Posted by Michelle Y. Hyun on 7/11/09
mixed-media, installation, video-art, performance, conceptual, realism, photography, digital, surrealism
2111 Mission St, Suite 401, San Francisco, CA 94110
June 5, 2009 - July 18, 2009
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for I am the great and powerful OZ!” yelled the wizard in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The Great Oz or the man behind the curtain turns out to be a humbug – a hoax or a jest, or as Dorothy says, “a very bad man,” in the classic movie. Curated by Mission 17 assistant director and curator, Laura Mott, the works in The Man Behind the Curtain traverse the liminal space in between truth and deceit, commerce and theft, as well as public and private, showing all of these to be fake dichotomies.
Greeted by white letters against a teal blue wall and matching vinyl banners announcing “EU Green Card Lottery / Registration Office / San Francisco / Register Today!” in the receiving room of Mission 17, the visitor is invited to do just that – register online at this kiosk computer for a chance to win EU citizenship. Winners will also receive an unknown FREE gift from Paris based artist collective, Socièté Réaliste. The EU Green Card Lottery (http://www.green-card-lottery-eu.or...) comments on the business of immigration. The project comprises not only a simulated “parasite” website, but also a promotional campaign (now in four cities around the world) and physical installations, as seen in the reception room of Mission 17. These “parasite” websites are created to deceive migrant workers applying for the U.S. Green Card Lottery system and charging them a fee for a service, which would otherwise be free. The EU Green Card Lottery website shares a commercial likeness to these parasite websites, which also usurp the “official” aesthetic of government websites through certain fonts, Flash banners, and navigation menus that we, as the Internet savvy, have all become familiar with and accepted as an aesthetic/style of legitimacy. Nevertheless, participants in the physical installation may hesitate to type in their actual e-mail address or birth date. Though life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness sound ideal, I registered in hopes of receiving a free gift.
In the first room of the gallery, a project by artist collaborative Goldin+Senneby (Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby) is confusing at first - an amalgamation of performance art, books based on books, a documentary filmed in three parts, fictive characters and an ongoing narrative. G+S employed filmmakers Kate Cooper and Richard John Jones to document their investigation into an offshore company named Headless Ltd., as well as an investigation into an offshore companies administrator and amateur novelist, K.D., writing about the artists’ pursuit. In a not-so-bizarre coincidence, Looking for Headless chronicles the investigation by G+S and collaborates further with murder mystery writer John Barlow in speculation about the potential connections between Headless Ltd. and a secret society started by Georges Bataille over 70 years ago. Their discoveries include visits to Nassau, where the company is registered, the Swiss office of the Sovereign Group, an umbrella administrator for offshore entities, as well as interviews with human geographer Angus Cameron and footage of a Sao Paolo Biennale panel discussion led by a K.D. impersonator. Behind the viewer watching the documentary, the unfinished and ongoing novel by K.D., Looking for Headless, sits on a shelf with no other information. The multitudinous concepts, such as authorship, virtuality, vacuity, various social theory and public vs. private spaces, will race by the viewer in under 30 minutes, leaving him or her anxiously waiting for the next installment. We are left to wonder “until next time” whether any of this is real or whether it is art made to look real – or art of the unreal, as all the works in this show purport to be.
Now highly skeptical, but thoroughly curious, the visitor is tasked to ascertain the untruth in a project by San Francisco-based artist Seth Lower. In the back room, an installation of documents, photos, and objects from his trip to Burnett County, Texas to investigate the fraudulent death of Clayton Wayne Daniels feels like an evidence/exhibit storage for a courtroom, as much as an art exhibition. A video monitor plays footage of the local area surrounding Daniels’ life, the “scene of the crime”, as well as interviews with the Texas Highway Patrol and those who came into contact with Daniels or his new identity as Jacob Alexander Gregg. Viewers are invited to draw their own conclusions from a three-inch thick binder full of courtroom transcripts, directory listings of plastic surgeons in Mexico, personal letters, a resume, and a social security card application. However, a page-by-page examination of this compendium only leads to more questions. In the middle of the room, a rectangular glass vitrine holds what appears to be evidence from the car crash that killed Daniels - charred and oxidized remains of the Chevy Cavalier, molten metal fused with rock, and a piece of tire rubber. Exhibit A, B, and C are rounded out by a wall displaying an obituary, a love letter from “Jake”, a forged birth certificate, and photos of the various sites involved in the case. While fetishizing the documentation, Lower also causes us to further question the veracity of these objects, papers, video, and photographs.
There are artists who seek out truths, and then there are artists who seek out deceptions, as well as those fascinated by the space in between. Both employ illusionism; both fulfill the historic and sacred role of the artist as investigator. The Man Behind the Curtain, and the artworks within it, stands out among other shows in San Francisco as one of few with little concern for formalism, naïve or masterful figuration or abstraction, but considers commercial, documental, and investigatory aesthetics as a mode of presentation. Yet, all the works retain a “fictional”, even mischievous sine qua non. Notions of authorship, identity in the public and private space, and virtuality brought to mind by this presentation of investigations reverse the role of the examiner and the examined.
- Michelle Y. Hyun
Images, from top to bottom:
Société Réaliste, The San Francisco EU Green Card Lottery Registration Office, installation view at MISSION 17
Société Réaliste, The EU Green Card Lottery website, screenshot, www.green-card-lottery-eu.org.
Goldin+Senneby with Kate Cooper and Richard John Jones (filmakers), Looking for Headless, three-part documentary commissioned by IASPIS and The Power Plant, video still
Goldin+Senneby with K.D. (fictional author) and Johan Hjerpe (designer), Looking for Headless, novel
Seth Lower, Mimesis is Not Adaptive Behavior, collection of video stills, 22 minutes
Seth Lower, installation view of documentation and car parts from crash site
All photos courtesy of the artists and Mission 17.