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Within contemporary art and discourse, the symptoms of globalization, Westernization, and post-colonial history are enigmatic, at once an afterthought and a cast shadow. The first exhibition of the ongoing multi-year curatorial project Histories of A Vanishing Present: A Prologue at The Mistake Room diagnoses—and boldly confronts—these broad, dense issues through a series of screenings, talks, and exhibitions. In the first chapters of the A Prologue section, young artists presented video and projection in the gallery space and scholars took part in a lecture series. Interstices between the Millennial Generation and international perspectives materialized, as each artist in the exhibition was born after or around 1980, and all hail from wide-ranging geographic locale.
In the video works, individual artist’s memories—watched on TV, read in a book, recounted, or experienced firsthand—assume equal significance. Retention (and with it, forgetting) is examined. The exhibition collapses space, joining historical narratives from around the globe in ways that obscure the boundaries between subjective experiences. Shuffling through these memories, a strange and speculative portrait of the Millennial Generation’s globalized world emerges.
Recent collective memories of public spaces inform Aleksandra Domanovic’s haunting video Turbo Sculpture (2010-2013). In this provocative work, the artist explores a trend in bizarre monuments that were erected during or after the ethnic Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. The video appears as a computer slideshow, where images pile on top of one another like a stack of real snapshots (a dated flip effect popular in the ‘90s). A narrator recounts the regional history and its monument-culture in the monotonous tone of an educational documentary. She explains that pop-culture icons, stars, fictional characters, and Western politicians/celebrities have come to fill the empty pedestals in public art sites of the Balkan region. As Batman, Johnny Depp, Bill Clinton, and Tupac Shakur inhabit these plinths, one wonders whose identity and history is forgotten—or worse, erased? This glorification of fictional and foreign characters conceals real historical figures (regional political leaders, heroes, or fallen martyrs), instead honoring ersatz icons of Western visual culture. For Domanovic, these monuments are documents of active erasure.
In Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s compelling video Finding Fanon Part Two (2015), the artists construct a narrative of history based on the lost theatrical scripts of post-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon. Rendered in Machinima-style graphics of video game and computer animation, the work places two men dressed in suits in the surreal and simulated environment of Grand Theft Auto 5. They fall from the sky onto the streets of downtown Los Angeles, perambulating through the urban terrain of industrial train tracks, grassy knolls, and loading docks. A narrator invokes Fanon’s writing on power and oppression, revolution and complacency, colonialism and immigration. She recites his thoughts on reality and fantasy in relation to history. The prescience of Fanon’s writing reverberates, particularly in light of contemporary crises like the Black Lives Matter movement, the European migrant crisis, and the surge in wealth inequality.
Kemang Wa Lehulere’s video, A Homeless Song (Sleep is for the Gifted) (2013), activates stories of the apartheid era in South Africa through choreography. White and black dancers scuttle around a stage, moving bones or (more chillingly) digging graves. These gestures become an elegy for the fallen in both South Africa and other global conflict zones. Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s video Collapse (2009) collages footage of movement and displacement in a somber rumination on the Palestinian condition. The blurry, aged footage and shaky camera invoke war and loss; the calamities recounted are markers of painful recent history.
Histories of A Vanishing Present: A Prologue was on view from January 9–March 26, 2016 at at The Mistake Room (1811 E. 20th St., Los Angeles, CA 90058).
Originally published in Carla Issue 4.