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Glen Wilson’s current exhibition at Various Small Fires, Slim Margins, pushes the still photograph into an expansive sculptural context. Across the artworks in the exhibition, the artist slices large photographic prints, made in his Venice neighborhood and during his travels, into diagonal strips that are woven into chain-link fences. Integrating the fence as a frame for multiple works imbues Wilson’s images with a compelling sense of place, poetically depicting realities of the African Diaspora and the disparity of freedom while also offering a space to celebrate the power of community.
By incorporating the chain-link fence, a common structure used to mark a boundary and control access, the work offers a subtle commentary on tactics like redlining. In juxtaposing the rigidity of the fences with the tenderness of his portraits, Wilson brings light to the inner and outer landscapes of constraint. In Oakwood Elders (2017), Wilson deconstructs a photograph of an older woman standing still in the middle of the sidewalk clad in large glasses, a headscarf, a blue blouse, and black loafers. She possesses a certain nostalgic quietness that is conveyed through her posture. Woven through the fence, the woman’s image calls attention to the interconnectedness present in keeping communities alive.
In Higher Goals (Tribute) (2014), the chain-link fence makes a different kind of appearance: Wilson applies a photographic print of two men in suits standing in front of a fence to the backboard of a savaged basketball hoop. By placing the men outside of the fence, in more ways than one, Wilson gives them more room—here, the men have space and autonomy that is unrestricted by the mechanisms of the chain-link. In contrast, in the diptych Ebeji, Racing Pharaoh’s Light (2020), an image of two young Black men enjoying the sunset on the beach with the ocean glimmering in the background, is laced into fencing. Despite being bound to the chain-link armature, this pairing captures a dreamscape of radiance, joy, and longing that dances with a feeling of freedom and hope.
Through the careful articulation of form, Wilson alludes to the historical traumas and barriers of systemic racism that can hold Black Americans in place—the fence signaling ownership, boundaries, and barriers. The exhibition’s graceful strength is in the rhythm that breathes through the photographs—an insistence on individual and collective triumph amidst oppressive structures. In deconstructing his photographs before laboriously piecing them back together, Wilson points to America’s social, economic, and political barriers, recontextualizing them to offer new possibilities.
Glen Wilson: Slim Margins runs from October 30–December 19, 2020, at Various Small Fires (812 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038).