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News media, despite respective biases, seem to agree in the description of contemporary politics as “complicated” and “divided.” While accurate, this semantic admission fails to demonstrate the accountability of the status quo. Soul Recordings, a group exhibition currently on view at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, examines ideas around representation and meaning amid the persisting trauma of colonial histories.
While news coverage may be simplified, hashtags are user-generated, providing the illusion of autonomous control through generalized shorthand. Peter Williams’ #137 (2017) depicts a car with words including #blackcouple, #policechase and #homeless painted on the hood, referring to the 2012 murder of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by East Cleveland police. Red lines and bullet holes rendered in pencil cover the collapsed windshield, the impermanence of graphite emphasizing cultural erasure. Williams’ reference to Black Twitter archives #137 within a timeline of police shootings, revealing the limits of language to sufficiently index horror.
As language becomes inadequate, the perils of visual representation perhaps complicate further. Lip Gloss Alurt (2017) by Lex Brown is a green screen video of the artist in costumed whiteface, simultaneously performing as a humming, DIY-Snapchat dog filter, a Siri-esque character reading a voicemail, and a television salesperson named Mananda. Punctuated by descriptive text reading This is Old News and Animal Looks at Self, “Manada” models a lopsided pink camo KKK ensemble, saying “the historical element, you can’t get better than that.” Brown uses re-appropriation to reclaim the other-ed body, a notion catalyzed in Caitlin Cherry’s garish Harvard, MIT and Yale portraits (all 2017), cheekily undermining ethnographic projections on the black female body and institutional racism.
If the contemporary is complicated, moments like the stark removal of text in Edra Soto’s 24 Hours (2017) – an installation and risograph series of alcohol bottles stripped of their labels, and consequently, the stigmas associated with their branding – and Brown’s title spelling, might indicate celebration as an apt tool for meaningful social change. Curator Jill Moniz’s essay lauds “making space” in an art world mired by systemic problems. Yet Soul Recordings might go further—demanding space, challenging institutional “cultural initiatives” and neoliberal “tolerance.”
Soul Recordings runs from February 17–March 24, 2018 at Luis De Jesus (2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034).