October 17th through November 14th, 2009
Opening Reception: Saturday, 17th of October, 7:00 - 10:30pm
Featuring works by a diverse mix of American artists including Paul Chatem, The Pizz, Shark Toof, Anthony Ausgang, Sarah Stephens, Stacy Lande, Christine Karas-Gough, Shannon Keller, Brett Manning, Harry Sudman and others, “When Smoking Was Cool” mounts a tongue-in-cheek critique of the American propensity for legislating social behavior. While the exhibition touches on the fanatical obsession with lifestyle reform, which makes taboos of behaviors such as smoking and alcohol consumption, it focuses its broadside on the hidden motives and powerful interests behind the politics of social legislation.
“Control and profit are at the heart of the issue,” said Sam Saghatelian, curator of the exhibition and himself an artist. “No thinking person today would argue against efforts to discourage harmful behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol addiction. Yet what’s glaringly lacking in political discourse is a serious examination of who stands to gain, in terms of power and profit, from various regulatory measures or prohibitions and why.”
Saghatelian said that “When Smoking Was Cool” also broaches the moral ambivalence and hypocrisy of punishing a particular segment of society – e.g., users of tobacco and alcohol products – in the name of public health. He explained: “Shouldn’t we tax golf courses? After all, their maintenance takes up an enormous amount of electricity and water, contributing to the depletion of natural resources and global warming, which in turn impact the health of the public. Or how about taxing the beef industry, whose practices are a top contributor to climate change, not to mention obesity and heart disease? But nobody would dare suggest taxing the powerful beef industry – yet. As for taxing golf courses, the idea would just be dismissed as laughable”.
“Instead, local governments and Washington alike can and do raise taxes on tobacco almost at will, since smokers as a demographic have been so thoroughly vilified that they themselves wouldn’t think of protesting disproportionate taxation. The point is that governments and corporate interests often single out targets for the legislation of social behavior because it’s politically and financially expedient to do so, and not necessarily for the wellbeing of the public as they claim. ‘When Smoking Was Cool’ sheds light on these issues to its hearts’ content, with a lot of humor and irony.”
Zara Zeitountsian, director of Black Maria added that several works in the upcoming exhibition also comment on efforts to regulate or repress sexual behavior. “Bear in mind that many American states had ‘sodomy’ laws up till 2003, when the Supreme Court invalidated them,” Saghatelian said. “While, generally speaking, it would be hard to pass laws regulating sexual behavior in America today, religious groups and others are very much able to perpetuate taboos about sex. ‘When Smoking Was Cool’ critiques such aspects of sexual repression, incidentally hinting that restraints not only don’t work, but in fact may lead to all manner of psychopathic behaviors.”
“When Smoking Was Cool” will remain open until November 14.