Philip Iosca. Hopefully I Become the Universe.
PNCA Manuel Izquierdo Gallery
by Daniel J Glendening
Philip Iosca’s Hopefully I Become the Universe is sad. So sad, in fact, that it is somewhat difficult to write about.
The exhibition serves as something of a memorial to the lives of eight young men, ages 13-19, who took their own lives between July 9, 2010 and September 18, 2011. These deaths were the result of harassment and bullying they received at the hands of their peers for being, or being perceived as, openly gay. This story is the crux of the work, the point on which it all hangs.
Hopefully I Become the Universe (all work 2011) is made up of a collection of varied works, coming together to build a whole. The titular work hangs in the entrance to the gallery, a white neon sign reading, in handwritten type, “Hopefully I become the universe,” the closing remarks of the suicide note left by Seth Walsh, who died September 27, 2010 at the age of 13. The entry alcove houses a small video monitor, displaying a collection of three YouTube videos touching on subjects of anti-LGBT bullying and gay marriage, by Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, who took his own life on September 18, 2011.
The main gallery is lined with a series of archival digital prints in simple wood frames entitled Trouble In Mind. Each monochromatic print serves as a portrait of one young man, its flat CMYK color profile generated by the numerical values of the date of his death. Each print is a flat tone, ranging from grayish putty to mauve. In the center of the room stands M.M., a stack of found copies of Norman Mailer’s Marilyn, 65.6” tall, Marilyn Monroe’s height, according to the description.
The final piece of the exhibition is a small publication. This houses the story behind the work, a brief narrative of the tragedy memorialized, an explanation of the process behind the digital prints, and a portrait of each individual subject with a short anecdote to give them renewed life. This is where the exhibition all hangs.
Without the story, what we’re presented with is a series of vaguely fleshy-colored prints, which upon close inspection reveal their digital plotting, and a stack of books standing in for a mythologized figure of popular culture, an uber-femme of cinema, written by a man who wrote, from a fictionalized Monroe’s point of view, in Of Women and Their Elegance: “First, she discovered I wear no panties, and to make it worse, a bit of my natural odor came off with the removal of the skirt. Nothing drives people crazier than a woman with an aroma that doesn’t come out of a bottle. Maybe I should use deodorant, but I do like a little sniff of myself.” This is, at best, sensationalist, aside from its absurd hetero fantasizing.
Without the story Iosca provides, the viewer might be left in something of a quandary, in which death is analytically flattened into a simple sequence of numbers, and Marilyn Monroe is reincarnated at full height by a repeated invocation of her name in text. There is a coldness, here, in the algorithmic means of the works production, something that seems just a little too distant, too removed. Each victim becomes simply a time-stamp, his data inserted into a system in order to render a flattened, representative output. It’s the story that bears the weight of the exhibition, that allows for humanness to re-enter the work, and maybe makes each portrait a little closer to being just that: something ghostly and far away. Life really is just a series of small tragedies, and small victories, unfolding one after the other.