central theme, and will be discussed later on.)
    Let us address the subject of control—ever present in the mother-daughter relationship, and overarching in Joyner’s thesis. In this complex dynamic, control operates in two different ways. For Mommy, control is a mechanism that can help establish Her legacy, a passing on of heritage, and is a means by which Mommy can live vicariously through Her daughter. For Helpless Child, a want to assert control might not directly indicate a want to manipulate the mother, but the daughter’s relationship to Her, ensuring she doesn’t become Her, and the way in which this relationship is perceived by those outside of her—the daughter’s—self. It should be clearly noted that while premeditated assertions of power occur regularly within the mother-daughter dynamic, the artist does not, at any moment suggest a daughter’s want to, per se, “wear the tighter corset.”

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