Reinterpretation as Resistance
Artists Questioning Normative Iconography
Particularly in times of increasing unrest, art can be a powerful tool for advocacy. In advance of the 2018 United States mid-term elections, the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery presents a group exhibition of works by Libby Black, Ken Botto, Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, Alexander Kosolapov, Liliana Porter, Josh Reames, Dread Scott, John Sims, and Victor Yañez-Lazcano that question the social values, attitudes, and beliefs embedded in American society to expose deeply seated cultural myths and prejudices.
Symbols point beyond themselves to unquantifiable concepts and they open up the depth dimension of reality itself. With broadly recognizable symbols, context can be skewed by what is considered “socially acceptable” or “normative” to assert one dominant reading. We as human beings have a tendency toward absolute meanings in our perception of symbols that have come to represent complex concepts such as “success” or “democracy” or “God” because absolutism provides comfort in seeming secure, straightforward, uniform, and virtuous. This emboldens these symbols with a vast amount of power and in times of social and political turmoil, it can be important to re-evaluate these symbols.
The very symbols that many, particularly those in the power majority, believe to be universal and absolute can actually be perceived by Others as pejorative and serve as reminders of structural inequality. These symbols range from those of nationalism and militarism to capitalism and Christianity. This exhibition seeks to question the status quo and re-define possible meanings of such normative icons. Through juxtapositions and re-contextualizations, these artists create linkages between divergent concepts and lived experiences. Represented is a range of intensity of artistic statements against the prevailing status quo of intersecting institutions comprising our society. The symbolic actions embodied in their works re-frame the meaning of symbolic objects from a plurality of perspectives.
The work of Libby Black is based on objects and imagery culled from disparate sources like fashion magazines, newspapers, pop culture, historical events, and her personal life. She creates three-dimensional still lifes to chart a path through personal history and a broader cultural context to explore themes of impermanence and identity. Her piece Emotionsdramatically calls into question the implied value of luxury brands within capitalist consciousness through the use of paper, hot glue, and paint.
Ken Botto was a photographer and collector whose passion for old toys led him to begin photographing them. Rather than taking the camera into the real environment of landscapes and household interiors, he preferred to stage tableaux in his own backyard. Using toys, props, and other miniature domestic objects, he fabricated and photographed worlds that reveal much of how we view our cultural identity. Work from Botto’s projects 911, Berlin, Conversation, Model Society, Suburban Poolside, and Urban Decay are featured in this exhibition, including several photographs that have never been printed or exhibited before.
Coming from a family of makers, Maggy Rozycki Hiltner searches antique shops, thrift stores and yard sales for embroidered linens, collecting the brightly colored flowers, foliage, and animals that appear in her work. What she cannot find she hand-stitches and mixes in with the collected embroidery. She uses the familiarity of the stitch along with seemingly lighthearted and cheerful designs to convey more serious subject matter. Her textile work Shop for America questions the ever-quickening demand for and ritualization of consumption through humor and Dick and Jane-style characters.
Art questioning the boundary between what is sacred and what is profane is a hallmark of Alexander Kosolapov. He plays with powerful societal symbols precisely to confront the viewer with the reality that a rigid boundary between Christian iconography and symbols of consumption does not exist. His work in the exhibition, This is My Blood and Hero, Leader, God, are prime examples of his reflection on commodity fetish and the imaginary social separation of sanctification from secularization.
Liliana Porter is interested in the simultaneity of humor and distress, banality and the possibility of meaning. Her photography and video works in this exhibition depict a cast of characters that are inanimate objects, toys, and figurines that she has found. The objects have a double existence. On the one hand they are mere appearance, insubstantial ornaments, but, at the same time, have a gaze that can be animated by the viewer, who, through it, can project the inclination to endow things with an interiority and identity. These “theatrical vignettes” are constructed as visual comments that speak of the human condition.
Artist Josh Reames appropriates concepts that stand-in for American identity and he hijacks sentimental metaphors and icons to destabilize the status quo. In his piece 90 Different Ways, in which he manipulates a trampoline to display a painted American flag, Josh Reames critiques the broadly-held societal values of the American dream and exposes them as elastic and emotional, their meanings easily manipulated by those in power.
Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. For three decades he has made work that encourages viewers to re-examine cohering norms of American society. He works in a range of media including performance, photography, screen-printing, and video. Dread Scott plays with fire—metaphorically and sometimes literally—as can be seen in his performative photographs Burning the US Constitution featured in this exhibition.
Interdisciplinary conceptual artist John Sims focuses on the politics of supposedly sacred symbols, particularly those of Confederate iconography, southern heritage, and white supremacy. This exhibition features work from his Recoloration Proclamation series, a sixteen year multimedia endeavor exploring the complexity of identity, cultural appropriation, and visual terrorism inherent in flags. A video from his Burn and Bury project, an annual burning of the Confederate flag every Memorial Day, and an installation related to his AfroDixieRemixes music compilation will also be on display. Additionally, John Sims will be creating a brand new limited edition chapbook specifically for this exhibition.
Victor Yañez-Lazcano explores the various factors associated with assimilation narratives, particularly as they pertain to language, labor, and notions of visibility. His practice seeks to synthesize personal experience along with research in raciolinguistics, Chicano history, and intersectional feminism to further contextualize formed perceptions of Mexican-immigrant and Mexican-American identities. Works such as his immigrants (a kind of blue) further gesture toward an understanding of how his own perception of identity formation has often resulted in the internalization of systems of oppression.
Uncomfortable juxtapositions, charged imagery, and partiality are employed in Reinterpretation as Resistance: Artists Questioning Normative Iconography to confront viewers with divergent perspectives on issues of social, political, and cultural urgency. What we see depends on where we stand. Given the malleability and dynamism of meaning these artists put to use, this exhibition asks viewers to see a plurality of possible meanings of symbols typically understood as ubiquitous in relevance and importance.
In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, John Sims will present an illustrated lecture 5:00pm – 6:00pm in the Department of Art & Art History Lecture Hall (room 133) the evening of October 2, 2018, just prior to the opening reception, 6:00pm-7:30pm in the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
We would like to extend our humblest appreciation to Libby Black as well as Griff Williams, Lizzie Kurita, and the staff of Gallery 16 (San Francisco, CA) for their help in facilitating the loan of Libby Black’s work; to Linda Samuels of the Kenneth J. Botto Photography Trust (Bolinas, CA) for her help in facilitating the loan of Ken Botto’s work; to Liliana Porter and Kate Menconeri of Liliana’s studio as well as Ellen Mahoney, Brooke Corley, and the staff of Hosfelt Gallery (San Francisco, CA) for their help in facilitating the loan of Liliana Porter’s work; to Luis de Jesus, Jay Wingate, and the staff of the Luis de Jesus Gallery (Los Angeles, CA) for their help in facilitating the loan of Josh Reames’ work; and to Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, Alexander Kosolapov, Dread Scott, John Sims, and Victor Yañez-Lazcano for generously loaning their own works to us directly.
Curated by Aaron Wilder
October 2, 2018, 5-6pm in Art Building Lecture Hall
October 2, 2018, 6-7:30pm, in the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery
Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm, and Tuesday evenings, 6-7:30pm
And by special appointment
Date(s) - October 02, 2018 - November 02, 2018