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Two Weeks/Two Works: Grier Edmundson

Fourteen30 Contemporary

 

By Daniel J Glendening

The final episode of Fourteen30 Contemporary’s four-exhibition series, Two Weeks/Two Works, features the work of Grier Edmundson: an oil on canvas diptych, “Hans Blix and Pink Mittens,” from 2006, hung on a wall papered with screen printed newsprint, “Optimum Expansion (After Iain and Ingrid).” “Hans Blix and Pink Mittens” is just that: two paintings, one 48″ x 48″ depicting a pair of nearly red gloves on a white ground, hands crossed at the wrist right over left, the other a small 10.5″ x 7.5″ portrait of an aging man, presumably the titular Hans Blix, a Swedish politician. Both works evidence sketchy, rough brushwork which leaves the bulk of the canvas un-painted, but that focuses in on some detail: the rim of Hans’ glasses, or the line of his nose. The question of the significance of Blix as a subject is ultimately left unclear—he is a diplomat and politician, who has worked over the course of his life for responsible atomic energy and in 2003 served as a monitor of Iraqi nuclear technologies for the United Nations. This put him, ultimately, at odds with the US and British Governments, who he claimed were greatly exaggerating the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iraq. “Optimum Expansion (After Iain and Ingrid)” is titled (I think, after some cursory research) after Iain and Ingrid Baxter, founders of the 1967-78 Canadian art collective N.E. Thing; visually, the work is kaleidoscopic: an image of branching trees cropped into a diamond and repeated ad infinitum over the surface of the wall, the paper buckling here and there, the seams not quite aligned.

“Two Weeks/Two Works: Grier Edmundson” Exhibition view. Photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

“Two Weeks/Two Works: Grier Edmundson” Exhibition view. Photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

All of these little clues—one would expect them to add up to something, maybe, but they don’t—or, at least, whatever that thing is remains invisible. An unfinished painting isn’t really unfinished; it simply wants the viewer to think about unfinishedness. And a wallpaper of screen-prints on newsprint isn’t really wallpaper; it just wants the viewer to consider the possibility of wallpaper, of wallpaperness. People talk about provisional painting—painting that tosses aside craft and quote-unquote talent in favor of something rougher, cruder or less quote-unquote finished. If there is a provisional painting, and a painting is a body, is there a provisional body: a body that is half-formed or that exists in the interstices, that takes on a split or fragmented life across varied surfaces and spaces? The suggestion of a body and a space is enough to bring that body and space fully formed into the world—it’s an idea inscribed on its self. I’d say we’re all provisional bodies: we’re all forming and reforming all of the time as we experience new stimuli, as our cells age and reform, as we spread personae out over varied social and professional groups, web profiles and identities. We’re all becoming, all of the time.

Google Image Search 2013-4-11 5:31:07 PM: "provisional painting"

Google Image Search 2013-4-11 5:31:07 PM: “provisional painting”

Google Image Search, 2013-04-11, 5:33:45 PM: "provisional body"

Google Image Search, 2013-04-11, 5:33:45 PM: “provisional body”

 

Two Weeks/Two Works: Andrea Longacre-White

Fourteen30 Contemporary

 

By Daniel J Glendening

The third installment of Fourteen30’s Two Weeks/Two Works all but eliminates the loose hand and physical body of previous installments in favor of the digital. Andrea Longacre-White‘s pairing features “8/127″—a sculptural scatter-art nod composed of what appear to be several plaster casts of Apple iPads and pieces of silver Aluma-foil cut in the shape of iPad screens—and the framed digital print “Pad Scan (gallery cinder block wall)”—an abstracted image of a scan of an iPad while said device displays a photographic image. There’s something funereal to the work, and to the relationship between the pieces—something in the vein of ashes to ashes, etc to etc. The plaster and Aluma-foil work a sort of carcass—a scattering of bones, the plaster forms just barely recognizable as something we know, something that is, or was, an early step towards a cyborgian world. “Pad Scan” serves, then, as a pixilated placard, a designation of what was and what now lies at our feet, trod upon. This is the eye looking in upon itself, showing us something we can’t quite recognize.

There’s a feedback loop built into the relationship between the pieces, one leads to the other leads to the other. We have so many screens we don’t know where to look, and we scan the horizons with an electronic eye. Does it imply something that with this installment we’ve not only shed the body of the flesh—the muscle and blood of Ruiz, the dirt and sweat of Hutchins—and traded it for screens and self-referential digital eyes, but that we’ve also shed color? Grey and white and black and silver: everything reflecting or drawing in. Is Apple a new brutalism? A design aesthetic of oppression, forcing its silhouettes into human consciousness and lodging there? It’s ubiquitous: the round-cornered rectangle, the screen a prosthetic enabling fingertips to reach into the digital world. These scattered casts and surfaces are our bodies, our flesh, our bones.

"Two Weeks/Two Works: Andrea Longacre-White" Exhibition view. Photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

“Two Weeks/Two Works: Andrea Longacre-White” Exhibition view. Photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

Two Weeks/Two Works: Jessica Jackson Hutchins

Fourteen30 Contemporary

 

By Daniel J Glendening

The second installment of Fourteen30’s Two Weeks/Two Works series features “Cursive,” 2012, and “Daily Sickness,” 1999, from Jessica Jackson Hutchins. “Cursive” is a 63″ x 49″ work composed of burlap, the stretched brown surface mottled and stained with blue-green pigment and streaks of deep umber. Woven through the burlap in primarily horizontal bands are five strips of cloth in various colors, some of which retain markers of their previous form as clothing: a sleeve hem in a brown and white floral pattern; a pink, white and green strip of child’s swimming suit. Across the bottom is a band of synthetic ivy leaves and vines, a creeping plastic rhizome. There’s something to “Cursive” that offers a shifting perspective: one moment a landscape, the ivy and brown toned cloth offering up a horizon line as cloth-clouds populate a blue tinged sky, then a perspective from above, torn and lost garments strewn across a dirty ground, and, in both, an implied yet not fully formed body. There is an absence, a lack, the figure/ground equation left off balance and unfulfilled, and something or someone is missing or, perhaps as implied by the work’s title, running.

The counterpart to “Cursive” here is “Daily Sickness“, a 9″ x 12″ collaged work on paper: a small thumbnail-sized smear of yellow ochre oil paint bleeds out, forming an arc of golden halo, into a small white piece of paper taped to a yellowing sketchbook page. Here there is a malady of mind or body that is as sure as the rising sun: a ritual of age, a ritual of struggle. Between the completion of “Daily Sickness” and “Cursive” is a span of thirteen years, the former dated 1999: precursor to the new millennium, the anxieties of social media, and the ubiquitous conversation about the speed of change. This is, perhaps, not a rising sun but a setting sun, a shedding of old habits and doubts in hopes of something new. The implied body becomes a temporal body: rather than the body of sweat and fluid and mass present in Ruiz’ installment we have here a body unbound, shedding—moving through time unfettered, running.

 

"Two Weeks/Two Works: Jessica Jackson Hutchins" Exhibition view, photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

“Two Weeks/Two Works: Jessica Jackson Hutchins” Exhibition view, photo courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

Considering the Ethics of Lateral-Appropriation in Regards to the Ongoing Debate, in Some Circles, of the Quasi-Case of Bajagic vs. Novitskova

by Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, January 2013

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
– T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, 1921

Image

Screen grab by Darja Bajagic, posted September 2011 to Tumblr

Every artist who is under the age of forty that I know of, or know personally, appropriates quite regularly in their practice. It’s a result of myriad factors, perhaps the most obvious of which is the ubiquity of the internet as a matter-of-fact aspect of our everyday lives. I, too, regularly appropriate images, video, and sound elements from popular culture into my own work and rarely think twice about the larger implications of these actions. When an idea or image reaches a certain level of public visibility or cultural presence, it is, in my opinion, open for fair use. Perhaps what gives me peace in regards to this is that I feel that the action of appropriation is evident in my second-usage; nobody is likely to assume that I’m claiming that I shot footage of dozens of infants learning to swim, or that I am the composer who created the ludicrous “duhn, duhn” sound from Law & Order.

Appropriation is generally deemed ethical when the original work is transformed in some capacity. There’s much debate about what constitutes transformation, exactly, but I’ve always considered that recontextualization itself is tantamount to transformation. At the heart of recontextualization is an understanding of the original context from which an image or idea comes, and an intentional change of context by the artist. It’s fair to say that even the smallest change can give something an entirely different meaning, and much of the history of contemporary art is hinged on artists doing just that. The digital realm is a seemingly limitless expanse of fodder for future appropriations, and many of us comb it regularly in the pursuit of things to sample, remix, rework, and ultimately recontextualize. The assumption though, that whatever is online is fair game, does, in some instances, create problematic situations.

Image

Separate installations by Bajagic (L) and Novitskova (R)

One such situation arose recently when Estonian-born, Netherlands- and Berlin-based visual artist Katja Novitskova appropriated an image from Montenegrin-born, United States-based visual artist Darja Bajagic and exhibited the work in an exhibition, MACRO EXPANSION, at Kraupa-Tuskany in Berlin in November of 2012. The image used was not originally credited to Bajagic in the context of Novitskova’s exhibition, causing a tension between the two artists and raising some germane questions about the way that we as visual artists reemploy imagery and ideas. For context, it is relevant to note that Novitskova encountered the image in the feed of her Tumblr dashboard–the interface of the social networking micro-blogging site on which the aggregated content of a user’s followed blogs appears.

Image

Installation view of Katja Novitskova’s exhibition MACRO EXPANSION at Kraupa-Tuskany in late 2012, the screen grab in question is visible in the center of the space

In their own individual practices, Bajagic and Novitskova appropriate often, though the sources are, most often, corporate imagery or National Geographic photography, respectively. Bajagic’s work is rooted in painting and utilizes stock photos of women from advertisements or similar sources, and she regularly posts constructed screen grabs to her Tumblr blog as works in their own right. Novitskova’s work is more overtly comical and sculptural, explicitly appropriating colorful images of animals and sportswear, and repurposing physical commercial objects. Each of the artists owes much to the history of appropriation in the visual arts. What is unusual about the act of appropriation in question is that the content was not borrowed from someone “remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” Rather, Novitskova borrowed directly from a peer without explicit permission. This requires that we address the ethics of such an action, though I’m cautious about labeling Novitskova’s deed as right or wrong–those terms lack the nuance to address the paradoxes present here–Novitskova argues that she didn’t even know she was appropriating Bajagic.

Surely readers have heard the misquotation, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” often attributed to Pablo Picasso. Maybe Picasso said that at some point, who knows? Washington, DC-based attorney Nancy Prager, in a post on her blog from May of 2007, does an excellent job of elucidating the history of this often “bastardized” (her words) motto. She found that the origin of the quote, itself another misquotation, is commonly attributed to T.S. Eliot as, “Good poets borrow, great poets steal.”

It is, though inaccurate, a lovely sentiment, as it would afford us as visual artists or producers of culture carte blanche to borrow, steal or reuse anything we find as we see fit. However, the quote itself is grossly-simplified and removed from its original context: a critical piece of writing by Eliot about playwright Philip Massinger. As Prager points out in her blog post, Eliot is referring to the fact that Massinger borrowed too liberally from Shakespeare, another playwright with whom he overlapped in time. It’s not that one can’t borrow from a generational peer, of course they can do that. What might make the act more ethically sound is simply asking another artist if they mind being appropriated. The worst that they can do is say no, at which point the appropriator has a choice to make. Regardless of whether or not one is granted permission, one has acknowledged the point of origin of the image or idea in question, and will not later appear to have acted naively or without due research.

Image

Darja Bajagic, USPS Mailing Carton, 2012. Mixed media.

One thing I believe most younger artists agree upon is that when we appropriate something, we’re doing so in an attempt to further explore its significance in the social or cultural sphere. In his essay, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” originally published in 2007 in Harper’s, novelist Jonathan Lethem uses dozens of appropriations from original sources to craft a convincing argument for the merits of second-use. This cut-and-paste method nods to William S. Burroughs, Bob Dylan and countless others who freely reworked the original content of others into their own practices. It’s difficult to figure out exactly how to attribute parts of the essay to Lethem since so much of it has existed in other contexts previously, but that’s obviously the point.

Nonetheless, in the interest of simplicity, I’ll simply relay that in a section titled “THE BEAUTY OF SECOND USE,” Lethem argues that appropriated works have been paid a type of tribute through repurposing. Further, he states, “Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.” Having read through and taught this essay numerous times, it’s my understanding, through consultation with his citations in the endnotes, that this particular passage is actually Lethem’s own. I certainly agree with him to an extent. Where it is a bit murkier is when the appropriated artist isn’t recognized or referenced in the appropriation. I’ll argue that in cases like this, it’s not “second use” that we’re talking about, it’s closer to actual theft.

FB Post Dec 11, 2012

On December 11th, 2012, Bajagic, whom I am connected to on Facebook, posted a series of links and the status update: “Katja Novitskova [tagged] prints my image (a work from September of 2011) for her most recent show and calls it her own…”

The links included a review on Berlin Art Link’s website by Melissa King of Novitskova’s solo exhibition “MACRO EXPANSION” at Kraupa-Tuskany, and a link to a post on Bajagic’s Tumblr from September of 2011. The image in the Tumblr post is a screen grab of a drawing by Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506) that shows cropping and zooming tools generally found on image databases or museum archive websites. For her exhibition, Novitskova printed this digital image and mounted it on wood panel as a discrete object titled “Geometria MMXII.”

Side by Side

Bajagic’s screen grab (L) and Novitskova’s mounted version (R)

Two months prior, on October 12th, 2012, Novitskova had sent Bajagic a Facebook message inquiring about the Tumblr post. The message read:

Hei Darja,
i once liked this Tumblr post you did http://dbajagic.tumblr.com/post/10523317556
i really like this image, and would love to know what is the original old image and where you found it or took it from..
thanks a lot in advance!
x
k

Several weeks later, on November 3rd, 2012, Bajagic replied:

hey katja! sorry for the delay i have a bad habit of reading messages and then delaying reply… it is an old tarot card of “geometry”… i looked through my favorites to see if i can find the original site but i can’t… but i know for sure it is an old tarot card of “geometry”… i think it is italian… i hope this helps! x

Katja install 2

Alternate view of Novitskova’s MACRO EXPANSION exhibition

Novitskova’s exhibition opened on November 17th, 2012 and upon the posting of the Berlin Art Link review on December 10th, 2012, Bajagic saw that the screen grab she had generated and posted to her Tumblr had been printed, mounted, and included in the exhibition. The original posting of the review, which includes an image of the piece mounted on the wall, did not list Bajagic as an author or contributor to the piece. However, it should be noted that the writer of the review, Melissa King, is not a personal acquaintance of either Novitskova or Bajagic, and that the review itself was developed independently of either party’s input.

It is my understanding that Bajagic then posted the previously referenced Facebook status update, as well as a similarly worded post on her Tumblr. Numerous comments were posted to the status update over the course of the next twenty-four hours from Facebook users on both sides of the argument, including several comments from Novitskova herself providing links to the sources of other appropriated images she’d employed in the same exhibition. Bajagic and Novitskova then participated in a lengthy discussion via email with Nick Scholl, an editor at DIS Magazine, as he attempted to mediate a conversation about the logical next steps to take. There hasn’t been a post to DIS as of yet in regards to this, and Scholl has not yet replied to a request to offer his thoughts for this writing.

Both Novitskova and Bajagic have been gracious and forthcoming in my requests to each of them for their perspective in regards to the screen grab in question. It is a testament to both’s enthusiasm for rigorous dialogue about concerns of authorship in twenty-first century contemporary art, especially as authorship is complicated by the internet. What’s admittedly difficult for me to ascertain is where Novitskova’s action falls on a scale of ethics.

An example of Novitskova's other appropriation-based works, Free Market from 2012

An example of Novitskova’s other appropriation-based works, Free Market from 2012

According to Bajagic, she views dbjagic.tumblr.com as a second website that archives her practice. Many artists utilize several different Tumblrs for different reasons. One might be, for example, exclusively reserved for their own works while another is used to reblog images that cycle through their own dashboard that they find funny or amusing. It’s true that some fuse both into a singular blog, but a little time spent looking can usually give a viewer a sense of what type of format the artist is employing. Scrolling through dbajagic.tumblr.com, it seems to me to be very evident that the majority of the works presented are authored by Bajagic, or are in some way related to an exhibition she is in or a commission that she has done.

That Bajagic’s Tumblr is specific to works of her own authorship isn’t in question. What is in question is how far Novitskova looked into the site before deciding that the screen grab posted in September of 2011 was openly available for her own use. I can’t in good faith make a claim one way or the other, but it is interesting that Novitskova contacted Bajagic inquiring after the specifics of the screen grab’s origins. Does that imply that she did, in fact, recognize Bajagic as the author of the image? Bajagic thinks so.

An example of another screen grab work by Bajagic

An example of another screen grab work by Bajagic

What further complicates the ethics of Novitskova’s action is the language used in their Facebook correspondences. Bajagic’s response to Novitskova’s inquiry, included above, doesn’t explicitly state that she views the screen grab as a work of her own authorship, or that she actually produced the screen grab herself. But one can reasonably assume that Novitskova, who follows Bajagic on Tumblr and who was her Facebook friend, has been exposed to Bajagic’s aesthetic and process in the past. Bajagic believes that Novitskova’s inquiry itself implied that she knew Bajagic considered it to be a work she’d authored, as she states in a Facebook message to Novitskova on December 11th, 2012:

And to clarify, you asked me about the *origins* of that image, and where the screenshot was taken. It was implied that the screenshot is mine, and I didn’t feel that that needed clarification. I’ve exhibited it before, on top of everything.

Novitskova responded:

Hei Darja, sorry about that really. I havent checked your website in full. So i really saw it as just a found image. I would never use it if I knew it’s your piece. It really never crossed my mind. I think the lightness in the situation comes from the fact that this is a a very interesting problem in term of art. All images in my show have initial ‘authors’

The trouble here is that there is no way to validate either perspective. I don’t necessarily see in Novitskova’s original message inquiring after the source of the image a clear indication that she understood it to be a work by Bajagic. On the flip side, it’s troublesome to see Novitskova claim that she hadn’t checked Bajagic’s website in full. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not our responsibility as peers to comb carefully through each other’s websites in the interest of making sure that we don’t repeat unintentionally–that would be ludicrous. But when an artist has a clear understanding that an image was posted by another artist, it seems like a few extra clicks in the interest of investigating the context of the image would be a little more diligent, research-wise.

A) How much energy should an artist using appropriation put into understanding the context of their source material?

B) When and how is lateral-appropriation ethical?

Regarding the former, it seems to me that the employment of appropriated imagery is legitimately a critical artistic practice when the appropriator understands the implications of the original context of an image or idea. Randomly cutting-and-pasting images is certainly fun in its youthful ambivalence and anarchical exuberance, but it does raise a question regarding what exactly the artist is communicating about the borrowed imagery. Naturally, one could argue that the very non sequitur mindset of this approach is itself an active critique of a culture of spectacle where visual stimulation has become akin to white noise, but that seems like such an obvious and sophomoric foundation for making art. Of course there are too many random, meaningless images in the world and online. Nobody needs to tell anybody that.

The point here isn’t that one’s art making can’t be intuitive or even enjoyable. There’s an undeniable magic in that, and I fully support an artist trusting their instinct when it comes to formal or procedural choices when they’re making work. But when it comes to selecting pre-existing imagery, at the risk of sounding conservative, I firmly believe that an artist needs to have thoughtfully considered the various ways in which an audience is going to read that image, and at least have the capacity, when asked, to communicate accurately the context from which the image comes.

Samples from Mantegna's original Tarot series

Samples from Mantegna’s original Tarot series

I don’t think that Novitskova was attempting to be deceptive or underhanded in her employment of Bajagic’s screen grab. She did look into it enough to deduce that the original drawing was by Mantenga, but it’s unfortunate that, according to her, she didn’t take a few additional minutes to explore Bajagic’s website or Tumblr to ascertain that this was an intentionally framed and captured work of art that was intended, as Bajagic stated to me, to be “autonomous.” And as stated previously, it is unlikely that Novitskova was unfamiliar with Bajagic’s methods due to their connections via social media and her documented contact inquiring after the source of the image. It is not, in my opinion, tantamount to overt theft, per se, but it is the result of a lackadaisical process of research.

Now, in consideration of the second question, when and how lateral-appropriation is ethical, the answers are not cut and dry. When I describe appropriation as being lateral, I’m referring to the act of borrowing from a peer or contemporary who is essentially an equal–counter to borrowing from “authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” The problem with lateral-appropriation is that it risks foregoing a critical engagement with an original image or idea. Because the appropriation may not be understood by an audience as such, it lacks the second use value of promoting further discourse.

This is why the appropriation of Bajagic’s screen grab, whether intentional or not, is ultimately damaging to her rights as the author of the image. Novitskova and Bajagic are, more or less, generational art peers. They are close in age and possess circles of acquaintances that overlap quite regularly. Their works are viewed digitally via identical platforms. We could argue over which is presently enjoying more international exposure, and it is likely that Novitskova would be considered by most to have more public visibility. But we can’t predict where either will be in five years’ time, and despite Novitskova’s practice being better known in a relatively objective sense, they’re of the same context. So what is at risk when borrowing from a peer artist is that their ownership over an idea or image will be negated simply by it having been presented by another artist in a broader fashion before they had the chance to do so.

evans levine

Sherrie Levine (L) and Walker Evans (R)

Most readers will be familiar with Sherrie Levine’s appropriation project in which she re-photographed works from Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men for her exhibition After Walker Evans in 1980 at Metro Pictures. In this situation there existed a cultural power imbalance between the two artists, both generational and in terms of gender, that renders Levine’s appropriations a critical engagement with the originals. The act of the appropriation itself was political and is the location of the art in the process; the photographs exhibited by Levine are simply documents archiving this action. And, unarguably, credit was given where credit was due. Despite the cheekiness of the title and the satire inherent in Levine’s execution, Evans’ works retain their authority as products of their creator. Referring back to the Lethem essay, one of his main points in discussing the cultural value of second use is that a thoughtful and culturally relevant appropriation leaves the original intact. It can be a satire or even a mockery of an existing image or idea, but second use doesn’t delete origin.

An issue with lateral-appropriation besides the risk of the originator of an image losing credit is also that it places them in an awkward scenario in which they must make a request to the appropriator to receive said credit. This is an unfortunate position as it then creates a substantial power imbalance between two individuals who previously were peers. Regardless of Novitskova’s intentions in printing and mounting the screen grab, when that work came to the attention of Bajagic, she was understandably angered and felt slighted. The imbalance here is that Bajagic is now required to provide documentation and proof that she is the author of something that she did indeed produce, at the risk of appearing petty or jealous. That power imbalance, tipped in Novitskova’s favor, doesn’t have anything to do with rigorous critique like Levine’s practice. It’s simply an unfair outcome of casual image-grabbing.

The Jogging Darja Print

The Bajagic vs Novitskova case received a humorous satire treatment courtesy of visual artist Joshua Citarella on The Jogging, a popular Tumblr that features works with shared aesthetic sensibilities; click through to see the original post on The Jogging

In placing the debate in a public forum such as Facebook, Bajagic took a gamble. The ensuing conversation, and outcome, could have gone either way. Mutual acquaintances between Bajagic and Novitskova, digital or corporeal in terms of the nature of those relationships, were required to take a side, if they chose to participate in public dialogue. This understandably created apprehension on the part of those individuals, regardless of their opinion. The resultant toxic atmosphere of swearing allegiances acts as a deterrent to the appropriated to make a statement in their own favor in the first place.

Sticking up for oneself in a scenario like this is not a simple action. One must weigh the value of being recognized as the author of an image against the potential fallout from their peer community who might not take their side for a variety of reasons. Further, when the intention of the appropriator is still unclear and could hypothetically have been, for lack of a better term, innocent, there is much at stake for the emerging artist who’s been appropriated. Younger artists depend greatly on their networks of peers as a support system–they provide opportunities for exposure, further networking, and, most importantly, they act as critics. There exists a natural drive to share what we produce with as wide an audience as possible, and tools like Facebook, Tumblr, Vimeo and others can be wonderfully useful in reaching new viewers. However, caution is advised, as online content has a way of becoming severed from its source very quickly. When an image is recycled by a peer artist without recognizing its source, it’s not an easy task to vocalize one’s disapproval. Besides the author appropriated, it’s also difficult for any member of their larger network to publicly position themselves in opposition to any member of the group.

Another screen grab by Bajagic

Another screen grab by Bajagic

Through her communications with Bajagic, Novitskova was for the most part cordial, albeit sometimes coming across as intentionally naive to the seriousness of the situation from Bajagic’s perspective. She did offer on several occasions to credit Bajagic in the title of the piece, or through a written component that would accompany the work to tell the story of how the three-dimensional object in her show came to be. At a certain point though, the communication broke down–Kraupa-Tuskany Gallery stepped in, in Novitskova’s place, to convey to Bajagic that they’d reached a mutual decision with their artist that the work would remain titled as it was originally exhibited. Bajagic was annoyed, as this contradicted Novitskova’s previous offers to credit her, and once again had to press them by email to change the labeling of the work.

What’s transpired since then can at least be viewed as a partial positive: both the original Berlin Art Link review and Kraupa-Tuskany’s website have included Bajagic’s name in their respective descriptions of the piece. The title and subsequent materials description, as it now reads, is:

Geometria MMXII, 2012 – digital image piece by Darja Bajagić (screenshot from Andrea Mantegna’s tarot card drawing Geometry XXIV, posted on Tumblr 2011), UV print on acacia wood, white varnish, TV screen holder.”

updated kajta darja

Screen grab of the work on Novitskova’s website, which now credits Bajagic in the title (copyright 2013, Sean Joseph Patrick Carney)

Now that Bajagic has received credit, at least that aspect of the situation can be considered resolved. In terms of how ethical Novitskova’s response to the situation was, it appears that she and the gallery have come around, albeit over a longer period of time than perhaps necessary, to the ethical solution. It’s never going to be clear whether she intentionally exhibited that image as her own without crediting Bajagic. But the fact is, many who champion free use of imagery would argue that even though Bajagic had also printed and exhibited the work before, the fact that Novitskova did it in a separate context excuses her action and even grants her an authorship over the screen grab. What’s difficult here is understanding whether Novitskova’s appropriation was critically intentional enough to constitute an actual recontextualization, thus giving her authorship over the work.

Such is the complication for an entire generation of artists utilizing the internet. We borrow freely from every aspect of contemporary life, repurposing everything from the Nike swoosh to bottles of shampoo, often to hilarious and thought-provoking ends. Like any cultural moment though, it’s incredibly difficult to objectively take inventory of the times while we’re actually experiencing it. I have no doubt that countless younger artists are directly appropriating from one another daily. It’s my hope that this is being done with a certain unspoken social contract in mind; everyone of the opinion that this is how things work. To make these appropriation-based practices into a sustainable form of production, it would benefit the artists to consider being candid with one another and their audiences about images they’re reworking from their peers.

It’s true that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but when it comes to one’s peer community, I’d wager most of them would readily grant that permission. Like I stated earlier, the worst that they can do is say no, at which point one could move forward in spite of objections, because then it’s “political.” Even so, simply making the effort to give due diligence in consideration of an image’s origin isn’t exactly a heavy responsibility. Using the original context as a starting point is part of why appropriation is often, for lack of a better term, fun. The transformation we apply to it requires that original context if our gesture is going to be read as funny, clever, critical, or insightful.

In the case of Bajagic vs Novitskova, I find in favor of Bajagic. There are no real repercussions here because, to be quite frank, we’re talking about art. However, having weighed all of the elements and having read their correspondences, Novtiskova’s defense that she didn’t know the image in question was a work Bajagic authored doesn’t hold up, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t know the image was Bajagic’s; it wouldn’t have mattered, whatever the source of the image had been. Novitskova’s infraction lies not in the specific origin point of the image, but in the fact that she did not perform due diligence to track down that origin.

Two Weeks/Two Works: Conrad Ruiz

Fourteen30 Contemporary

By Daniel J Glendening

Two Weeks/Two Works, at Fourteen30 Contemporary, is an experiment in exhibition: a suite of four two-week exhibits, each featuring two works by a single artist (Conrad Ruiz, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Andrea Longacre-White, Grier Edmundson). One stated intention in limiting the exhibitions to two works each is to allow space to move around the work, physically and psychologically. Pairing two works has other effects, as well–two pieces are brought into direct conversation with one another: a back and forth that invites comparison, debate and dialogue. It seems that one can expect each to be an exhibition in and of itself, a highly focused glimpse into the work of each artist. There may (or may not) also be the slow emergence of a dialogue of between works across exhibitions–each a small piece of a larger whole, or an episode in a gradually developing miniseries.

The pilot episode of Two Weeks/Two Works features two works by Conrad Ruiz: “Nova,” a 24″ x 19″ watercolor and oil on paper grey-scale painting of a tightly muscled male torso, as the subject peels off a shirt and clutches in one hand what appear to be, perhaps, cycling goggles, and “Punch Monster,” a 53″ x 35″ watercolor on canvas piece depicting an abstracted field of spare, intricate marks that generate what appears to be the surface of red liquid–water under red light, a bloodied sea or, perhaps more to the point, red punch flavored Monster energy drink. There’s a strong dichotomy of difference between the works: just as the virile masculine body is drained of color and, by extension, vitality, it is also rendered in such a way as to flatten the body, the man’s pectorals an almost geometric form, while the abstraction-leaning “Punch Monster” is pumped up into high contrast hypercolor–a color field that moves and ripples. The body becomes inert, isolated, while this other thing that fuels us, that we can see but not quite see, that we can grasp but not quite grasp, radiates.

Conrad Ruiz, "Punch Monster" 2012, Watercolor on canvas. 53 x 35 inches. Image courtesy Jessica Silverman Gallery

Conrad Ruiz, “Punch Monster” 2012, Watercolor on canvas. 53 x 35 inches. Image courtesy Jessica Silverman Gallery.

Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, Window Smokers

Recess Gallery

 

By Rebecca Steele

 

All I could do was to break the whole thing down and show that it is no longer possible.  -Gerhard Richter

 

Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers." Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

An evolving methodology in contemporary art might be the trend of using one medium to critique the failure or relevance of another. When sculpture relies on photography for its language or successes, then we can conclude a failure of the singularity of media. This also serves as critique of the set of circumstances that allowed for certain types of work to exist as singularities. This new methodology could be called one of alignments, such that neon lights frame a photograph only to obscure it. In the exhibition, Window Smokers, the artists, Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, fabricate the evidences of a panoramic view of terrain and possible altercations of landscape by insinuating the punctuation of one medium by another. This strategy could be described as contrapuntal and adheres to certain ideas invoked by the artist Gerhard Richter, who approached the act of painting a landscape as not an act of representation but as looking at what is to be represented through a glass darkly. It is arguable that this has become in and of itself a strategy. To lift the lid of the scanner in the moment of scan in order to create a photograph by act and action, and then to speak about the form within this photograph as being related in some way to a melting iceberg, is both contrapuntal and darkly meditative. Rather than speaking about the ability of light, through gestural manipulation, to create an angular form that slowly leaks its cause, the act is used to create a representation of the act.

Window Smokers often suggests light and its physical traces, capable of interruption and usurpation. Five framed digital prints are titled according to the actions that created them: “Held Steady,” “Slight Rise,” “Continuous Rise and Fall,” “Rise and Fall, Rise and Fall,” and “Held Steady, Then Lifted.” These images are high contrast abstract compositions that are punctuated by bits of color and graded lines. “Haug and Dierdorff search for nature and representation where the unenclosed can be depicted in its disappearance.” The digital prints made by lifting the lid of a scanner create abstract “photographs” that use light in its burn and retreat as a set of tight compositional constraints. The Photograph is used elsewhere as a representative of or dummy landscape as in “Organizing Principles” or “Late Season Tactics.”

"Transfer," from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers."

“Transfer,” from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

There are times when works of art seem to conspire against the viewer through tense aesthetics and closure. In Window Smokers the artist’s aesthetic language is dexterous and full of material alignments. The works “Transfer” and “Merger” are photograms, evidencing an image created through the trace or positional affectation of a natural element on to a two dimensional surface. “Merger” was created by ice melting and moving food coloring across a sheet of paper—in its rusty streaks it is possible to find the remnants of a thing’s end: winter, ice, light. In the case of “Transfer” fake leaves sit in front of construction paper faded in the area not blocked by the leaves. This is also the case with a series of works in the main gallery space: “Red Heat Tremors 1-7,” “No Mercy Traveling North 1-5,” “Summer Nights Land of Doom 1-3,” and “Vertical Limit Under the Volcano.” These works are landscapes made on light-faded construction paper and though simple create a feeling of the elegiac beauty found in faded photographs of evening landscapes, of night vision palette, paper cut collage, or Luc Tuymans Allo Social Housing. The ambiguity and dexterity of these works is disorienting and, though small in scale, suggest the degrading effects of light and sight—or possibly that the landscape itself is the source of degradation, not of culture or moralities but of being and representation.

"Late Season Tactics," from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, "Window Smokers." Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

“Late Season Tactics,” from Jared Haug and Brooks Dierdorff, “Window Smokers.” Photograph by Rebecca Steele.

In “Twitch” and “Organizing Principles” traction, implied opening, interruption, and the kill are physical maneuvers in time and space where the integrity of one physical body is interrupted by the integrity of another physical body. A block of ballistics gel sits on top of a pedestal and holds a photograph against the wall in “Organizing Principles,” and presents a formally satisfying arrangement. Sculpturally, “Organizing Principles” employs the dynamics and materials of hunting. The ballistics gel that holds the hide (photograph) to the wall looks slightly oily and resembles cast acrylic; the photograph seems to be of animal hair that looks blond, sharp, and damp. The video “Twitch” depicts a deer that has been shot and lies barely twitching in a field of grass. The projector and a thick slab of acrylic, serving as projection screen, lie on the floor and cast a greenish glow in the space. The video is very still, and viewed through the thickness of the acrylic is blurry, suggestive rather than intelligible. The strategies of these two works find their fullest realization in “Late Season Tactics,” in which a large piece of smoked acrylic pierces and folds a digital image of an organ (possibly a heart or liver?) laying on the grass. There is something simple, elegant, and intriguing about this situation. “Late Season Tactics” suggests a forever of open possibilities born of contradictions, and two flat surfaces that provoke a narrative through interruption.

Gerhard Richter has made the claim that to degrade something is to get at its truth, and so contradictions of material and media can be their own narrative and solution. In Window Smokers, the landscape is subjected to and created by physical change. It is this interruption or alteration—in the form of an organ on the grass, of ice or light on paper—that demonstrates the human temporal and the natural as unresolving change.

Daniel Baird, This New Ocean

Appendix Project Space

 

By Daniel J Glendening

At the rear corner of Daniel Baird‘s exhibition, This New Ocean, at Appendix Project Space, is a slowly turning object. It is small, about hand-sized, and is held just a hair’s breadth off of the ground. It would be easy to miss, but motion grabs the eye.

From Daniel Baird, “This New Ocean.” Image courtesy the artist and Appendix Project Space.

 

It appears to be a rock, painted silver. It turns on a vertical axis rising up out of the concrete floor from some unseen buried motor. The rock is sort of wedge shaped, rough contoured, pointed. It could be used as a weapon, or a path marker pointing the way. It could be cast aside—it is, after all, a rock.

It turns, clockwise. It could be pointing to the hour, the minutes, seconds, of some unmarked clock. It is an arrow, after all, but a rock, also. It turns, slowly but visibly—maybe about the rate of a second hand revolving around the face of a clock, marking the passage of time, on and on, relentless. There are no numbers on this clock face—indeed there is no face of the clock, only grey painted concrete floor, but still we know what it is.

This is a rock, and a clock, and time is moving onward, no matter what. We can see it, here, passing: one revolution, two revolutions, three revolutions.

But it is a rock and it is not a rock. It’s silver, and rocks are not silver (unless, in fact, they are silver, but this is a rock). Its surface is marked by not just rough angles and broken edges, but some regular striation, as if we could see here the layers of sedimentary earth made small—millimeters of sediment: millimeters of layered time—but this rock is not a sedimentary rock, it lacks the planar regularity of sandstone or shale and carries the broken and chipped hardness of flint, or granite or—I only know my rocks so well.

So, this is a rock and also is not a rock—it’s maybe a replicated rock—though I don’t know for sure—how can one know for sure without some unavailable knowledge? It is a rock and not a rock: it turns about a vertical axis, it is silver, its surface marked by thin thin striations of layered material formed, perhaps, by lasers and resins and 3-D printing technology. This is a fabricated rock, ejected from the smooth and fluid digital sphere into the physical world, bringing with it the layers of its digital past and butting up against a world marked by, above all things, time.

Time moves, always.

We say that maybe we can escape time, maybe we can turn back time, maybe we can bend time through the manipulation of physics we don’t yet understand and maybe we can rewrite time and come to understand time as not simply a line on a page that never ends but as a continuously folding over space that is knotted up and porous like a sponge. We, though, get old.

We die.

Does the earth die?

Does data die?

Geologic time moves at a rate we can’t see except in small punctuating bursts when something suddenly gives way, when the forces of age and change sudden pierce through and shake the surface or the tension suddenly ejaculates a flood of magma, smoke and stone.

Otherwise, we only see the evidence—hills painted with bands of color: lake sediment and ash, the mulch of leaves and fallen forests. We see mountains slowly crumbling, the cleavage of stone by ice, the carved path of a river through the desert. We see sand dunes shifting and we see where water once was and now is not, where water was not and now is. We age, our hair grays and our faces crease and we die.

Does data age? Does a stream of digits that codes for the shape of a stone for rendering in a three-dimensional modeling program replace itself over and over through time? Does it make mistakes and replicate those mistakes? Does it accidentally develop a wrinkle, or a cancer? Does time exist, there?

This is just a rock on the floor, slowly turning. This is just a relic, a piece of evidence—the ejection, the erosion, the subduction. Everything old will be destroyed, and reborn.

This is just a rock on the floor, ticking off the seconds, one by one.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

MSHR, Earthly Door.

Appendix Project Space

by Daniel J Glendening

MSHR, a collaborative project by Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper, presented “Earthly Door” at Appendix Project Space in Portland, Oregon. The work consists of an interactive installation and a performance. As an installation, “Earthly Door” resembles a found-object architectural model of a disco-rustic beach house, complete with conversation pit. The surfaces are all wood and mirror, with carefully arranged seashells and rocks, and a black vase holding one sprig of dried sage.

Electrical wire is intermixed with chunks of subtly carved driftwood—wire wrapped around branches and stones, buried in loose sand. A glass bowl bubbles, brewing fog, and a low drone emanates from a pair of speakers against the back wall of the gallery. The room lowly vibrates.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

Preceding the June 28 performance, the artists spent time with the audience, inviting them to interact with the installation. Murphy, smiling, served as a guide: she picked up a pair of cycling gloves wired into a mirrored box and helped a visitor put them on. He began moving his hands in the air and high-pitched tones emanated from the machine. Murphy guided two women to a pair of metal trays joined by a wire. She advised them to remove their shoes, stand on each tray, and hold hands. The machine squealed; lights flickered.

Murphy and Cooper left the room as the sun set, and “Earthly Door” shifted from a space of collaborative interaction to a site of ritualized performance.

The duo returned moments later in black sunglasses, Murphy having changed into a costume of black body suit and a custom leather utility belt. At the rear of the gallery, Murphy and Cooper executed a set of mirrored movements clutching a conch shell between them. Cooper blew a series of notes on the shell and relayed them through an echoing set of effects. Murphy, executing a series of slow, awkward movements, made her way to the recessed space at the center of the installation. She donned the pair of sonic cycling gloves, coaxing sound out of a series of poses somewhere between tai chi and voguing.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

The performance concluded with a mirroring of its introductory movement: Murphy and Cooper took up position at the front of the installation, standing barefooted on the metal trays. They touched hands to faces, hand to hands. The sound and light faded as their touches lightened, and the performers took their leave.

“Earthly Door” contains a multitude of binary relationships, and is strongest when those relationships begin to break down: the duality of gendered bodies, of audience and performer, the technological and organic, hard and soft surfaces and the nostalgia that is embedded in the aesthetic of retro-futurism. Allowing audience interaction and play, the artists invite users to incorporate themselves into the work and complete a circuit with their bodies. Everyone, here, is a conduit: the artists a conduit of information, the audience members as conduits of energy.

However, as Murphy and Cooper transition from roles as guides to those of techno-tronic performers, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, the audience is from the work. The sequence of movements executed by MSHR hovers between dance and ritual, and remains enigmatic and opaque—it is a fledgling ritual, not yet fully imbued with meaning. While an intimacy lingers in their movements—hands on faces, hands on hands—audience access is largely predicated on having experienced the work through earlier bodily interaction.

MSHR, “Earthly Door”

MSHR’s “Earthly Door” may have too many edges, too many facets competing with each other for attention. The retro-futurist aesthetic, for instance, serves as a lure while simultaneously recalling a cultural history that never was. The physical installation’s function as performance set potentially trumps its role as an interactive environment, as the audience ceases interaction and shifts into spectatorship. Stepping in as performers, MSHR resets the power dynamic to a hierarchical state.

This shift undermines what seems to be the aim of the work, and evidences that maybe one can’t have some things both ways. In our screen-bound era, it’s refreshing for the audience to suddenly become, of its own accord and with only minimal guidance, performer, entwining their own bodies with this techno-organic musical cyborg machine.

Bobbi Woods, Warm for Your Form.

Fourteen30 Contemporary

by Daniel J Glendening

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Once you’ve seen them, it becomes difficult to un-see them.

“California Light (Some Like It Hot),” courtesy Woods and Fourteen 30 Contemporary

Bobbi Woods’ Warm for Your Form, at Fourteen30 Contemporary, includes a looped video containing text in white on a black screen. The piece, “California Light (Some Like It Hot),” 2011, includes that line, tucked in among a script that sits somewhere between directorial notes and cut-up poem: “deep space / Palm trees / strong shadows / INSERT – CLOSEUP / I have no sense of proportions. / there’s something about you…” Woods’ text operates with multiple functions. It is at once a text-based interpretation or analysis of a lost film, recalling some vanished piece of history, and a Burroughs-via-Hollywood-Boulevard narrative, alluding directly to e.e. cumming’s “Now Does Our World Descend”: “If it’s all the same, / it’s time you unbecame.”

What’s sticking, though, is that line about the ghost.

The bulk of the exhibition is comprised of poster works, paintings on Hollywood adverts. “In the Mood,” 2011, is composed of a framed folded poster for the film of the same title, creases quartering its blue-violet gradient. It’s all atmosphere, color and space with the dust of use.

There are five iterations of “Warm For Your Form,” 2012, painted silver enamel on poster paper, hung simply without frames. The surface of the poster paper is almost entirely obscured by silver enamel. In something of a break from past work, streaks, handprints, and the swiping of fingers across the still-tacky paint mar the paintings’ slick surfaces. Looking closely, the text and imagery of the poster is just barely visible through the enamel—they are film posters for the critically derided 2007 comedy, “The Brothers Solomon”—but the text and imagery is reversed.

“In the Mood,” courtesy Woods and Fourteen30 Contemporary.

The paintings are mirrors—worn and weathered, their silver backing flaking and water-damaged—reflecting in their haze a somewhat inconsequential advert that, in the end, is only substrate, a surface to be manipulated. They reflect light and motion in the room, but imprecisely, fogged over with breath or steam. They are streaked with fingerprints, handprints; the traces of some unseen entity: an invisible being, a ghost—something trapped behind the surface clawing for escape.

There are other ghosts here too: specters of history. All around are remnants of a California dream in the cast-off detritus of failed films, in the video without actors, sets, or sound. “California Light (Some Like It Hot),” through its title, alludes to that sun soaked Hollywood of yesteryear: of palm trees and ’57 Cadillacs with teal paintjobs. It hints at the haunted hotel that served as a shooting location for Marilyn Monroe’s film, and towards a different Los Angeles, the L.A. occupied by the group of artists making their home in the city in the early 1960s and who came to be loosely affiliated with the California Light and Space movement.

“Warm For Your Form,” courtesy Woods and Fourteen30 Contemporary.

With “Warm For Your Form” we get surfaces with the potential for capturing the sheen of light and reflectivity of a John McCracken slab or a Helen Pashgian sphere, but interrupted with the hand—the physicality of the body—and held by a thin paper substrate that warps and curls slightly on the wall. Something of the expressionist painter creeps in to an otherwise phenomenological object—the libidinal body smeared across the minimalist plane.

Certain occultists, in a practice known as scrying, utilize a mirror to commune with spirits or divine the future.

Turn out the lights, stand in front of the bathroom mirror, and call her name three times.

Paul Clay, How to Immigrate to the United States of America

Recess

by Daniel J Glendening

Paul Clay’s exhibition at Recess, “How to Immigrate to the United States of America,” is made up of three digitally composited, high-sheen and high production value video works, circling around themes of ethnic and cultural identity, immigration, and human rights. At least, ostensibly.

In the first floor lobby of the Recess complex is “Paul Clay on Lopez Tonight.” Clay has digitally inserted himself into a segment of the talk show “Lopez Tonight,” casting himself in the role of Latin pop-star Enrique Iglesias. The piece is a brief segment, looped, in which Lopez and Clay discuss fashion trends among Latina women.

“Paul Clay on Lopez Tonight,” image courtesy Clay and Recess. Photograph by the author.

Upstairs, the main gallery is split in two by a temporary wall, creating two viewing rooms, each housing another of Clay’s works. One of these, “24/7 Waterfall,” is a mock newscast narrating the story of Felipe Salazar, a fictional immigrant who has moved from Mexico to the United States looking for opportunity. In his time here, the character Salazar has worked as an agricultural laborer, has run a (since-closed) restaurant, and has now taken up offering his services as a human waterfall. Clay has cast himself, again, in the role of the narrative’s protagonist, Salazar. The video boasts high-end post-production, with the contemporary news-cast’s graphic overlays and spinning logos, and features several scenes of Clay, as Salazar, toting his waterfall: a neon “OPEN” sign around his neck and a showering cascade of water pouring out of his chest and pooling at his feet. He walks towards the camera in stoic measured steps, water pooling around him, through the aisle of a grocery store and across a parking lot. He stands, water flowing, atop some granite boulders in tree-dappled light, and looks around.

“24/7 Waterfall,” image courtesy Clay and Recess. Photograph by the author.

The second piece in the main gallery is “How to Immigrate to the United States of America Via International Arrivals at SFO.” Here, Clay adopts the role of narrator/spokesman in a corporate instructional video detailing the proper means of immigrating to the United States, boarding a plane in Mexico City to San Francisco, and how to pass through customs without attracting undue attention. As in “24/7 Waterfall,” the work adopts the aesthetic of its satirized form, incorporating computer-simulated visualizations of the airplane interior and airport.

One gets a sense here that Clay has, if not an agenda, then definitely a stance. The work starts to point towards political discussion around immigration law and immigration reform, and the status of those members of US society who willingly contribute to a system that, often, demonizes them, in hopes that eventually things will get better. The work Clay presents in “How to Immigrate to the United States of America” is satirical in tone, and seems to be attempting, at least, to point towards a critique of the flawed immigration policy currently in place in the US—the satire, though, falls flat.

“How to Immigrate…” image courtesy Clay and Recess, photograph by the author.

Clay identifies as a “Canadian-Irish American,” according to his website bio, albeit one who spent his preschool and kindergarten years in Costa Rica, and several months in Mexico and Barcelona in High School and College. He “dreams of one day being a Latin Pop Star.” However, despite whatever intentions drive the work, and despite the extent to which Clay has been exposed to the culture of Latin America, the artist is working from a position of privilege. The three videos on view are, at best, problematic. Clay has cast himself as a person of a cultural heritage not his own, digitally inserting himself into a dialogue here removed from context, and what we see is a white man speaking on behalf of the exoticized other.

Here, I’m going to shift gears a little bit: while I am always only offering my personal read of a work I write about here, and make no claims to speak for any other party in my interpretation, this exhibition may draw out some more personal, more political, lines of investigation. However blurred and self-made our identities might be in the twenty-first century United States, in Portland, I also speak from a position of privilege: I am a citizen of the United States; I am a Caucasian male; I did not grow up wealthy, but I definitely did not grow up in poverty. I was raised in Northern California; at least one of my parents has a college degree.

So, how do I unpack a series of works in which a Caucasian man casts himself as a range of Hispanic or Latino characters, in a series of moderately high-production videos, in order to talk about immigration? Something about the premise makes me uneasy, and I don’t buy the explanation that that uneasiness stems from my own set of prejudices or expectations of identity. It comes, I think, from an examination—or, at least, a consideration—of power structures: economic, social, political, cultural. Somehow, a corporate presentation video outlining a MEX to SFO airplane trip, however satirical, fails to capture the nuances or tragedy of the reality of US-Mexico immigrant relations; according to statistics compiled by the Arizona Human Remains Project, 2,381 bodies have been found in the Arizona desert since the year 2000, primarily the remains of people attempting to enter the US illegally from Mexico.

A faux news-cast following a fictional migrant worker’s success as a human waterfall does little to speak towards the reality of the migrant worker’s experience which, according to reports, is often inhumane—agriculture laborers often work long hours for very little pay, with poor and crowded housing and exposure to unhealthy or even toxic conditions.

Perhaps it was the artist’s intent, through his work, to stir just these concerns.

It’s the role of satire to offer up a critique through the guise of humor, however biting. The work, to that end, doesn’t push far enough. Clay’s work doesn’t reach a point of self-reflectivity that empowers the artist, as satirist, to point out the hidden or suppressed flaws in not only their audience, but also in themselves. The artist is hidden behind a digitally produced facade—he’s there, but he’s not there—and how can I, as a viewer, believe this cold, flattened entity?

To take on the guise of another—to imagine the world through the eyes of one of another culture, ethnicity, gender, political-stance, upbringing—this is the challenge of character building. People do it all the time, in novels, film, theater, art, the list goes on. For such a project to succeed, the audience needs more than a shell—more than a name, more than an accent, more than a brief line of dialogue. The audience needs to believe in the totality of the character, in the breath of their lungs and the electricity of their mind, in the memories, successes, and failures of the character. The audience needs to believe, at least temporarily, that the character is real. Clay’s characters don’t feel real—there are too many holes, not enough history—they serve a function and little more. I can’t see the weight of the life that could be Salazar’s life, and I’m not convinced Clay can, either.

In order to be believed as someone else, you’ve got to become someone else.

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