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David Snyder’s solo show, Ersatz OK, could be described as dystopian if the data-overwhelmed, authoritarian society it depicts didn’t feel so familiar and close to home. Made from simple building materials like drywall, wood, and nails that Snyder has paired with lo-fi tech, his constructions portray a mind-numbing, albeit humorous, idiocracy—one that alarmingly represents the hegemony of the lowest common denominator.
Tilted Arch, Reactionary Gems (all works 2020) is a stark white, story-high, faux-Federalist classical arch that is precariously tilting backward. Decorated with various reliefs—all cast from dollar store items like clothes hangers, Twizzlers, and glowing green Mountain Dew bottles—the archway contains two embedded videos of glittering purple sapphires on small screens. Move around to the back, and a hollow wooden structure is laid bare like a disposed Hollywood prop. The fakeness and tilting of the whole thing lends instability to a supposed symbol of strength—this takes on extra unintended significance now that the White House is considering a decree to mandate neoclassical architectural styles for federal buildings.
In Postcard from Arcadia, video footage taken from commercials plays on three moving TVs, visible through a postcard-sized hole in the wall. A fourth, static screen plays slowed-down footage of tiki torches from the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville; the imagery so heavy-handed and specific that the attempted comparisons—between advertising, capitalism, and the darkness of American racism—feel uncomfortably glib. Elsewhere, a TV set atop a drywall box plays videos of Snyder’s mouth chanting scripts cribbed from robocalls. The whole apparatus shuffles noisily about in a circle when motion activated. It is the stupidest form of AI, responding to us but lacking insight, regurgitating the same nonsense we’ve put out into the world.
Endless Flame does a subtler, more poignant job of getting at the insidious link between image and authority. A minimalist sconce above a doorway projects a faint, flickering light on the ceiling. The light turns out to be footage of a 2018 U.S. airstrike on the Taliban, though the viewer would only know this by asking gallery staff. Hovering overhead like a cloud, it captures the ever-present, subliminal role that military aggression plays, especially for younger Americans who have lived most of their lives in a country at war. In this way, Snyder points to something more familiar and perhaps more sinister than threats posed by big data or AI: the cheap, degraded, ersatz way that products and information already control our lives. The dream of American exceptionalism is undone not by external threats, but by homegrown cheap thrills that mask the more pernicious aspects under the surface.
David Snyder: Ersatz OK runs from January 25–March 21, 2020 at Michael Benevento Gallery (3712 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004).