Artadia awards exhibition at LACE

And the award goes to… is much more a presentation of work by artists with something in common than it is a curated exhibition. This is an observation, and not a criticism; the show’s purpose is to orient viewers with the work of a group of grant winners. It’s a sparsely hung show; the combined three rooms of exhibition space hold three video installations (two projections, and one – a film – on a monitor), four modest-size drawings, one sculpture and two easel painting sized wall sculptures. A wall projection screens two videos in a loop.

Cayetano Ferrer, Vishal Jugdeo, Nicole Miller, Stanya Kahn and Kerry Tribe are the inaugural awardees of Artadia’s expansion of its granting mission. Now covering seven locales in the US, Artadia gives unrestricted awards and other support to artists. You may find out more about Artadia here

Kerry Tribe makes demands upon one’s attention and upon one’s patience with her films. The experience of her work can be trying, and it can also be intriguing. At LACE Tribe shows a short film titled The Procedure, which is a kind of period piece / drawing room comedy (without laughs) / and Structuralist exercise. As the film opens, the characters, who seem to be a family, are hushed; the colors are drab, not in a dingy way, but in a way that speaks of modesty and hard work and “no time for all that,” where “all that” is happiness. There is tension, and maybe fear present among the family. Or maybe they’re simply not very demonstrative, maybe they’re English.

They are gathered behind a dining table; one person, the paterfamilias, painstakingly sets the table, fussing with the cloth and with the placement of the service; the family watches. (Or is my presumed father figure a butler, and the group are servant? What is going on here?) He completes his task, draws himself up something like standing at attention, and he pulls away the tablecloth. The characters who are grouped behind the dad look surprised, alarmed, perhaps resigned (as though such things have happened before), and the film ends. The monitor goes black. It stays black for a length of time, and the film begins again, I think.

I watched three or four times, not in succession but as I moved through the gallery; I wondered about the length of time the monitor is black in relation to the length of the film; then I wondered whether I was missing something, whether perhaps there is more than a single film playing, and perhaps there are differences among these possible several versions that might lead me somewhere.

Stanya Kahn shows four drawings, as well as a video. This is a video-heavy show, so I am grateful to Kahn and to Ferrer for their objects. (What is it about video that jurors favor?)Like a good cartoonist, like Herblock and Conrad, Stanya Kahn draws in a way that seems immediately familiar and also strange. Her politics are stringent and her sense of humor is harsh. Can’t Pick Up and My Head on a Platter are situational jokes, with the titles defining the action: in one a character sits with its hand hacked off while a mobile rings, and the other shows a head on a platter. Lady Finger, a title which is effortlessly and delightfully salacious, shows a naked woman with one finger raised; is this a signal to wait? Or is it one of those “simmer down” things? The drawing Sloth might resemble a sloth (I’ve never seen one), but besides – or in addition to this – the figure is suave, it stands in a classic S-curve, with one finger to its mouth as if in surprise or consideration.

Kahn’s video, For the Birds, is based in line drawings; the set up is simple: there are two birds in a tree, talking. Also like the drawings, Kahn’s humor here is wry and deadpan, it feels related to the writing of Chuck Jones’ story man Michael Maltese (the Roadrunner cartoons, et al.): full of puns that are hybrids of text and symbol and action; murderously violent; sweet, and, again, familiar and comfortable. The film begins with one-liners, bomb-dropping sort of gags that promise and threaten destruction of our two birds; as the film continues, its language develops into truly strange and surreal play. I do not know whether Kahn is quoting literature, I do not know whether the paragraphs in which her birds begin to speak make sense, and I haven’t a clue what this film is about; but it smacked me out of the torpor of my gallery-complacency and made me pay attention. If I may risk pushing too far my cartoon analogy, I would say that visually this film resembles Maltese’s spare way with language, and that Kahn’s language feels the way George Herriman’s cartoons look.

Nicole Miller’s Believing is Seeing (Ndinda) is one part of a larger project by Miller, for which the artist filmed people “engaged in acts of self representation.” (See this article on LACMA’s Unframed for more: Ndinda Shapa is a recent emigrant from Kenya and a resident of Redlands; Shapa is also a teacher of hasya yoga, or laughter yoga, a physical and spiritual exercise that is the focus of Miller’s film at LACE.

Vishal Jugdeo’s abbreviated installation of Stage Design for Disassociation, which lacks the sculptural and associational attributes of the 2011 work, works out okay anyway; without the concept laden furniture-as-sculpture of the original installation, I was able to enjoy Jugdeo’s piece the way I would a television show: I laughed, I grew nervous when one character seemed about to fly off the handle, I felt exasperation at the condescensions of the therapist character, I laughed in surprise when the video abruptly changed course; in short, I became way too involved. Ha, I wanted to flee, but had to stay. I was having fun.

Cayetano Ferrer’s two wall pieces, Zero Period 2 and 3 are described as “duct tape and carpet fibers” and they have a wonderful, nostalgic look to them; the threadbare visages of these carpet squares remind me of a Fox Theater in Fullerton that I used to know, and the way the patterns fade to dark and to light feels cinematic.

A sculpture in the entry gallery, Jade Chair (Speculative Recreation) similarly makes reference to an original that is not available, in this case a series of found casts of tablets, which were themselves made (in some indistinct past, and by a loosely-connected third party) from impressions of a throne given to the Catholic Pope by a Chinese Emperor. Nothing in this history is certain; even the fact of the presence of a history might be a falsehood; other than the objects at hand, nothing is promised or implied by the artist. Ah, but there is a book, sitting at the front desk; a book without title and without colophon; a reference without references, if you will. This book seems to promise enlightenment, and then does not.

Pictured in this book are photographic facsimiles of “lettergrams,” with hand written interpretive notes on the scenes in the tablets; these offerings are followed by photographs of the tablets themselves, which are in no particular order relating to the lettergrams or to the chair. Another uncertainty is introduced by the apparently random repetition of images in the book: some appear twice and more times, some not at all.

Ferrer presents copies that while conceptually distant from an original are yet in physical proximity, often having touched the object itself. Indeed, in the case of the Zero Period pieces, which retain actual fibers of the original carpets, one finds factual evidence of the artist’s intent that is inarguable: it is as if Ferrer says, “This is carpet, and not something else.” So much for critical interpretation.

I’ve been reading Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and I approach Cayetano Ferrer’s work with the title essay in mind; I appreciate that his work mimics mimesis and also invites an interpretation that reveals itself as impossible to pursue.

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