by Sarah Fisch
What a summer.
Still reeling from, among other things, Contemporary Motherfucking Art Month. You know, I sort of half-expected it to be pretty lame, seeing as how it's gonna happen again in March. Figured the artists and curators would be girding their loins for the big show 6 months from now, and that the July shows would seem maybe sparse, or half-assed.
WRONG AGAIN, FISCH.
In particular, Hills Snyder-curated Lonely Are the Brave knocked my chanclas off (you can read Elaine's preview-review of it here ). Back when I wrote about LACMA's traveling Phantom Sightings show at the Alameda, I bitched and moaned a bit about San Anto's inferiority complex, particularly as it relates to a seeming reluctance to experiment with scale (though, to be sure, the scale issue has a lot to do with our economic factors, too...scale is usually expensive, and it's all a bruja's brew we got goin' on down here: our poverty interacting in weird and unpredictable ways with our confidence or lack thereof â?? on the one hand, we're brilliant masters of rasquache, on the other hand, we, uh, have trouble affording anything non-rascuache, and this makes us, sometimes, sad).
Lonely Are the Brave totally took on scale, with grand (and in the case of Justin Boyd's audio-performance, grand-mal) gestures. Each artist worked BIG--big scale, big ideas, big impact. Yet Lonely Are the Brave emerged, near-miraculously, as more than the sum of its parts, pushed by Snyder's curation and framing, which seemed at once powerful, passionate, erudite, and playful as all hell. Snyder's a hometown Absurdist, a down-home Surrealist, though for as cerebral as the man can be, this show struck me as winningly open-hearted, vulnerable, and emotionally risky, un-armored in jargon, un-distanced, meant to be leapt into and then meditated on. His contribution to the show as an artist helped to frame the other artists, too, thematically: The little nook of a constructed living room he built, wherein you could sit in a comfy armchair and watch the film Lonely Are the Brave on a TV surrounded by some funny-peculiar objects mesmerized me for about ten solid minutes; homey, perplexing, and constantly-changing. A familiar terrain rendered anew, like the whole damn show.
Justin Boyd's Sisyphean video loop of a cowboy on horseback perpetually not-quite-making it up a ridge out of a creekbed had me reflecting on Manifest Destiny and the perils of masculinity, about our post-lapsarian and uncertain time, our nation's massive debts and regrets, political and financial and historical. And while I'm not sure I fully understand the implications of his sound performance... the playing the fence wires, the frequencies and what have you, there's a poetic meaning there that I appreciate. Truly. I felt the same way about Physics, as a college student. Like: "If I knew enough math, I bet this shit would be REALLY beautiful." I like the risks Boyd takes with ideas, the rigor with which he tests himself and his audience. He makes me wanna know more, and that's a profound effect to have.
If Boyd's work made me reflect on the meta-Culture and the Nation and Physics, Kelly O'Connor and Chris Sauter's installations coaxed my gaze back at personal culture, the mythic realm of childhood. Man. Now that some of the signal figures of my generation's childhood have up and died all of a sudden, I find myself wanting to go back into Chris Sauter's stunning life size re-creation of his boyhood bedroom, a world at once enclosed and universal, and not come back out.
When I walked in there, that "Under the Milky Way Tonight" song was playing, mysterious and dreamy and full of longing. I'd forgotten about that song! And so much of this installation had to do with instant, visceral recall of so many relatable details long forgotten, adolescent songs and objects and feelings and hopes and fears...the Time/Life Mysteries of the Unexplained book series, the signs and map and the well-worn comforts of a lonely twin bed, obsessively-collected and enshrined trophies we hope will gird our baby loins for what might be (MUST be) a bigger world, a bigger life outside. And the gloss of astronomy is beautiful, the cut circles of drywall creating holes which allow in lyrical, cosmologically-suggestive circular beams of light into the space, then those circles of drywall (I think I've got this right) painstakingly assembled into a telescope, emblem of outward-curiosity, yearning. "Life-size", indeed. Look Homeward, Angel, and see what you've lost.
I had a similar emotional reaction to watching John Hughes movie clips (see first sentence of this post for links) online today, the day of his death...all those tiny details that were both seminal, and discarded. John Hughes movies form a kind of shorthand in my brain; watching the montages brings back memories of my own tortured teenagerhood. Hughes made mainstream entertainment, and a lot of missteps (long Duck Dong, anyone?) but watching the bits again after a long while reminded me of these archetypes that were built by him into my cranium at a young age. I was younger than the characters in 16 Candles or The Breakfast Club, I was at that voracious, pained 'tween age wherein the oncoming freight train of adolescence was already whistling ominously, and watching those movies, I felt then and still do now, armed me for the onslaught in crucial ways; the flouting of convention and authority by The Breakfast Club detainees likely helped fuel my own (continual, often ridiculous, but cumulatively worthwhile) questioning of rigid social structure and desire to subvert anyone in power, and maybe yours too, no? The frustration with the flawed family unit and the deep desire for love (and yes, sex! and respect, too!) evinced in Pretty in Pink and 16 Candles helped me navigate my forays into the tricky world of teen love and lust. The insistence on authentic selfhood in opposition to perpetual tasks of parent- and teacher-pleasing in Ferris Bueller...eh, you get the idea. The narrative landscape of American kidhood.
It's said that "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton." They didn't have movies back then, they had Horace and Milton and shit like that...but maybe our li'l personal, generational wars will have been won in the Santikos Northwest 10 cineplex in 1986 by onscreen- Molly Ringwald.
Which brings me to Kelly O'Connor's LAtB installation. That thing is luminous, seductive and complex. It demonstrates in a graphic way how the icons and imagery of entertainment, beamed into our brains as American kids, go on to form a messy, troubling, loaded landscape that we never, ever stop traversing. We all have Disney characters in our heads, like it or not. O'Connor seems to like it, without ever forgetting the ramifications (Uncle Remus from Song of the South makes a disquieting appearance), and her selective use of color -- threads emanating from the black-on-white painted wall mural to the floor in circular, cinema-evoking rays -- represent, to me, the magic and the insidious, unescapable, narcotic pull of the Disney landscape. We fight off the Uncle Tom-ishness of Uncle Remus, the cartoon gender norms of the princesses and heroes, but we can never escape them, quite. We can fuck with them, though, and that's good, if not exactly a relief. Her work is a potent reflection on all received mythology, and how hard it is to dislodge. Somebody anonymous-commented on this site a while back that O'Connor makes "facile chick art," something like that. That person is a dipshit.
Jesse Amado's wall installation, likewise a landscape, employs gold paint and massive vistas of fringe and had me thinking about the sexual aspect of Westward expansion and colonialism, the fancy dresses of bordello ladies, the dressing up of what is cruel. It also served a neat purpose of swaying your eyes laterally back and forth, back and forth in sweeping gazes, like a tennis match, so that when you walk into the show, it beckons your eyes towards itself, and towards everything else. Very cool.
Well, I'm tuckered out. Yet, miles to go before I sleep.