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Los Angeles
Kamau Patton
Machine Project
1200 N. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, CA 90026
September 22, 2007 - November 3, 2007

Kamau Patton at Machine Project
by Nancy Lupo

Underlying Kamau Patton’s show at Machine Project is a research project that began perhaps even before Patton identified himself as an artist.  Patton’s early studies in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania led him to obtain an internship in communications research at the White House.  In an office filled with other interns and employees, Patton and his team had the task of finding points of remark that President Clinton could bring up during a speech, if say, he were going to Louisiana or Delaware. 

From the beginning, Patton’s concerns have always been with politics, government and social policy.  After he moved to the Bay Area, he began to ask questions about the aesthetics of authority and how political power was expressed visually.  This line of inquiry led him to look at the different aspects of The Nation of Islam, the Yoruba and Luba people of West and Southeastern Africa respectively, African American cult activity including the Black Hebrew Israelites and the 5 Percent Nation.  As well, he explored the work of a Washington D.C. janitor named James Hampton who, in the 1950’s, created The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly in a poorly lit garage that he rented specifically for the purpose of creating this piece. 

Of this rigor and research Patton created several performances that are projected on the walls of Machine Project along with excerpts from other videos from YouTube and BCAT Public Access.  One of the videos is entitled, The Mathematic and Magic Manipulation of Destiny; another is called, Shield of Wisdom; and another, The Second Coming.  In Patton’s own take on a Public Access-type show entitled, Talk Show, he plays both characters.  They seem to be members of a Nation of Islam splinter group even though they look a bit like Caribbean rappers.  In the video, the pair is focused on light, energy, weather predicting and the apocalypse.  Repeatedly during their teachings, the number 1-800-516-1047 appears on screen.  If one were indeed to call up the number they would hear a recording say, “Behold, the light has come!  Speak on!” at which point one could leave a message or give any further commentary on the issue.  Another of Patton’s performances involves a crackling explosion that he squirrels and hovers around playing a kind of shaman character.  At times the explosion is so intense that it shorts out the video signal altogether.  Whether or not video fragmentation is in fact a result of the intense light and noise happening during the recording, it reads as cosmic affirmation coming from the direction in which the ritual is directed.   In Throne Portal, Patton inserts himself into James Hampton’s Throne while similar explosions occur around him as the frame shifts, folds and transforms.  In Arc Degree, four masked figures sit holding a different symbolic object as fireworks and sparklers shoot out from behind where they are sitting, again affecting the quality of the image.

In the back room at Machine Project, Patton has set up a kind of reading room replete with a matching Ikea table and chair.  Here you can sit and review a book of documents that pertain to various aspects of the show.  In it you will find the record of James Hampton’s as yet undeciphered script that he used while he was constructing his throne.   There is also an essay about the throne by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan who researched the piece for a 1976 exhibition of Hampton’s work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The table, which is set against a chroma key blue wall and lit with blinding construction lights, gives you a sense of the world that Patton is alluding to where the digital interruptions in his videos are in fact portals into another cosmic dimension. 

It is true that Patton’s world is dense, there are many and various reference points and associations; things are cryptic and others are left to chance.  What is also remarkably true is that the world remains penetrable and even welcoming because of the kookiness of its characters and the ancient symmetry of its formal compositions.  What is at first absurd and humorous, becomes understood as a sign of the times, and finally as something timeless and universal - the need for something to believe in and account for things that are not rationally explicable.  Kamau Patton’s apocalyptic premonition is a world that is essentially cool (as in laid back), flashy and glittery, all of which, according to preeminent African art scholar Robert Farris Thompson (another of Patton's references), have been essential aspects in traditional African art throughout history. 

Images, from top to bottom:  Kamau Patton,  Kamau Patton, September 22 - November 3, 2007; Machine Project, Photo by Scott Mayoral, Courtesy of Machine Project.  Kamau Patton,  Kamau Patton, September 22 - November 3, 2007; Machine Project, Photo by Scott Mayoral, Courtesy of Machine Project.  Kamau Patton,  Kamau Patton, September 22 - November 3, 2007; Machine Project, Photo by Scott Mayoral, Courtesy of Machine Project.)

Posted by Nancy Lupo on 10/13/07

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