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Yelena Zhelezov’s pieces in Dulce Dientes at Rainbow in Spanish bring together a host of repeating elements on gossamer-thin fabric: YouTube screen grabs, Google search lists, embroidery, decorative fringe, and visual riddles hidden in the undersides of bottle caps. Her work’s materiality recalls the layering of technology’s screens, behind which its mechanics, its back ends, its potential surveilling, lurk.
The bottle caps recur within each piece, each riddle spelling out the work’s title, and acting as an anchor amidst digital and analogue debris. Zhelezov’s YouTube frames source from “poorly made biopics” according to the press release, adding to the sense of a casual snapshot of one’s mind by way of one’s computer: the flotsam of phrases and traces of curiosity left in our browser histories. Zhelezov here overtly, perhaps politically, points to the ways in which we construct our own sense of history, based nowadays on a personal, free-floating, randomized level of interest correlating with the easy access of information and technology and the assumption of freedom that technology performs—for who among us would notice what links are omitted from our Google search lists while searching for that which we don’t already know. Zhelezov’s personal is a deft kind of political.
The works in Dulce Dientes seem at first glance, as Zhelezov’s do as well, adrift, if not iron deficient—save Rachel Lord’s raging, anti-fluoride Baby Teeth (2017). Mads Lindberg’s works seem particularly afflicted with paralysis. One of Lindberg’s three Untitled pieces consists of a lightly painted bodyboard leaning against the wall and a small, nearly-blank painting above; the beige-ish, pinkish, whitish painted canvas gives way at one point to a rounded snippet of what looks like floor tile—the smallest indication of another world beyond the opaque.
But there’s an agility to the linkages between much of Dulce Dientes’ works, which thread the personal through the contemporary, digitized sphere and its predominance as an instantaneous source of visual and textual information. Two of Jason Burgess’ paintings, eliminationofwhiteworkingclass (2017) and allthewillintheworld (2016), both employ glossily-sheened rock or faux-jewel shapes in a manner reminiscent of Ashley Bickerton. A literal interpretation linking the forms and titles seems possible, if a stretch, in the former—rocks, the sort (as in coal mining) which index altogether a working-class wage, the likelihood of ill health, and the certainty of environmental damage. Jake Kean Mayman’s painting Phantom Patriot (Richard McCaslin) (2017) takes a similarly oblique route to class concerns: a backwards Sears logo at the bottom is half crossed out by a thick, color-shifting ribbon—a pointed, if ambiguous, reference to the nearby historic Sears manufacturing center that has become a lightning rod in the gentrification fight roaring in Boyle Heights.
Where Mayman’s lone work is roughly equidistant, formally, from Zhelezov’s and Burgess’, Lord’s Baby Teeth is another monster entirely—a manifesto-like banner decrying the addition of fluoride to municipal water supplies, and overwhelming the remaining works’ comparative subtlety. Lord’s piece is goofy and frenzied—cartoon teeth drown in a deluge of thick, black liquid emitted from industrial vats in the lower section of the banner. A triumphant hand grasping a toothpaste-smeared toothbrush shoots out at the top between two belching smokestacks. Lord’s work is stridently political in its depiction of the arguable usurpation of individual rights represented by fluoride; it is pointedly counter-balanced and underscored by the exhibition title, which translates as “sweet tooth.”
The power of “the personal is political” has, as all power, a dark underside—namely, the erasure of a substantive difference between private life and public policy. Those at the short end of power have always known this. Contemporary media, marked by digitalization and the easy, immediate access of information is a perhaps inevitable consequence of the purposeful erasure of the boundary between the personal and the political; whether such a boundary ever really existed, one presumably could once imagine that it did. It is this that accounts equally for the sense of loss and the sense of inertia so prominent in Dulce Dientes, and its predominant stance that our attempts to interpret and make sense of an ever-complex world can never escape the affects of our own subjectivity.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 11.