This Is (Part of) America

August 14, 2013 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

This Is Not America: Protest, Resistance, Poetics, on view now at the ASU Art Museum, gives a startlingly fresh look at the intersection of art and social change through allowing works to converse with one another. Curated by Julio César Morales, with assistance from ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate student Indira Garcia, the three-part exhibition pairs works from the museum’s collection with those of emerging and established artists in a sort of “question and answer” format.

Part 1, on view now through Nov. 9, 2013, marries a painting by Cuban collective Los Carpinteros with an animated video by contemporary Seattle-based artist Paul Rucker, in an effort to “explore the power dynamics and political implications of oppression,” according to Morales.

“The exhibition title takes a cue from Alfredo Jaar’s seminal 1987 public art video intervention at Times Square in New York City, A Logo for America, a three-part video animation that plays off the notions of ‘America’ and its relationship to citizenship, homeland and borders,” says Morales.

Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1986

Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1986

On the east wall of the gallery hangs Dominar Bestias/How to Dominate Beasts, the watercolor painting by Los Carpinteros, whose name “derives from the historical term for skilled slave laborers,” according to Morales. Within the painting we are shown a number of household objects, such as dressers and chairs, shackled to a fence that corrals them, as though they were animals in a paddock. It is unclear whether they are being chained to the fence so that they do not escape, or whether it is the fence that is tied down to these material goods. One begins to wonder who or what is being dominated, and, beyond that, who or what the beasts are.

Across the darkened gallery is Paul Rucker’s video piece Proliferation, projected on the wall opposite the painting. Rucker was inspired to create the piece while at a “prison issues” residency at the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks, when he discovered a series of maps created by researcher Rose Heyer that showed the growth of the United States prison system over time. Rucker, a musician as well as visual artist, created the durational piece from the maps and also composed the original score.

Paul Rucker, Proliferation, 2009

Paul Rucker, Proliferation, 2009

“A word that can refer to healing of a wound through rapid growth of new cells, Proliferation explores the evolution of prisons in the United States through an animated series of colored dots indicating location and number of prisons from 1778-2005,” says Morales. “The incarcerated are a relatively invisible aspect of American society… [but] the United States leads the world in the number of people behind bars.”

To Rucker’s score, each new prison appears on the projection as a dot of color, starting first as green specks and escalating in intensity into brilliant red and orange flashes. While viewing “Proliferation,” one is struck by how quickly the outline of the United States is formed, beginning first with New England, but quickly springing across the map to the West Coast. The colored dots, illuminated against a black background, echo other, similar maps, such as those illustrating light pollution from major cities, or urban sprawl.

As the piece goes on, the green dots begin to merge, turning yellow, and the music takes on a more ominous tone. The dots appear in faster succession, sprawling across the map, until there is no one section that is free of color. They evolve from isolated flashes of yellow into orange and then red masses, joining together with sharp, jolting regularity, like explosions. One feels like a cat, mesmerized, watching a laser dart around a wall. But with this feeling of not being able to look away, to stop chasing the flashes of light, the music suggest something darker, a sinking feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. This is not a game. This is serious.

The two pieces, poised opposite each other in the Americas Gallery on the second floor of the museum, both face off against one another and speak to each other. Their conversation occurs in the space between, where the viewer is invited to sit, to pace and to contemplate.

–Juno Schaser , Public Relations Intern

Part 1 of This Is Not America will close on Nov. 9, 2013, with Part 2 on view Nov. 16 2013 – March 15, 2014, and Part 3, co-curated with ASU MFA students, up from March 22 – June 6, 2014.

Artists include Facundo Arganaraz, Sandow Birk, Los Carpinteros, Juan Capristan, Enrique Chagoya, Binh Danh, Kota Ezawa, Eamon Ore-Giron, George Grosz, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Jon Haddock, Alfredo Jaar, Michael Lucero, Carrie Marill, Sanaz Mazinani, Ranu Mukherjee, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gina Osterloh, Raymond Pettibon, Michele Pred, Ken Price, Jerome Reyes, Paul Rucker, Rene Francisco Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez, Lorna Simpson and Adriana Varejão.

 

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