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Download a free copy of the catalog here:
May Contain Explicit Imagery
Curated by Tucker Neel
July 27 – September 7, 2014
Artists Reception: Sunday, July 27, 2014, 5 – 7 p.m.
Roundtable Discussion: Sunday, August 24, 2014, 5 – 7 p.m.
CB1 Gallery presents May Contain Explicit Imagery, an exhibition exploring libidinal subjectivity, the way we project our own sexually-charged impulses onto non-figural abstraction. This exhibition unites three very different artists: Nancy Baker Cahill, Kiki Seror, and John Weston, whose disparate practices and methodologies, all create content activated through corporeal allusion. In front of each of these artists’ works the act of looking becomes self-reflectively conspicuous, as one is made aware of an unavoidable impetus to see things that are simply not there. Like Rorschach tests (but much more engaging), each of these artists’ works allows viewers the opportunity to investigate the impulses behind images that resist and also demand meaning. As the title of this exhibition implies, the images contained in the works on display, congealed in the viewer’s consciousness range from erotic to disturbing, but in the end purposefully resist “literal” interpretation.
May Contain Explicit Imagery opens on July 27, 2014 and will be on view through September 7, with a reception for the artist on Sunday, July 27, 5 – 7 p.m. A roundtable with the artists will occur on Sunday, August 24, from 5-7 p.m.
Nancy Baker Cahill’s massive graphite drawings fascinate and overwhelm viewers with evocative references to human skin, muscles, organs, and strange, unexplainable growths. The impressive body of work in this exhibition began from a series of daily sketches the artist began in 2013. Completed as a daily meditation, these small drawings are filled with forms resembling hair, mounds of flesh, and folds of human effluvia. After compiling a month’s worth of these images, Cahill noticed pains in her stomach. Scans revealed a football-sized benign tumor growing inside her stomach. After surgery and months of recovery, she embarked on Virgil, the series of intuitive and sensual large-scale drawings in this exhibition. The visceral reactions one has to Cahill’s work emphasize the powerful self-alienation we all have with our own bodies and our inability to fully comprehend the mysterious, hidden inner-mechanics and landscape of our physical existence.
KIKI SEROR, Vertigo Draws The Spirit Which It Grips; To Become One Flesh With The Crowd., 2014,
477 C-Prints, each 4″ x 6″ – installation – variable dimensions
Kiki Seror’s newest series of photographs, Let Us Leave Pretty Women To Men With No Imagination; Remembrance Of Things Past, continues the artist’s ongoing inquiry into how content, pleasure, and identity are constructed through pornographic media. For this exhibition Seror made hundreds of carefully calculated time-lapse photos of famous porno movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s, arranging them sequentially to form a spectral archive of each film. Capturing such greats as Taxi Girl and Debbie Does Dallas, Seror highlights pornography when the medium was in a transition from film to VHS, before the Internet and the death of the porno theater diminished porn’s communal, social, and cinematic potential. Seror’s gridded, mathematical, almost pedagogical display system allows viewers to consider the role context, framing, and scopophilia play in the production of subjective sexual interpretation.
JOHN WESTON, Pins and Needles, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 36″
Standing in front of John Weston’s work guarantees an ecstatic and often hallucinatory experience. The artist has for many years been fascinated with the historical and physiological use of patterns and tessellations as a way to create meaning and activate space. Weston’s paintings lure viewers in with dazzling colors and extremely meticulous applications of paint. This ordered environment contrasts with the artist’s centralized forms, which often allude to, yet never fully render, human (and perhaps alien) states of uncontrolled disembodiment. Weston embraces the power of suggestive imagery, using negative space, and contrasting surface texture to suggest normally hidden human body parts, pulsating orifices, orgasms, ejaculations, and erogenous insides exploding with electric energy. The works in this exhibition from Weston’s Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fairseries use the power of suggestion as a means to investigate the carnal thoughts that always lurk behind the banal. His chromatically high-key, high-contrast applications of paint result in funny and evocative compositions that, through careful titles, interrogate the sexualized implications of everyday phrases like Lip Service and Finger On The Pulse. Weston’s work purposefully activates a highly visual experience in the viewer, producing a particular representation of jouissance that radiates from the cornea throughout the entire body. This experience may make you blush, but it’s a pleasurable charge that’s hard to shake.
Pornographic tastes are often some of the most telling things about a person. But porn isn’t a media that begs much self-reflection from its audience; the tantalizing pictures are too busy doing their job to worry about you. Thankfully, art and psychoanalysis often does this job for and with us. Using the power of both, the artist Kiki Seror’s recent exhibition Hysteris, takes the digital porn universe as a starting point to turn our gaze and our thoughts inward, while at the same time examining larger social phenomena wrapped up in complex online and real life sexual subjects.
Seror’s videos in this exhibition call attention to how we imagine our libidinal selves through the bodies of others. For these works Seror paints parts of her body in a saturated color and then uses real-time digital video software to color-key out parts of her body, replacing these sections with the real-time video feed of her “partner” on Chatroulette, a site that allows people to randomly video chat with others. In the videos, we see Seror using this self-erasure to throw back her Chatroulette friend’s gaze. Streams of men see their bodies where hers should be. Some are into the strange performance; they sit erect, fascinated by Seror’s ability to superimpose her floating eye, mouth, and remaining body parts on theirs. Other guys are un-amused and leave the chat, perhaps aware they are being recorded. With this work Seror deploys a kind of digital camouflage to subvert her partner’s – and the viewer’s – expectations of where a body begins and ends.
Seror complements these videos with a series of still photographs of pornographic GIFs, looping short videos made specifically for quick viewing on the Web. Seror takes her photos directly off the computer screen using long shutter speeds to blur movement. The most striking images, like Face of a Virus /gif/ifeelmyself/08, which shows a mass of interlocking flesh-like limbs and faces writhing on a bed, confuse just enough visual information to demand the viewer complete the picture. In this way, Seror’s photographs function like Rorschach tests, making one reflect on the reading of the image itself.
It’s difficult to discuss Seror’s work without acknowledging the famous German photographer Thomas Ruff, whose own photos of porn at first glance bear a striking similarity to the photos in Hysteris. Though they have similar subject matter, Ruff and Seror speak to different concerns. Ruff’s big, sofa-size photos capture a pornographic scene as if it were in-between frames, resulting in a double image. His photographs seem to be more about porn as an artifact of visual culture and in the stale white cube of the gallery they create a neutered engagement with the erotic body, the spectacle of objectification with little carnal pay off. Now some of Seror’s works participate in a similar process, duplicating porn’s aesthetic appeal while negating its function. This happens in images where the viewer can easily discern all elements in the scene, like in Face of a Virus /gif/interns/01, where two women fellate an erect penis. But thankfully in many of Seror’s other photographs the indistinct gesticulating body, made possible by an open lens (a stand-in for the voracious human eye) does something Ruff’s photographs don’t: they become other and challenge the Real, creating room for generative contemplation about bodies unmoored from prescriptive language and rigid connotation. They don’t moralize or admonish porn in a conservative sense; instead, they make you self-aware of your erotic imagination. Depending on how you feel about your own sexual appetites this can be a very rewarding process indeed.
Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a voicemail gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.
Martin Durazo’s art practice makes use of what he calls the “aesthetic of the illicit.” His work excavates the visual topography of sin, the signs of outlaw culture, the illegal and gluttonously dangerous, basically the social signifiers proper society frowns upon. Durazo has turned galleries into all night raves, made overtly libidinous videos, and fashioned installations resembling meth labs and drug nests. Throughout all of this he has dissected and re-imagined the objects and images that define the boundaries of culture, making art that continuously signals the existence of a transient bacchanalian periphery.
For this exhibition at Rio Hondo College, Durazo investigates the so-called “war on drugs,” specifically the various economies, shows of force, and acts of violence employed by Narco cartels along the US/Mexico border. The title of this exhibition, “Plata o Plomo,” takes its conceptual and historical inspiration from the question posed by these drug cartels to lawyers, judges, elected officials, and police whose job it is to stem the drug trade. “Plata o plomo” translates to “silver or lead,” metaphorically signifying a bribe for cooperation, or a bullet for resistance. While the exhibition incorporates ephemera surrounding the drug trade, like transparencies of victims of Narco violence and bombshell beauty queen traffickers, the exhibition as a whole remains much less obvious. There are no simple, prescribed ways to read the works in the gallery.
Durazo’s work doesn’t simply paint a picture of deviance, giving you a fully resolved image on which to project your own sensational desires, like so many beer commercials or porno pop-up ads. Instead, he creates complex aggregate propositions, strange and often experimental or unresolved scenarios that seem in process, like collages working themselves out. These kinds of works are perfectly articulated in the artist’s ongoing use of silver insulation sheets pockmarked with information like reflective bulletin boards, presenting disparate yet related ephemera that ask visitors to question how they create meaning. While presenting these self-reflective environments, Durazo proposes that we examine our own choices and how we label our own boundaries separating propriety from perversion, freaks from norms, straights from queers, the illegal from the legal.
Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a telephone-based gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.
Slice of Life at Honor Fraser
Alexis Smith is an O.G. collage artist whose parings of text and image have unraveled complex narratives in viewers’ minds for nearly half a century. Her first show at Honor Fraser, Slice of Life, is a kind of retrospective of sorts, including work from as far back as the 1980s. The exhibition is a testament to Smith’s ongoing role as a keen observer of American culture, a continuing inspiration to generations of artists to come.
Slice of Life’s highlight is undoubtedly Past Lives, a work originating in 1989 as a collaboration with the writer Amy Gerstler. The installation takes up an entire room, filling it with a diverse collection of weathered children’s chairs, from a classic wooden rocker to a Lilliputian canvas director’s chair. As one circumnavigates the empty seats, a palpable sense of absence takes hold. Nearby, a schoolroom chalkboard bears sentences befitting an obituary headline, like, “Came to literature late.” The entire installation conjures thoughts of how indoctrination marks one from early childhood, how ideology, circumstance, and the language of control determines the roles we play in life.
Many of Smith’s works use humor as a foil to discuss issues of violence, manipulation, and American culture. This is no better seen than in a 1997 mixed media collage, “Black and Blue for Howie Long.” In this work we read the NFL player and bit actor Howie Long’s pithy quote, “ I am an artist. My art is assaulting people” written in comic sans on a large painter’s palette alongside a photograph of two men wrestling, with one head replaced by a Georgia Bulldog’s face. Continuing the sports tableau, a baseball bat and children’s toy tomahawk sit atop the palette like menacing paintbrushes. The work’s tautological wordplay ricochets around the gallery, branding the “artist” as a contextual and perhaps menacing position. Such a proposition deserves a chuckle. Yet the play of meaning doesn’t stop there. The baseball bat and tomahawk continue the chain of signification, pointing to both America’s pastime: baseball, and America’s past time: Native American history and identity and a culture relegated to sports mascots and comic caricatures. At least that’s how I see it.
There are equally engaging recent works in the show, like “Wild Horses,” a 2012 collage of the cover of the Patti Smith Group EP “Set Free” placed above a thrift store painting of unbridled horses in a desert landscape. Such a simple construction performs impressive and lasting tricks, riffing on questions of high and low, artistic titling, and the importance of name recognition. Its word and image play is so perverse I wish it were a billboard on Sunset Blvd.
Like Rauschenberg before her, Alexis Smith’s work, at its best, plays expertly on the precipice of communication. In her most successful works signifiers flirt with intelligibility while refusing didacticism. Smith’s constructs her signifiers with considered arrangement, with just enough connections to create an ouroboros of signs, with one image’s meaning devouring another, with no final cathartic “resolution.” The images turn back on themselves allowing for a slow-burn critique that always finds itself home in the present.
Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a voicemail gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.
Like its Himalayan literary counterpart, Joshua Tree’s Shangrila is a utopian vision; part dream, part tourist destination. Concretely, it’s a one-bedroom residence on Shangrila Lane, overlooking a seemingly endless expanse of undeveloped, government-owned desert. It’s remote enough to seem completely isolated, yet close enough to civilization that you can feel the earthquake-like blasts from simulated bombing raids at the U.S. military fake Iraqi training village in neighboring Twentynine Palms. Originally a homesteader cabin built in 1947, the Shangrila lot was decrepit when artist and curator Drew Dunlap purchased it in 2005 while enrolled in Otis College’s MFA program. In addition to envisioning his future home as a vacation rental, Dunlap also wanted to establish a sporadic artists’ residency where one could create works inspired by epic surroundings. Today Shangrila resembles a mid-century modernist spec house with a swing set and three conspicuous shipping containers in the back yard.
In 2008 Dunlap executed his plan, inviting a few dozen artists for a weekend of experimentation and imaginative planning. They planted the seeds for what would become “Shangrila”: the art event, which debuted in June of 2010. For this first weekend event, Dunlap curated art and performances investigating questions of utopia. I participated in this show as an artist, and again the next year (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, probably dulls my critical edge a little). While there were many fine works on display in that 2010 show, Rob Faucette’s intervention stood out as particularly poignant. Faucette invented Girlfriend Beer, a fictional company that “sponsored” the event. The artist stuck DIY labels on cheap beer cans, posted roadside ads, and distributed free branded koozies to visitors. I couldn’t help but take his work as a preemptive inoculation by satire against corporate sponsorship.
As the perennial art happening matured, Dunlap shifted his role, co-curating “Shangrila: New Moon” with artist Michelle Chong in June of 2010. During the day, Veronica Duarte’s iconographic self-guided tour relayed meandering information about Joshua Tree and its history, while at night Taylor Tschider’s galaxy in a cardboard box beautifully echoed the Milky Way above. In early fall of 2011, Dunlap turned the event over to the collective Durden and Ray, who put on “Shangrila: Oasis.” I missed out on this iteration, but stories of naked BBQ cooks, stalagmite campaign signs by Elizabeth Gahan, and Brian Thomas Jones’ glowing super-phallic inflatable tube confirm that I should have been there.
Unlike other desert art events like tech-yuppie Burning Man, or the more elite High Desert Test Sites, Shangrila remains emphatically emergent and wonderfully unpredictable. Somewhere in between the blazing Friday sunshine and the hungover Sunday drive home (after a transcendental visit to the Integratron sound bath a few miles away), Shangrila morphs from nervous art opening into a temporary autonomous zone where people transform in strange ways. I’ve witnessed buttoned-up academics get shit-faced and near-naked with people navigating in and around in-situ artworks pursuing nocturnal trysts.
This year, the curatorial team of Steven Bankhead and Jesse Benson organized “Shangrila: Burrito Deluxe,” which included 50-plus artists. To manage the expansive undertaking, they enlisted other curators. As Bankhead notes, “Jesse and I both distinguish ourselves more as organizers… We weren’t so interested in curating specific types of art but rather organizing a group of artists that are doing interesting things.” On Friday, Calvin Phelps hosted “Supper,” a performance/gourmet meal inspired by the desert. The collective Elephant created an impressive temporary stage resembling their LA outdoor space. And with the help of Michelle Chong, Elephant scheduled a series of performances throughout the night, many of them by members of the LA sound art organization, SASSAS.
One of the greatest things about Shangrila is the ability to encounter work in the surprising desert landscape. As Benson puts it, “While some works were immediately recognizable in the environment, others were more difficult to ‘discover.’ Stumbling through the desert at night with a flashlight and encountering a work is of course different than seeing a work in a gallery.”
This experience is a welcome invitation to create site-specific installations, exemplified this year by Fatima Hoang’s small inflatable sun, which kept rising and falling throughout the night, commenting on the promise of new beginnings while comically punctuating Joshua Tree’s picturesque vista.
Like any event incorporating lots of artists with multiple agendas, Shangrila always has hits and misses. While some works fall flat in their new desert context—especially those that cling to the safety of the property’s shipping containers, which mimic the white cube—others remain indelibly memorable because they reimagine our relation to the desert landscape. In the end it’s the strange weekend-long event that creates the critically important space for contemplation.
Doin It In Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building is not a typical art exhibition which limits itself to presenting rarified and canonized art objects for public contemplation. No, this show transforms the gallery into a museum, packed to the brim with hundreds of archival documents, video footage, photographs, and other historical ephemera generated from one of the most important, yet conspicuously least-talked-about institutions in Los Angeles art history: The Woman’s Building (WB).
Displayed in dozens of plexi-glass-covered vitrines, these archival documents chart the history of the Woman’s Building from it’s precedents in the 1893 Columbian exhibition in Chicago, to its founding in downtown LA in 1973, to eventual closure in 1991. In the midst of this survey, the exhibition highlights the importance of the WB founders: artist Judy Chicago, designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven, and highlights educational, activist, and exhibition programs undertaken by the hundreds of women who worked together under the WB program. Additionally, about one-third of the cavernous gallery is devoted to installations created by artist collectives who came out of the WB, like the Sisters of Survival and The Feminist Art Workers. The Waitresses, a group formed to address the exploitation of working women, presents an installation consisting of a short-order diner table with a juke box playing narratives from women about what it’s like to work in the food service business. Visitors are invited to listen to these audio tracks while enjoying placemats emblazoned with games about famous women throughout history.
I had the pleasure of touring this epic exhibition with its curators, Meg Linton and Sue Maberry, who have spent the better part of the last four years, in conjunction with a selection of distinguished scholars, working to make all this temporary museological undertaking a reality. While walking through the exhibition I remark that, while many Pacific Standard Time exhibitions no doubt highlight the contributions of certain individual artists or curators, this show, while certainly positioning certain stand-outs (the founders of the WB and Suzanne Lacy are reoccurring figures throughout), is much more concerned with presenting the WB as a collective endeavor. “The woman’s building had art stars and famous artists involved, but it was a movement, a center where different people could flow in and out,” Maberry points out. Looking around at all the work unattributable to a singular creator, from documentary photographs to clandestine flyers alerting people to an unannounced protest, it becomes evident that the exhibition is more about the collective over the individual. “One of our challenges was how to present an entire building, all the activities, and the sense of an era,” Linton points out.
When I ask the curators to show me some of the surprises they encountered during their extensive research, Maberry, herself a veteran of the Woman’s Building, mentions that one of their most significant experiences was going through letters written to the WB from women who passed through its program, people like Adrian Rich and Margaret Atwood. “We poured through all the letters at the Smithsonian, and they are all signed ‘In Sisterhood … In Sisterhood … In Sisterhood,” Maberry recollects. The impact of this reoccurring salutation articulates a kind of emphatic solidarity, a positioning of one’s struggle as intrinsically linked to another’s.
We walk to a display case near the exhibition entrance holding a bronze workboot atop a small wooden stand with a plaque reading, “ Through the Soles: My Struggles as a Woman Artist” With love, Ten years later, Faith and Suzanne, October 16, 1980.” While discussing this odd readymade object, something straddling the line between art and the everyday, Maberry informs me that when Chicago taught the Feminist Art Program at Fresno State, she looked around the room at her students, all women dressed in sandals, and assigned them go out and buy work boots. The message was, clear: if women were going to make a space for themselves in the patriarchal art world, they would have to actually build it themselves – by hand, together. Like a gilded children’s bootie saved by nostalgic parents, this bronze clodhopper is omething that resonates as a preserved reminder of a body in a developmental stage, a memento of potentiality. At the same time, as a working-class accoutrement providing both strength and protection to its user, the heavy boot stands as an apt metaphorical entry point to the exhibition, a silent testament to a story of women building a physical, social, and psychological space of force and support.
As we move through the show one grouping of documents highlights the Women’s Graphic Center (WGC), which housed the WB printing and design facilities. Headed by de Bretteville, the WGC gave women the tools to design their messages and get them out to the public at a time when the means to do so were limited and expensive. “Shelia designed a lot of the work for the WB. A lot if this was her aesthetic,” Maberry points out. Looking at de Bretteville’s iconic WB poster from depicting her signature bolt and I-screw female icons receding infinitely into the distance on a gridded plane, one can see just how prescient and enduring her design practice was, and is.
Linton notes that while the show is filled with printed ephemera like posters and postcards, these documents are artworks in themselves. In support, she references the Private Conversations Public Announcements project, a workshop taught by de Bretteville that inspired women to create printed material about topics they were exploring during consciousness-raising sessions at the WB. “They are posters, developed out of their consciousness raising, but then they are put into public places where they wanted their message to be seen,” Linton says, pointing out how all this printed matter pushes the boundaries of what exactly defines “art.” One work on display from this project is The Chinese Woman by Helene Ly from 1981, a diazo print of white text on a red background, with the “W” and “A” in the word “WOMAN” replaced with the Chinese character for woman. The artist glued this print in public places around Chinatown in LA, rewriting the urban landscape while commenting on nationality and hidden female identity, for example, changing a sign reading “Grand Opening” into “Grand Woman.”
Another section holds documents from GALAS, the Great American Lesbian Art Show, one of the first exhibitions to showcase work by lesbian artists and highlight lesbian identity as a subject appropriate for contemporary art. Maberry points out the collective spirit underpinning this show: “They actually put a packet together letting people know how to put on the exhibition, so instead of doing just one exhibition at the WB, they wanted shows to happen all over the country, so that lesbian art shows happened all over the country at the same time… There hadn’t been anything like that before.” This kind of empowerment permeates the entire exhibition; the whole point being that if a space doesn’t exist for a certain kind of artwork – or artist – the only thing to do is to pick up the tools you’ve got and get to work constructing it.
“I think it’s cycling back around and I think more and more people are wanting these kind of experiences,” Linton states as we discuss the legacy of the WB, how there really aren’t many similar spaces like it left in America. In light of the recent Occupy Wall Street protests, which once again have people working together to build solutions from the rubble of failed policy, against a backdrop of rampant inequality, this show about the community generated by the WB seems quite timely. In this way the exhibition is not simply nostalgic, but instructional, providing the opportunity to engage distant or lost methodologies for demanding and creating change, a blueprint for how to carve out a space for divergent opinions and ways of working through problems the dominant culture ignores or simply refuses to really address.