In the Room for Big Ideas (RBI) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – YBCA, curator Katya Min has assembled the work of four wildly different artists: Tom Loughlin, Senalka McDonald, Heather Sparks and Andrew Wilson. The focus of “Incursion/Recursion” ranges between truth, perception, consciousness and experience, with Min drawing parallels between isolated systems in physics and human systems. Specific matter, form and interactions alter and refract energy that remains nonetheless at a constant level.
One system that informs our every move – and that is perhaps not so isolated – is capitalism. “The Big Return” cost Heather Sparks no money to create and has no physical presence, aside from a small monitor mounted on the wall, a bold statement in white lettering on a red background and a smattering of receipts in disparate wallets. Instructing visitors to buy something they covet, share their purchase on their social networks under the hashtag #BigReturnYBCA and then return the item, Sparks foregrounds the aching desire and rush of pleasure that drives the purchasing machine. One participant documents her purchase of a diamond ring from Tiffany’s: the flirtatious dance with the salesman, the deflation when she returns the item a few hours later, returned to a life where she does not casually charge $2,000 on her card.
Inspired by the story of “Echo”, Tom Loughlin uses interactive microphones and speakers to explore movement and consequence through repetitious, delayed and distorted loops. Echo had the poor luck to fall in love with Narcissus who took no notice of her, so consumed was he with his own reflection in a pool. Echo wasted away until nothing remained but her voice. Narcissus wasted away as well, unable to tear himself from his image in the water.
Disconnect and representation mark “Panamanian American,” Senalka McDonald’s piece. A karaoke machine and colorful rotating disco ball are installed in the same space as a 16-minute loop of pop-rock music. Blaring throughout the exhibition space, lyrics like “I’m robbin’ people/ With a six-gun/ I fought the law/ And the law won,” recreate the experience of Manuel Noriega, holed up in the Holy See’s embassy while under siege from the US military. The American forces subjected the long-ruling dictator to a barrage of phone calls and earsplitting rock music over two weeks in the winter of 1989 – 1990.
McDonald’s work is a party that everyone forgot to attend, an empty discotheque very early or very late in the night, a forlorn karaoke bar in some LA strip mall. It is the pop music torture chamber for a man whose deposition is mourned by few, highlighting the fine line between popular culture and inane meaninglessness. Noriega and his history also exist in a void of meaning. The one-time ally of the US was on the payroll of the CIA until 1988, when US opinion turned and President George Bush Sr. called for a regime change.
“My job is to ask questions. My job is to be honest,” says Andrew Wilson at an artist talk one night at YBCA. Temptation of “One Dark Body” is a work that demanded bravery from artist and subjects alike; Wilson had never photographed male nudes and his subjects had never been photographed naked. Out of the many mediums across which he works, Andrew Wilson has chosen two traditional forms for a work about the unsung softness and denied potential of black men in America: black and white photography and an artist book.
42 images matched with 42 lines of text, cycle across the YBCA’s storefront. These portraits might be traced back to Robert Mapplethorpe’s fetishistic and graphic images but they are not the same. These are celebratory, spiritual, statuesque pictures of black men created by a black man. To the sameness and beaten-down-ness the media trumpets in the stories of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and even Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave,” Wilson counters: “Dear black boy you are the sweetest love song I have ever heard.” He writes, “Dear black boy they wish they had your grace.”
These bodies, “are offering, are prayer, are ascended,” the poem goes. The most overtly spiritual in “Incursion/Recursion”, Wilson calls out his fellow artists’ higher purpose: to transcend our daily habit and grind and touch truth, desire and pain.
“Incursion/Recursion” is on view through January 12, 2014.
For more information visit YBCA, San Francisco.
Contributed by Ariel Rosen
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