Thursday, June 30, 2011

Solo vs. Non Solo

Rio Yañez, Decolonize These,
Purikura photograph, 2011

As a nod to the Facebook boom, the exhibition Miráme (Look at me) by guest curator Ella Díaz, simulated the layout and the prevailing standard of the individual page or “shrine to self”—as Díaz noted. The main gallery of La Raza Galería Posada was guised in the duo-tone of blue and white, while emphasizing imagery and downplaying explanatory text. However, Miráme presented subversive self-portraits. The works challenge preconceived ideas about culture and race, and at times, evade categorization.

The “graffiti photos” by San Francisco artist Rio Yañez are tactical bi-products of the Japanese Purikura craze. Posing with artist and educator Maya Chinchilla, Decolonize These uses cotton-candy colors and glitz in which to interpolate critical statements. The top frames are outward references to decolonization and institutionalism. Below, covert approaches are used such as the Central-American slag púchica, sometimes equated with the Western fuck, while Sleeper Cells seek to resist opposition. Yañez employs glaring kitsch to compete with the overstimulated visual culture that is our world today. The use of Purikura points to globalized linguistics that move beyond traditional language systems, where visual language becomes rapidly accessible and appropriated at the local level. Similar exchanges can be appreciated in Japan with their adaptations of the lowrider in Chicano culture.

Deborah Roberts, Inaccessible me #2 (detail)
Prevailing racial biases are addressed in works by Austin artist Deborah Roberts and costume designer Dante Baylor. In Inaccessible me #1 and #2 from 2010, Roberts renders a female antagonist of the late 19th century children’s book character the Golliwog, a black figure with prominent white eyes and red rounded lips.[1] The use of this controversial figure depicted in frustration over afro-textured hair, with blond extensions, underscores the complex role and associations attributed to hair within society. Baylor’s inventive composition echoes this issue in his image with Barbie in the forefront and Christina Aguilera in the background. The African-American is encased by the paragon of blond straight hair, expressing the contradictory cycle of conformity.

Deborah Roberts, Inaccessible me #1 and #2,
mixed media, 2010
Dante Baylor, Good Hair, photograph, 2001
The show gathered a number of artists, bridged together through the common theme of self-representation. However, as artists historically toe the line between public and private spheres, the reference to Facebook points to contemporary social network practices that curator Díaz characterizes as “a larger social malaise and alienation in the virtual photo albums that we carefully create in our online shrines to self”—symptoms brought upon ourselves as we negotiate our private and public selves.

[1] Marilynn Olson, “Turn-of-the-Century Grotesque: The Uptons’ Golliwogg and Dolls in Context,” Children’s Literature, 28 (2000): 73-94.


The two-man show at B. Sakata Gallery brings a series of collages by bay-area artists Matt Gonzalez and Gustavo Ramos Rivera in the exhibition titled Codices Urbanos. Harking back to ancient Mesoamerican recording systems that range from pictographs to hieroglyphs, these contemporary collages offer a variety of experimentations in material, color, and textures while updating these codices with the modern language of abstraction. The densely pasted images, colors, and texts offer a visual language system for today’s urban society.

Matt Gonzalez, Untitled, collage, 08/11/2010
A close observation of this duo exhibition reveals a greater strength in the work by Gonzalez. His compositions demonstrate keen application and use of objets trouvé in unifying disparate elements to compose an engaging whole. Gustavo Ramos Rivera’s strongest medium is paint. Without the control of line and textures that he demonstrates in oil, Ramos Rivera’s collages lack guiding elements to structure his forms. Gonzalez, on the other hand, skillfully arranges his architectural compositions, appearing like miniature sculptures suspended on paper. Untitled from August 11, 2010 shows Gonzalez’ skill with color and shape, as well as interesting snippets of suggestive text.

Matt Gonzalez, Untitled, collage 09/2010
Matt Gonzalez served as a progressive politician and activist. His collage offers as a vehicle to express deep-rooted political and social concerns. Untitled dated September 2010 is a tribute to the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence in 1810 and the centennial of the Mexican revolution in 1910. The image is a reprint of Tina Modotti’s Men Reading El Machete from the 1920s. El Machete was a radical publication founded by the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors of Mexico for politically engaged artists.[1] However, Gonzalez pastes over the newspaper the laborer holds in his hand, denying the viewer a key focal point. As the Syndicate sought to carry over the agenda of the revolution, 100 years later, these principles continue to be challenged and negated.

Matt Gonzalez, Romeo and Juliette,
collage, 05/09/2011
As a playful arrangement, Romeo and Juliette from May 9, 2011 involves a variety of cigar labels that juxtapose and intersect one another, their emblems almost dance within the composition (reminiscent of Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie). This colorful homage to the Latin American puro, is represented by the Cuban-founded brand Romeo and Juliette, pointing to two stimulating agents: the tonic aromatics of the cigar and one of the most preeminent stories about love. Perhaps a personal vignette to surviving life through intoxication and myth, and within this duo exhibition, Matt Gonzalez emerged the victor.

[1] John Lear, “La revolución en blanco, negro y rojo: arte, política, y obreros en los inicios del peródico El Machete,” Signos Históricos, 15 (2006): 108-147.

Non Solo

An unconventional traveling exhibition visits the Center for Contemprary Arts of Sacramento (CCAS) with an offbeat approach to exhibiting, and made visitors into participants in an engaging dialogue. A collective of eight artists from diverse disciplines based out of New York presented as Non Solo agreed to jump in a van for six weeks to travel the country and collaborate on site-specific shows.

NonSolo van parked in front of CCAS, 06/11/2011
The journey was initiated by Margaret Coleman, who yearned to go on tour and analogized that the experience of touring musicians can be applied to visual artists as well. A group of daring and committed artists accepted the proposal, finding the project as a challenge to the secluded individual practice and offered to explore new avenues filtered through the collective to introduce contemporary art. Each stop along their journey presents a new venue and the creative task to construct and exhibit their work. CCAS is one of the few conventional spaces visited with white gallery walls and technical lighting as opposed to the warehouse, café, conservatory, and other alternative spaces on the tour. Upon entering the gallery, the individual art works vie for appreciation; the variety is striking:

Stephen Eakin, Untitled, photographs, n.d.
Margaret Coleman, Smells Like Crapitalism, mixed media, n.d.
Stephen Eakin’s red markers are carefully constructed with a combination of exploratory and reportage approaches to record the sites and geographical coordinates covered by Non Solo. Here, Eakin printed his documentation and crafted professional frames on-site. The last image on the right shows the marker placed at CCAS’ front entrance just below the 1519 address. Margaret Coleman displays paradoxical signage, Smells like Crapitalism, a self-critical sign that simultaneously attacks itself by utilizing neon-lighting, the quintessential medium associated with storefront marketing. A provocative installation by Anna Marie Shogren, In my bedroom: isolation is not inconspicuous, covers the main gallery floor with white sheets, varying in textures, methodically sewn on-site as well. The isolated figure at one end of the main gallery points to how efforts for invisibility and self-reliance fail within society. Here the work creates a conflicting relationship, creating tension between the figure and the viewer, denying concealment, heightening presence, effectively arguing its premise: isolation is not inconspicuous. The exhibition also included paintings by Heather Elizabeth Garland, performance by Jason Gaspar, video by Will Hempel, and multi-media by Bonnie Kaye Whitfield. Outside of the individual objects, the merch-table is where to find object-based collaborations, merchandise the group creates at low cost for the consumer to help raise their petty-cash.

Anne Marie Shogren, In my bedroom: isolation is not
, mixed media and performance, 2011
Within the main gallery, the panel of artists was presented by CSUS Professor Elain O'Brien who served as mediator for the conversation. The talk introduced the Non Solo tour, expressing the successes and difficulties at each intermittent stop, as well as the pragmatic and emotional negotiations exchanged along the way. Visitors had the opportunity to chime in on the discussion and vicariously experience the journey. Every voice carried equal weight, presenting the collaboration as an effective approach in pulling together resources, developing a structured network, and producing as a cooperative without losing individuality. However, once the panel was removed and new visitors entered the gallery, only the objects remained, losing the opportunity for the collective immersion.