23 No. 7
publication of the International Sculpture Center
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Services, Prisoners Inventions, 2003.
With the ascension
of high speed internet the low-rent cultural outskirts - where hermetic,
criminal, religious, sexual, paranormal, utopian & alt.tech eidolon
once came together - a region heretofore known principally to initiates
and fanboys - are now (due to info-geek triumph) high traffic
real estate. In Fantasticthis increasingly exoteric district
of human experience is presented as freshly exhumed arcana.
Nato Thompson, the
organizer of Fantastic, is a relatively new Assistant Curator at MASS
MoCA. Thompson is a young radical/activist/curator from Chicago with well-established
street-cred. His credentials include arrest while protesting MTVs
Real World, and germination of an admirably quixotic project to -reclaim
all visual, spatial and intellectual culture of Chicago and return it
to those who work for it,. The
exhibition Fantastic is accompanied by a tabloid style catalog with a
cerebrum-twisting (ala Tim Leary) essay by Underground-anarcho-Sufi
essayist and cult radio personality Peter Lamborn Wilson.
to see how Thompson adapts his radical/tactical sensibility to institutional
setting and mission. In Fantasticthe curator literally puts
himself out-front with Threshold of Wonder, an exhibition foyer collection
he put together of ephemera connected to American utopian experiments
of the 1900s many of which took place in New England - MASS
MoCAs home region. This sort of historicist/justificatory practice
is a back-up strategy employed regularly by public artists
courting community support.
Since Im writing
here for Sculpture Ill limit my comments to the exhibitions
3-D works. However, I will note the background and mood-altering ambience
of the ubiquitous Gregory Crewdsons (David) Lynchian photo-tableaus.
is a Mexican artist who has become something of an international phenom.
Working in video, still photography, installation, and painting the young
polymaths work is typically provocative such as in his infamous
Evolution of Man photo series terminating with the handgun-armed Afro
wigged artist in home-boy drag.
Calderon, Quantum Physics, 2003.
created an installation which literally sends-up another subculture
via a sleeping troop of hippies. The somnolently floating flower children
are physically evidenced by varicolored hair-locks twining downward from
the head-end of buoyant sleeping-bags tethered with sinuous gray tubing
to safety-red gas cylinders below. Close
inspection reveals the pieces crude stage-magic. The slithery gas
tubing is actually rigid pipe which holds the loosely stuffed sleep-sacks
and their non-existent occupants deceptively aloft. Once the jig is up
a queasy internal argument transpires between what one knows and the evidence
of ones eyes. An adjacent glass fronted freezer holds uniform ranks
of Cherry Garcia ice cream pints. Commodified countercultural sugarplums
dancing collectively out of the snoozing Dead-Heads dreams?
In an adjoining
room Calderon screens grainy footage of Satan-possessed actors who had
responded to a classified ad he posted. Much like the actors in Calderons
film which follows - car surfing bad-boys in the Mexican desert - the
players in the possession episodes are aware of the camera, and though
foaming at the mouth and physically restrained by attendants, seem to
be having a devil of a good time.
Nils Norman and Alicia Framis are both, for all intents and purposes,
theoretical architects. Norman, like Mark Dion, makes art which purports
to educate about environmental issues, by fielding models such as Geocruiser
Mothercoach - a mobile greenhouse/library - and prototypes such as The
Gerrard Winstanely Radical Gardening Space Reclamation Mobile Field Center
and Weather Station - a bicycle mounted work station for the propagation
of ideas about radical gardening in urban settings. Alicia
Framis repeated tack is to humorously conjoin unlikely public spaces
and services i.e., clinic/cinema, metro/cemetery/fashion boutique,
and autobahn/public memorial. Unfortunately both artists presentations
are visually arid (vinyl inkjet murals, train model props, etc.) and overtly
(a Chicago based art collective) collaborates here with anonymous prison
inmate Angelo to recreate compelling evidence of a (out-of-sight-out-of-mind)
lifestyle common to 2.1 million Americans. The installation includes a
claustrophobia inducing concrete and stainless steel cell, and glass display
cases filled with ingenious inmate inventions. Prisoner artfulness with
limited resources creates, among other things, chess sets made of toilet
paper-mache, plastic bag prophylactics, a muff bag = the crude
inmate equivalent of an inflatable love doll, and an impressive
variety of utility devices for cell-cooking and cigarette lighting. The
installation generates a sordid police museum atmosphere that intellectually
attracts and viscerally repels. Temporary Services and Angelos work
of art consummately embodies the appellation Fantastic in that it offers
hidden (hence esoteric) and extreme truths without resort to moral, ethical,
or political mediation. Further evidence of the installations power
to unsettle was MASS MoCAs reported discomfort with Angelos
anonymity and, in particular, the unknown nature of his crime. The institutions
unpublicized uneasiness, and I would suspect fear of political consequences,
highly recommends the work and best rewards the anarchic ambitions of
the exhibitions curator.
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