Friday, November 13, 2009

Separate but Equal: "I Feel Different" @ Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions

So much significant art has been born from its creators' inherent feelings of separation. This disconnect could be physical as in racial (Betye Saar, Kara Walker) or sexual/gender separation (Catherine Opie, Robert Gober) or more emotional as in the isolation of loneliness or mental disorders (Edward Hopper, Vincent Van Gogh). All things considered, the true nature of an artist is someone who finds ways to visually relate messages and emotions that may not have been previously explored. At their very core all artists could arguably be considered "different."

That said it seems only natural to center a group show around a theme of these feelings of awkwardness, self doubt, of not fitting in, being misunderstood or removed from society in some way, which is exactly what author-turned-curator Jennifer Doyle has done with the current group exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), "I Feel Different." Doyle has expertly chosen a selection of provocative artists, all of whom fuel their work with individual translations of what it means to be "different." And Doyle should know. Her text, Sex Objects: Art and the Dialects of Desire (2006) tackles the topic of sex in art specifically in terms of its perceptions and tendency to cause misunderstanding.

"I Feel Different" is located in the back gallery space of LACE, mainly confined to one area with additional work in an adjacent hallway and "microlounge." The place is alive with media including several videos, projections, sculptural installations, collage, and photography. The collection features work from Susan Silton, Lezley Saar, James Luna, Monica Duncan and Lara Odell, Nao Bustamante, David Wojnarowicz, Nina Yhared, and Ben Neill.

Beginnning clockwise from the entrance to the gallery, Los Angeles-based Silton introduces the exhibition with her trio of Piezo pigment prints and accompanying single-channel video. Upon examining the photos as entities apart from the video, the soft, grainy (much like silverpoint), abstracted images may subtly suggest sexuality, with their furry black clouds and sensual, organic and corporal shapes.

Titled respectively Twister 1, Twister 4, and Twister 6 (all 2003), these images are in fact digital manipulations of photos taken by storm chasers, as Silton aims to liken the juxtaposing characteristics of fluid sensuality and wild, unbridled force that exists in both sex and nature.

Whereas the artist gracefully eludes to sex in these photos, she awkwardly and humorously shocks with sexualized imagery in the video, twisted. The video depicts a succession of people, cropped to their facial expressions only, in their attempts to create a man made tornado by shaking a jar filled with various ingredients. Viewers do not get to see the source of the people's aggressive motion, just the body-thursting and face-contorting as Silton bluntly focuses on the actions' similarities to sexual expressions. Altogether the photographs/video are both a poignant and cheeky exploration of the tendencies of our perceptions, as well as our internal dialogues about such a taboo subject.

While Silton's work addresses the exhibition's central theme of difference in terms of general feelings of discomfort and misunderstanding about the topic of sex, Lezley Saar instead creates an homage to specific victims of isolation with each of her sentimental, assemblage works. Following in the footsteps of her mother, the aforementioned Betye, Saar combines mixed media in her altarpiece-like works in which the subjects are often sufferers of social alienation. Her glorious Dorothy Champ: Broadway Star and Bahai Activist (2002) is a massive hanging banner amid Saar's exquisitely crowded installation of acrylic and mixed media works within "I Feel Different."

Champ left her successful career as a stage actress in the early 1900s in pursuit of teaching her beloved faith. Teardrop-shaped crystals beautifully indicate the internal pain of the subject's difficult choice, one likely to have not been understood by many. The salon-style arrangement of Saar's works further shows the artists' penchant for respectfully, elegantly highlighting these otherwise isolated individuals.

With impossible-to-ignore inspiration from Edward Hopper, an artist whose paintings burned with themes of loneliness, Lara Odell and Monica Duncan's collaborative video, Living Pictures (2003) similarly creates portraits of isolated figures whose stillness and far-off gazes emanate sadness and solitude. Whereas Hopper's subjects are frozen in time, Odell and Duncan's work utilizes their medium to address the passing of time as the subjects motionlessly exist in each of the four, ten-minute-long videos. Projected on a wall in large scale, one by one the videos feature a lonesome figure (in a laundromat, at a picnic table) void of any signs of life, though we are reminded of life going on by external forces such as the sound of cars driving by or the graduation of natural light. Though the figures themselves make no noise, their silence deafens the movements that surround them.

Other highlights of the collection include a "radical craft" and mixed media sculptural installation by Nao Bustamante, whose playful Neapolitan (2003, 2008, 2009) is a dramatically decorated (neon macrame-covered headphones, Kleenex boxes) set wherein viewers see and hear video of the artist crying in a personal response to a film she related to culturally, and another installation/performance from Native artist James Luna. Luna's History of the Luiseno People: La Jolla Reservation, Christmas (1990) tackles stereotypes of Native people by including them in this piece in which an armchair sits across from a television screen amid cigarette butts and crumpled beer cans while the audio plays conversations in which the inhabitant of the scene (present only during performances) excuses himself from the holiday activities to which he has been invited.

"I Feel Different" will remain on view through January 24, 2010 @
Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions
6522 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Photos appear courtesy of LACE's website, as well as some images from fette's