Curated by Carlye Packer, You Catch More Flies with Arsenic Than Honey is rife with new translations of familiar themes. Identity, the environment, childhood, politics, life, death and beyond are handled in such a way that none of the works in the eclectic multi-room gallery of Club Pro LA appear out of place. The show presents the work of 12 artists and runs January 27 to March 4, offering access and flow in an atemporal space, while all the while making sense.
The exhibition is bookended by Alice Wang’s prominent floor-pieces ‘Untitled #2’ and ‘Untitled #3’ (2017), opening to and closing with the uncertain and grainy mood evoked by these sizeable, grayscale mosaics. Wang, who studied computer science, organized the hundreds of square tiles using an algorithm to communicate the theoretical aural and visual debris from the so-called ‘Big Bang’ into a grayscale composition, almost mimicking low-quality security camera or drone footage. The pixelated compositions are dominating, ‘Untitled #2’ being the first thing seen upon entering. Taking up swaths of floor, it’s an unsaid requirement to step lightly and proceed with caution.
Immediately above Wang’s piece is one of two large color photographs by Derek Paul Boyle. ‘Washed Chains’ throws more uncertainty into the air, along with it’s counterpart ‘Cut Shoes’ (2017) across the room. The pictures are exactly as described by their titles, detailed, finely printed and framed portraits of each respective object (large industrial metal links covered in soapy bubbles and a pair of white tennis shoes sheared beyond recognition).
Along one of the walls and adorning a large wooden banister, is Alexandra Schinas’ ‘In the ecological crisis, apologies are too late (and rendered ineffective),’ (2013). Comprising five small, potted plants, some bolted directly to the wall in an apparent free-fall, another spilled on the floor directly below, the piece is surreal. If you get close enough, branded beneath the leaves of each plant are insignificant apologetic words. One of the older pieces in the show, it comments on the looming and yet-unsolved climate wars being fought globally.
The two plush ‘soft sculptures’ by Iranian-American artist Sheida Soleimani, ‘Reyhaneh’ and ‘Maryam’ (2016) free-stand near the first room’s corner. Visitors are able to walk around and between the pieces, experiencing them three-dimensionally. The amorphous blobs feature the faces of two women. The converging of sculpture, photography and politics creates a hectic and unsettling aura — the portraits belonging to what are recognized in the country as ‘disappeared women’ — people often tortured and secretly killed based on Sharia law by their own government. The horrific truths of these otherwise soft and toy-like pieces creates an uneasiness that is similarly mirrored by the ceramic pieces of Grant Levy-Lucero nearby.
Levy-Lucero’s hand-built and painted clay carafes are displayed along a shelf in a museum style. They evoke ancient artifacts, almost evidence of a long-gone era and a Western culture entirely obsessed with oil. Immediately next to them is another of his pieces, a precisely and perilously installed ‘12 Car Pile-Up’, (2017). A set of miniature racecars create an organic and satisfyingly childlike mound, once more adding to the perilous and uneasy nature of the show. A small painting by Janiva Ellis hangs on a pillar leading to the next room. The bright colors in ‘Duck duck deuce 2’ (2017) form the recognizable but abstracted cartoon character Daffy Duck. With eyes emerging from a gaping beak, the painting is fun to look at and hard to forget. It’s at once nostalgic, satisfying and bizarre.
Breaking from the traditional ‘white cube’ of the rest of the exhibition, the installation by Miles Preston-Clark is housed in a light pink-painted corner, with the color extending to the floor, completely sectioning off the space it takes up, creating a spectacle effect. On one wall is mounted a video installation for his piece ‘In the Ring Where We Belong’ (2016). Pulsing and heavily-manipulated, the hot pink bodies of two male wrestlers cut across the screen in slow motion, gradually zooming in to the point of distortion. Text plays across the bottom of the film in a subtitular way, presenting a homoerotic narrative. On the adjacent wall hangs an almost triumphantly mounted magenta jock strap.
Installed directly across from the video is Preston-Clark’s third piece called ‘Stars Everywhere You Look’ (2016). The photograph is a blown up, low-resolution eye belonging to seven-year old Aiyana Jones from Detroit, who died from police negligence and violence in a botched home raid in 2010. Mounted in reflective glass, the eye is impossible to view devoid of your own reflection.
Hanging from the ceiling is another piece by Schinas. ‘(A straightforward rejection of history ) DEATH TANK (We agree that the cozy anthropocentric world-view that has governed Western thought since the advent of Greek philosophy is a super cute idea, but *really* extremely dysfunctional)’ (2013). A clear glass container filled with water, magic sand, and miniature replicas of a Western civilization (the Statue of Liberty, ancient Roman columns etc..) billed as ‘aquarium decor’ are preserved and displayed.
‘Wafflehouse’ (2017) by Mitra Saboury and Derek Paul-Boyle could easily be missed if one isn’t looking out for it. It’s a real waffle, spackled and painted flush into the gallery wall, in the same way a hole may be filled before an exhibition. Installed near the baseboard, it’s a piece so pleasingly simple and concisely titled, it’s hard to not appreciate its wit. The artist duo’s sometimes squeamish, but mostly satisfyingly tactile instagram (@meatwreck) and their newly-minted YouTube channel by the same name have plenty examples of these tongue-in-cheek double entendres.
Saboury’s own practice takes the form of a series of videos installed throughout the space. ‘Antigrowth 1, 2 and 3’ (2017) are hard to simply walk past. She plays the subject in the three POV-style scenarios, while an anonymous pair of male hands inflict playful torment on her. In ‘Antigrowth 1’ she‘s almost entirely buried, just her face above dirt, while the camera moves with the ‘gardener’ as she’s watered, raked and treated like any other plant in the yard around her. The second ‘Antigrowth’ video is mounted on the ceiling looking down into the space, depicting a subject endlessly trapped, bound to a door handle. ‘Antigrowth 3’ has Saboury caught in a cupboard, her hands repetitively bursting through one cabinet door or the other, and each time is pushed back inside (like Whack-a-Mole) by the same hands from number 1. Breaking from the norm of pieces mounted on flat screens throughout the gallery, ‘Antigrowth 3’ is displayed on a large, now-archaic television monitor, sat facing directly into the corner, making viewing the video only possible by crouching claustrophobically into the same nook.
Moving along to the final room, the inviting and celebratory installation by LA-based fashion house NO SESSO dives straight into a dialogue on race and gender. Spatially prominent in its installation, colorful, femme, workwear clothing hangs from the ceiling by multi-hued braided ropes. Embroidered into the fabric of these garments in various hues are the heavily-quoted and appropriated words of black female rap and hip hop artists, centering on feminism, empowerment and money. These phrases make up the titles of said pieces, for example: ‘RUN ME MY MONEY,’ ‘MAD BITCHES LINK UP’ and ‘GIRLS GET YOUR MONEY’ (2017). Painted entirely the same soft pink as Preston-Clark’s wrestling installation, a headless male mannequin stands contraposto, wearing only a pair of orange knit hot pants, with the words’ Working Girl’ hand-stitched into the crotch.
Nick Angelo’s ‘A Study of Favela Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro’ (2016) depicts the interpreted and gestural record of a shantytown in Brazil. Using a palette of bright pastel acrylic paints, sand and soil, the multi-layered effect of the painting lends itself to the reality of the unfinished, and constant building and rebuilding of this makeshift housing solution. Along the furthest wall of the final room is the piece ‘Your Destination’ (2015), computer scientist/artist Max Hawkins creates an interactive piece that invites visitors to take a small printed receipt that emerges from a white plinth. Each print-out has a ‘destination’ on it, the show culminating at a somewhat anonymous and wildly ambiguous point, which feels entirely right.
An exercise less in storytelling, and more in combining many practices into a cooperative experience, it would be unfair to try and say what You Catch More Flies With Arsenic Than Honey is about. Many well-trodden themes are present but all hold their own independently, while cohabiting. Even the title of the show echoes this theme of re-interpretation of the familiar, reimagined in a post-Trump context. It finds a great deal of success in its inclusion; an intersectional approach to art being made in the ‘new now.’ As a holistic amalgam of a contemporary international mood — More Flies… is at once unapologetic and critical, but more importantly it is perseverant, and in some, abstract manner, quite hopeful.**