The titles for art exhibits are usually inept at unfolding the crux of object arrangements that a gallery might be showcasing at any given time. In other words, title hardly ever dictates or fully describes the content. “Color Bind” at the Museum of Contemporary Art is a different beast in this regard, both for the brevity of the two-word title used to describe an entire show about works that are either black, white or both, but also in what it’s not telling us through the omission of the consonant “L.” One might feel they’re experiencing color blindness while navigating the 54+ piece monochromatic exhibition.
While mounting “Color Bind,” curator Naomi Beckwith not only chose completely black and white work, but also she removed any trace of didactic textual explanations. “I really wanted to try to engender this kind of basic entry point: It’s black or it’s white — and then let the question come afterwards — What is it doing?” Beckwith said in an interview with F Newsmagazine. In this exhibition, she prefers to let the viewers assemble their own narrative discourses through exploration. Thematic fodder includes life, death, sex and race. Of course, everything else is open for interpretation.
Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (We construct the chorus of the missing persons)” (1983), a portrait of an unidentifiable individual obscured by bands of text, raises questions such as: does the “We” refer to collective consciousness, or an ambiguous “we” that the depicted person tells us to be wary of? Does the individual even belong to the same group of “we” as the viewer or are they part of the “chorus of missing persons?” And what exactly is a “chorus of missing persons?” Kruger creates a mystery that will hopefully partially resolve itself within viewers via their historical experiences and political individuality, a theme of “constructing a discourse” that is consistent throughout the exhibition.
“Naturally, as the project progresses, you begin to move towards all sorts of metaphoric meanings of what black and white can be,” Beckwith explained. “The question becomes: how can an exhibit navigate from this question of the monochrome to something that feels more conceptual, theoretical and metaphorical?”
Exploration of the space and interchanges that occur between the copious number of art pieces will have viewers vacillating between formal and conceptual elements. A palpable occurrence of this is found in a pairing of Imi Knoebel and Glenn Ligon paintings. Carefully considering the identically sized canvases reveals some curatorial motive. Both paintings are highly textural in nature with different sheens of finish on either one. Ligon’s “White #11” (1994), is matte black with some almost illegible over-painted appropriated text concerning the representation of whiteness in film. A few feet east hangs Knoebel’s shiny black and deeply scarred oil on Masonite piece “Untitled (Black Painting)” (1990). Gestural calligraphic lines are gouged angrily into the hard surface hairy-scary, lending an air of exasperation to the greasy ebony surface. The painting is at once minimalistic and expressionistic and practically exudes the frustrations felt in the repetitive prose on Ligon’s “White #11.” Aptly titled for the exhibit, the pair works harmoniously, explaining what “Color Bind” achieves throughout.
Certain objects in “Color Bind” were chosen specifically as demonstrations of what a monochrome work of art can be — or do. Félix González-Torres’s “Untitled (The End),” (1990), is an audience consumable work in which each viewer activates the art by removing — or collecting — one of the 22 x 28” prints. Appearing initially as a minimalist sculptural cube with a white top boasting a one-inch black border, the piece undermines the steadfast relationship between the artwork and audience. “Untitled (The End)” also functions as a metaphor for the body because, as the stack becomes exhausted, it gets replenished. The cycle continues until the stack has disappeared completely and the work has realized its prophetic title. Each print exists as blank canvas for each collector to project any imagined visual onto. Beckwith creates a double entendre for Gonzalez-Torres’s work to function within “Color Bind”— helping the audience indulge their own imagination, within their in-progress discourse, while it develops inside the exhibition space.
No doubt, there’s much more than meets the eye going on in “Color Bind.” The above-mentioned examples hardly scratch the surface. Several artists — including Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Adrian Piper and Valerie Belin — broach topics about racial relations through distinctive expressions. There are literally small surprises from Joel Shapiro. A huge-scale Rudolph Stingel photo-realistic painting provides some commentary on depression and mood. Overall, “Color Bind” is an impressive assemblage from the MCA’s permanent collection and an ambitious experiment that’s fruitful on several levels. Many topics are covered from gender politics and racial tensions to art for art’s sake and diminished mental capacities. While you’ll encounter these societal issues, you won’t go away feeling you’ve been lectured at. Rather, one is left astonished that monochromatic objects could convey such dissimilar yet interconnected ideas.
Melody Prochet’s debut album as Melody’s Echo Chamber has all the charm and ornamental zaniness of a good ”I Spy” book spread, with as much attention paid to detail and arrangement. The psychedelic aspects of the album are playful and suggest discovery, like a hazy and hilarious encounter with the everyday world as opposed to the paradigm shifting head-trip that ‘psych’ tag so often implies.
The French songwriter met Kevin Parker of like minded Australian dream-rockers Tame Impala after one of Parker’s shows in Paris where she passed along a demo of her music. Her then-band, My Bee’s Garden, was subsequently invited to open for Tame Impala on a European tour. When Prochet was ready to go solo with Melody’s Echo Chamber, Parker signed on to produce and play guitar on the debut, the instrumentals for which were recorded at his home studio in Perth, Australia, while the vocals were recorded Prochet’s childhood home in the South of France.
Though Prochet’s songs are presented under her name, Parker’s hand in the project is undeniable, and their collaboration fully realizes the compositions. The spacescape synths on “You Won’t Be Missing That Part of Me” were unquestionably in his arsenal during the recording of Tame Impala’s 2012 album “Lonerism,” the mind-bending counterpart to “Melody’s Echo Chamber” in the neo-psych bin. The album’s production shines new light on the potential of a phased guitar (on “I Follow You” a burning solo brilliantly replaces the final chorus), various keys and mallets (“Snowcapped Andes Crash”) and reverse delay (dominating “IsThatWhatYouSaid”) through variation, restraint and careful timing — these sonic gems and others constantly pass through a revolving door onto the bright and consistently tight-knit 1960s pop drums.
“I Follow You,” the album’s opener and highlight, displays what the album does best. The crystalline guitars and layers of Prochet’s voice in different stages of swooning decorate the mathematically perfected pop tune. Prochet’s classical musical training and Parker’s ear are working in harmony on this track, as on most of the album.
Melody’s vocals, in both English and her native French, are consistently delivered with the relaxed pleasure of a catnap or post-coital sigh. Prochet’s switch from English to French, in the transition from “Some Time Alone, Alone” to “Bisou Magique,” for non-bilingual listeners, draws special attention to the timbre of her voice as an instrument. Just as soon as the meaning of her lyrics is lost in translation, it’s apparent that not very much has been lost at all.
Explaining her project’s moniker, she told Bestnewbands.com, “I had this crazy dream … in which my bedroom’s acoustics had changed into Infinite Echo mode, and when I talked my voice resounded endlessly until it woke me up.” Prochet could have dropped the interviewer’s microphone right there and just let that quote run as the album’s official press release. As promised, Prochet’s melodies exist in the echo chamber that she’s dreamed up, and all over the album the effect is a trippy and cheerful one. Despite its retro-leanings, “Melody’s Echo Chamber” seems to successfully borrow from the past (see the United States of America, Broadcast, Francoise Hardy) without cushioning the ideas in irony or becoming trapped in nostalgia. Her sound isn’t moving any mountains, but at the right moments it will likely move you.
The artists in Fractal Semblance, currently on display at Roots and Culture, address the transitional nature of photographic images: how representation both mirrors and alters its original. But the artists don’t pause there, caught in a discourse orbiting Planet Art: while binaries and doubles reveal their rupture and illusions disclose their mirror-magic, the artists address the thorny concept of reality. Contemporary photography, with much respect and reverence to its practitioners, is documentation only; it no longer enjoys (as with all contemporary art) the goal of depicting reality — a reality, our reality or your reality. Contemporary reality resides somewhere in the reveal – the instant when the curtain lifts, the illusion shatters, or the shit hits the fan – before the next set of smooth diversions arrives. These artists have subtly reconstructed these moments, through serious play and frank gestures, and though no explosions occur – what we see is a careful reassembly of the scattered pieces. A semblance of the original and a fractured new order. Fractal Semblance is a cohesive and interesting collection of work that challenges a more proper and smooth perceptual (and conceptual) world.
In Liz Nielsen’s diptych, “Side A/Side B,” a snapshot of sky becomes daily behind telephone wires, and mythic before an outsized, lunar orb. Backed by vast polygonal blacks and Photoshop gradients, the smallness of the everyday images is re-grounded in a synthetic flatness. It is a perplexing pair of images, constantly doubling-up on each other: not day/night, real/fake, or mundane/magical, the images build into the stylized background, turning into glossy, then earnest, then manipulated moments in which we can glimpse a simultaneity of the everyday in the static composition and ephemeral images.
Nielsen’s “Double Mountain” is equally provocative. Chilly snapshots of mountains interact like reflections, between angular, geometrical framings and a murky blue wash. Inscrutable barcode brands on each murkily enfolded photograph rupture the ethereality of the piece. There is something mythic here, too, in this unassuming image, something tertiary and subliminal occurring between the two mountains, at a high altitude. The roof of the world becomes gradually inverted, and the monumentality of the mountain dissolves in its too-real reflection.
Robert Chase Heishman’s “_IMG #3″ and “_IMG #4,” though a room apart, speak to dichotomous before-and-afters and perspectival trickery. Both photographs of fake flowers and white walls are ringed with strands of utilitarian neon tape, framing our view with a dendrochronological series of strips, traveling over spatial obstacles, peeling at corners, ignoring its ineffectuality as an illusionistic device. The bucket of fake blooms is framed, simply, neatly, or determinedly patched over to preserve the already faltering optical sleight. The result is a wonderfully nuanced and shifting take on the boundaries of visual perspective. Heishman’s “_IMG #9″ employs the same tape-frenzied agenda, but this time in an uninterrupted interior scene. Here, vivid green tape flattens and obliterates the dimensions of a room, disclosing its materiality only where the ends don’t meet – short-circuiting itself as well as the illusion it has [not] created.
Jessica Labatte’s “The Alignment” dominates the largest room in the gallery. Shards of a mirror-like surface reflect bits of household detritus, balanced on a black theatrical backdrop with cinder blocks (the only whole and concrete moments in this assemblage). The still image is shattered, and recognizable pieces of domestic life and house guts are presented as accidental evidence of some insidious, careful deconstruction. This isn’t the aftermath of a violent attack on image-making; rather, the image presents us with its own architecture: poised, posed, and fragmented. In Fractal Semblance, we see this tenuous poise reinterpreted through perspectival play, complex dichotomies, balanced forms and arguments with architecture. We see more than a destroyed and ruptured reality, and we see less than a full-fledged illusion: what we see is a place between.