The right-on-target exhibition “Move” at the Morono Kiang Gallery bristles with intellectual brio and visual aplomb. It’s not just because of its premise – the displayed work heralds some manner of change – or else of its work – each piece presents itself as an agent of change. It’s because it reminds us of the haven’t-heard-much-about-it-lately concept of the avant-garde. You can slice the concept in any number of ways: art describes “a major change in the perception of the world (“Art & Physics,” Leonard Shlain); art proactively “prepares the future” (“The Shock of the New,” Robert Hughes); or, more poetically, art represents “an inability to see one’s way forward but a feeling that there was a way forward, and that the act of going forward would eventually bring about the conditions for vision...” (“Negotiating with the Dead,” Margaret Atwood). But the fact remains: this exhibition confirms that the primary function of art is, has been, and always will be as an oracle.
The show’s givens range from the global – the impact of technology; the consequence of advertising; the proliferation of new media – to the idiosyncratic and subjective – the impact of dreams; the idea of sanctuary. The pieces challenge us; they are intelligent and provocative, and the show is cleverly laid out. (To confirm the pervasiveness of the premise, the gallery’s set up laid out the show as a home: a facade, a yard, an entryway, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living room). Laced with humor, insight, and topicality, the work may appear disparate but the installation feels organic. The pieces seamlessly abide by the show’s taut curatorial premise (aka its interior decoration scheme). This premise offers an open-ended inquiry into the way art creates a coming-to-terms with identity in an era of rapid change, the way art articulates a move away from the status quo amidst and betwixt the flux of change. (Note: the gallery’s next show, “Growth,” takes the premise one step further, from movement to articulation of the consequence of that movement).
First stop on the tour is Steven Yao-Chee Wong’s “Post Fiber Profile.” A mixed media installation, the piece describes the almost-there obsolescence of snail mail. Though this strewn-about, through-a-mail-slot cluster of parcels, letters, and packages has the analog aura conferred upon it by a human touch (the application of stamps, the writing of addresses, the sealing of envelopes), the piece waxes nostalgic, it’s fragile dignity conferred by the ephemeral paper of which the objects consist.
Moving counterclockwise we find John Carr’s “Because We Care, a piece that incisively conflates the idea of sanctuary (a man’s last refuge is his loo) with the contemporary parsing down of personal space and civil liberties. Though the word “Freedom” is printed on each piece of toilet paper, the enclosed space is claustrophobic; the transparent walls of the enclosure depict glass shattered by bullets, SWAT teams members standing guard, chain link and wire cutters. The artist’s throne? You guessed it.
Next on the tour is Kendell Carter’s assembled pieces that extend culture’s hi/low dichotomy one step further and melds furniture, curios, and keepsakes into art objects to form the contents of a living room. When conceived as a whole, the pieces show how, when information is digitized and available 24/7, distinctions between formal and casual culture become blurred; not even context can clarify the matter. Brand name hats become components of a hanging light; bronzed boots, albeit adult-sized, are stacked serially on a wall a la Donald Judd; the mattress of a fold-out bed becomes a monochromatic painting (with serial repetitions of “move” painted thereon); and a portrait becomes a Madonna scene.
Then there’s Ricardo Duffy’s “Cleaning the Vortex,” by far the wittiest piece of a witty show. This piece documents the allegiance to chronological snobbery of an image-deluged culture. A woman wearing a Mexican jaguar mask vacuums up the shards (literally, sweeps the floor) of what uncannily resembles a shattered Jeff Koons shiny, animal sculpture. Simultaneously the piece addresses issues that pit, against one another, traditional versus contemporary, indigenous versus global, and ritualistic versus commerce. Iconographically the jaguar (which makes her, literally and figuratively, the mother of all cougars!) is linked to fertility (i.e., sustained creativity) while the Koons piece comes across as nothing but a bauble of exchange.
Hidden in a nearby corner is Anonymous’s “Rat Trap.” Here, a cocked mousetrap sits poised to crack the knuckles of anyone who tries to remove the American Express card there poised like a piece of cheese. It’s not so much its seemingly innocuous nature that lends the piece resonance, it’s how unerringly accurate it pinpoints the source of our financial malaise. Not only does the piece spell out the consequences of nabbing (charge it!) that charge card, the fact that the card’s magnetic confirms how we’re drawn to the thing as if it were a Siren of easy money.
Then we have Camilio Ontiveros’s “Gol (from the series “Poor Games”). Placed on an Astroturf swath, a lopsided rock painted like a soccer ball portrays how the artist as a young man would dream of being the best player on the Mexican national soccer team. The piece shows how imagination (aka art) can embody as-yet-unrealized dreams. Ironically, though the ball’s symbolized by a rock, it’s not an anchor but rather the ammo of a catapult aimed toward some envisioned future. Step under a hanging speaker and you activate the audio of an actual soccer broadcast, complete with the iconic ululation of “Goooooollllllllllllllll!!!” when a shot hits the net.
Then Betty Lee’s installation. “Smartest Self,” shows how you can use the subconscious to move away from the froth of 24/7 inundation news. On an enormous bed (compare the scale of the bed with that of John Carr’s bathroom; the imagination knows no boundaries), she’s projected snippets and snatches of new media “natterings.” Above, though, projected on a screen that represents the bedroom’s ceiling and symbolizes the artist’s soul, are the utterances of her “smartest self” whereby her lizard brain tries to process, filter, and assimilate and correlate and apply these natterings.
And, finally we come to Kimmy Kim’s “Self Portrayal.” With great irony, this mixed media and cosmetics piece stages the transparent hull of a woman filled with tubes of hair and skin products. The piece addresses how the media conditions women toward some impossible standard of beauty while it shows how the propaganda is more psychological than physical: the products are placed under the skin, not on top. It’s not a coincidence that the woman is as bland and featureless as can be.
With perspicacious verve and limitless implications, “Move” will invigorate those who feel that art isn’t only something sacred and inviolate, the stuff of mausoleums cum museums. That it isn’t just a Babel of clamoring theory. But, instead, that art is an agent of change, that it’s got work to do, which explains why the show and the work contained therein is trim, not flabby, why it has a healthy pulse and doesn’t twitter with trendy and asynchronistcity.