Re:Creation - Serious Play with Canonical Art
"We do not say of someone who repeats a sentence out loud that he or she is a consumer of that sentence."
Mark Poster. Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. 244.
"Everywhere there are starting points and turning points from which we learn new things, if we first dismiss the presupposition of distance, second the distribution of the roles, and third the borders between territories."
Jacques Ranciere. "The Emancipated Spectator." Artforum. XLV.7 (March 2007): 279.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy."
Maria Edgeworth. Harry and Lucy, Concluded. II. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee & Co, 1861. 155.
The Cerritos College Art Gallery has transformed itself into a seriously playful replica of the archival repositories and exhibitionary complexes that have traditionally dominated art historical discourses of canonical inclusion and organization; i.e. museums. Each of the works displayed on the stage of this simulated museum performatively recreate milestones from the partisan canon(s) of art history, but present them with/in divergent materials and/or interdisciplinary conceptual frameworks. Paradoxically productive and reproductive, choosing modderism over (post-)modernism, these call and response creations simulate in order to innovate.
Positioning themselves as emancipated spectators, open-source hackers, and authors of art historical fan fiction, the artists in the show are themselves loose can(n)ons: agit-pop marketeers, semantic tricksters, trompe l'oeil magicians, and conceptual deejays. Not content to interpret canonical source works as things-in-themselves, the artists instead recreationally interrogate the networks of identity and influence through which they circulate, (trans)forming inherited works into platforms to deal with divergent, though relational, concerns - variously personal, disciplinary, and/or political.
And they are not alone, since THEY are US. The narrative pathways through the art historical archive, if there ever was such an all-encompassing phenomenon, is now forever intertwined with the networked digital archive that has become both global contact zone and autotopographic prosthetic. In such a dynamically inscriptive environment, shared semiotic meanings don't just accidentally slip; they purposefully take flight, with each inscription functioning as inspirational code for the next and augmentative modifier of the last (though such a metaphor is almost certainly too simplistic in its causal teleology). After all, any single connection can become a clinamen, a swerve away, that both does and undoes, that makes and unmakes, meaning.
For the works included in this exhibition, repetition becomes the base - the ground, the latent code - in order to foreground difference, to surface, not the derivation, but the deviation. So, when Mexico-based artist Yoshua Okón films himself (re)performing Joseph Beuys' iconic I Like America and America Likes Me, but replaces the mythic animal, hiring a coyote (people smuggler) to take its place, he plays with Beuys' commentary on the military-industrial complex, expanding its parameters to include capitalist exploitation of labor. Similar issues of (in)visible trafficking are at a play in Okón's collaborative installation with fellow Mexico-based artist, Artemio, in which the famous Nasca lines in Peru are transformed into lines of cocaine.
Opening up a space for new readings through linguistic slippage is also a strategy pursued by LA-based Juan Capistran, who, in a seemingly incongruous juxtaposition meant to highlight issues of masculine performativity, recreates the minimalist sculptures of Richard Serra, known for working with lead, out of old-LPs by the heavy-metal band Led Zeppelin. SF-based Ray Beldner also navigates around linguistic linkages, if indirectly, when he produces a version of Constantin Brancusi's Bird in Space out of sewn US-currency. This artwork literally made out of money, called Capital Flight, could be seen as a joyous critique of the art economy, or perhaps just the capitalist economic system in general. Disciplinary excavation, however, does seems to be a common trope, though each artist develops their own archeological tactic.
LA-based artist Rachel Lachowicz questions assumptions about art historical patrimony, effectively using Francis Picabia's Ici, c'est Stieglitz ici as a blueprint for her own three-dimensional camera-assemblage, which in turn chastises futurist fetishization of the new. The gravitational pull of canonical interpretation inspires Connecticut-based Ward Shelley to push back, adding his own contextual amendments to a flow-chart originally created by the powerful modern art curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. to explain/justify the evolution towards abstraction. The sound-installation of the Berkeley-based collective ARCHIVE (Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh), pushes in a different direction. As part of a series called Art After Death, ARCHIVE recorded numerous mediums channeling the spirit of artist Yves Klein, each purporting to speak for the long-dead artist, even when they subtly contradict each other.
The problematic negotiation of self-interest and, supposedly, disinterested interpretation leads some artists to implicitly append personal narratives to inherited works through the process of recreation. Long Beach--based Carrie Yury, for example, pays homage to feminist body artists like Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke in a series of sketchy drawings, adding animal masks to the women as a referent to her own traumatic experience of stage fright during a similarly exhibitionary performance. Where Yury adds layers, LA-based Dana Maiden takes them away, editing our expectations. Inspired by Ed Ruscha's All of the Buildings on the Sunset Strip, Maiden creates a photo-diorama of the less-auspicious Burbank Blvd, treating the building facades like a personal playlist, selecting only the ones that most interest her.
Brazilian-born, NY-based, Vik Muniz's approach is equally cannibalistic. Seen through the lens of the mid-20th century Brazilian Anthropophia movement, Muniz's early obsession with recreating canonical "Western" artworks out of food materials, with its allusion to consumption/digestion, makes a lot of sense. The use of trash and left over paper, effectively recycled, functions in much the same fashion. LA-based Ben White's rendition of Francisco Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children seems to go farther, suggesting historical memory is always cannibalistic and repurposed. In White's painting, the horribly tragic death of Christa McAuliffe, the would-be Teacher-in-Space, dominates/devours our collective memories of the Challenger disaster.
Utah-based Jay Merryweather latches onto an equally catastrophic event, pre-filtered through work of French Romantic painter Theodore Gericault, in his tongue-in-cheek installation, brilliantly-titled OFf Course, which imagines The Raft of the Medusa as a Disneyland spectacle. Not surprisingly the fib-obsessed Pinocchio plays the biggest role. NY-based Ron English is perhaps less troubled by the simulacrum of history, playing games of free association with Pablo Picasso's Guernica (also based on human tragedy), Alexander Gardner's portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and Andy Warhol's Marilyn. Here it is clear, making connections, however tenuous, is always an act of re:creation.
- James MacDevitt, Director/Curator