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From the exterior of Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen’s solo-exhibition BYSTANDER at AWHRHWAR a backlit image glows in the gallery window. An inkjet-printed vinyl banner ominously trapped behind security bars, 2 together going somewhere (2018), depicts a scene that in turn feels sexually titillating and vaguely violent, not unlike an American Apparel advertisement or mainstream advertising in general. Two faceless close-cropped figures—one male, one female—are locked in either a struggle or an embrace, setting up an atmosphere of ambivalence that runs throughout the exhibition.
Once inside, hardwork (2018), another vinyl banner containing an ethically ambiguous image, fills the entirety of one gallery wall. Again a male and female figure interact atop a simple formal background, both dressed in generically hip clothes. This piece, however, contains an additional female figure described by the press release as a “monstrous minotaur.” Posed with her fists clenched, face obscured and nude from the waist up, the figure is visually arresting but too conventionally stylized to elicit monstrosity. In a small framed work hung on the adjacent wall, She WEEPS (2017), a disproportionately large male and female figure lay atop a relatively undersized Griffith Park mountain, locked in a embrace that feels performative and staged, rather than depicting a genuine moment of intimacy. Wearing a high-cut one-piece bathing suit printed with an American flag, the female figure’s outfit celebrates her culture’s narcissism while maintaining a flattering fit.
BYSTANDER reflects on our culture’s passive acceptance of the violence and vanity implicit in mainstream media, especially fashion and advertising. The strength of the exhibition lies in its ability to translate these images’ seductive allure, confronting rather than condemning our collective attraction to them. But ultimately the work relies so heavily on the conventions of such everyday, widespread mediums that it is in danger of eliciting responses often attributed to the exhibition’s titular subject—ambivalence, indifference, merely passing by.
Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen: BYSTANDER runs April 12-May 5, 2018 at AWHRHWAR (6074 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90042)