Despite the announcement of ‘post-truth’ as Oxford’s 2016 word of the year, the Western apprehension of knowledge maintains its attendant fashioning of reality, still providing immutable givens. In a perverse, shortsighted social contract where truthiness — as in, opinions and perceptions presented with little regard for fact or logic — is contingent upon the ethos of its speaker. Thus, the deconstructivist tradition fails to debase or demystify the rise and legacy of fascism. When despotism is everywhere yet simultaneously difficult to locate, effectual opposition seems unlikely. Objects, texts and architecture are offered as concentrated and focused arbiters that contrast the cloudy spectacles of power in Givens, curated by Dana Kopel and running AA|LA Gallery from November 5 to December 17.
On the outside wall of the gallery adjacent to the entrance is manuel arturo abreu’s ‘Tan Arm, Antilles, Etant Donnés Door.’ The large 18.8 x 24 foot print on vinyl shows an arm positioned parallel to the Antillean islands (a portion of which Columbus terrorized in a 1493 expedition), obscuring the peephole and door from Duchamp’s last major art work ‘Étant donnés.’ ‘Herramienta,’ also by Abreu, is composed of a Foco Soursop Juice can and a tallow candle, forming an eponymous ritual-tool. Julie Ault and Martin Beck’s ‘Pink Ceiling’ serves as a formidable substructure of the exhibition and is normalized through the formal logic of the gallery’s interior. ‘Oppressional Fixture #1 (Feed Through)’ by Patrice Renee Washington houses bleached flour in porcelain, demonstrating the unsightliness of homogenization. The piece is especially apposite as it pertains to the whiteness of Western electoral politics and more literally anthropogenic threats to our ecosystem in global environmental disasters like coral bleaching.
Lina Viste Grønli’s ‘Fig on Roles and Values’ interrogates the value of 20th century thought; a rotting fig is placed atop a book titled Roles and Values: An Introduction to Social Ethics. In the Christian tradition, Jesus curses a fig tree to demonstrate the efficacy of prayer and his control of nature — does analytical philosophy wield the same influence? ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’ by Raque Ford invokes the character of Georgia Brown from the 1943 film Cabin in the Sky (released when films with black performers were often banned).
Ford expounds upon the presentation of the black female character in the early 20th century through the diaristic newsprint zine Dear Devil: “Dear Devil, I want to be alone but I don’t want to be lonely. Do you ever feel like that? Sincerely, Georgia Brown.” Ravi Jackson also utilizes text in ‘Incense Holder.’ Beneath a totemic wooden object founding a smoky ambience is a print-out of the poem ‘Word from the Right Wing’ by LeRoi Jones, now known as writer and poet Amiri Baraka. ‘Untitled’ by Jackson also employs text as a central tenet, aligning with the curation’s primary mission of unveiling violent paradigms:
“The Caucasian Race can conquer and control peoples and nations anywhere in the world, but it can not defeat and destroy the laws, cycles and way of Nature, therefore these factors and forces are our way out via knowledge of them and practice of them.”
‘Differentiate me from a doormat’ by Cristine Brache is one of the more literal works in the show, creating a lexicon of subordination through commonplace objects. In ‘Crestfallen escutcheon,’ etching the word “Hole” onto a keyhole made of mother-of-pearl, Brache renders the work to its most basic function, while sexualizing it simultaneously. ‘Untitled (Eels)’ by Patty Chang is a video work where the artist writhes in pain and discomfort while the live aquatic animal moves underneath her blouse. The source of her distress isn’t initially obvious until the viewer catches small glances of the eel’s outline. Ontologies of disquiet, whether chronic or short-lived, are hardly ever apparent.
Givens is slow-moving yet galvanizing, antagonistic, beautiful. Interpreting codes cannot be accelerated if it’s to operate outside of the feedback loop of reactionary politics. Writer Timothy Lavenz notes that “[t]he notion of a grand rupture, shock, or intervention in the system is therefore outdated. It is again based on a false ontology of the event as something sudden, unprecedented, mysterious, or ‘befalling.’” Givens demands formal inspection using a praxis that doesn’t lean on critique as a charismatic, empty signifier, but rather one that demonstrates genuine fear, concern and thought.**