If the idea of police-state-fueled political manipulation seems out of step with the search for personal identity, Flood Gallery’s current show, Insurgents, seeks the parallel ground between these disparate concepts. The high-energy, postmodern (and at times post-apocalyptic) exhibit, curated by the gallery’s new assistant director, Reneé M. Cagnina (formerly with ArtCenter/South Florida), includes work by artists from Asheville, New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami.
The search for personal identity is an ongoing exploration for Miami’s Susan Lee-Chun, primarily a performance artist, who contributes two beautifully executed Lambda prints to the show. She plays with the idea of her Korean-American heritage by photographing herself dressed like a combat solider, crouching behind sandbags and peering at the viewer from her protective helmet. At first glance, Lee-Chun is just a young, pretty face at odds with the battle gear. A second glance reveals not the usual camouflage-patterned clothing, but heavily textured black lace covering the helmet, the fatigues and the protective sandbags. Lee-Chun grabs the viewer with lighthearted humor that leads to a deeper contemplation of race and otherness.
Protective clothing also provides a point of departure for artist Nelson Gutierrez of Washington, D.C., who transforms a life preserver, flak jacket and gas mask into haute couture. Gutierrez’ large-format C-prints mimic glossy upmarket magazines. “Better to be smart …” is a self-portrait in which the artist stands with a lovely, stylishly attired woman in a luxurious living room. She wears an intricately decorated gas mask; he sports a lead flak vest detailed with embroidered Louis Vuitton monograms in various colored threads. (The actual vest is included in the exhibition, displayed on a mannequin wearing a tux shirt complete with mother-of-pearl cuff links and black bow tie.)
Gutierrez has also created a leather life preserver, painted the plaid of classic menswear. Teamed with a black turtleneck sweater and fur collar, the display explores the battling forces of personal security versus glamour.
New Yorker Mike Estabrook approaches security issues from another angle. His group of 40 nearly life-sized soldiers is crudely cut from used cartons and cardboard boxes. Their hands and faces are painted black and decorated with crude features, sometimes like primitive warriors, sometimes robotic. They carry big guns, in stark contrast to the benign consumer-goods’ labels stamped on the cartons and boxes from which the figured are culled.
Estabrook’s short video, “The Road to Nam,” also employs soldier imagery. The famous photo a young Vietnamese man being executed is juxtaposed with the faces of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon while Bing Crosby and Bob Hope sing an upbeat rendition of “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.”
Another video—the three-panel “The Issue at Hand” by Guerra de la Paz (the creative team of Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, both from Miami)—offers another disturbingly humorous fusion of images. In the center frame sits a large stack of magazines, while each flanking screen shows a young man in fatigues seated on a toilet. The men face each other, each reaching for a magazine, flipping through it, ripping out a page, wiping themselves and discarding the book over their shoulders. While a continuous din of gunfire sounds in the background, the ripping, wiping and tossing process continues ad infinitum. Sure, this installation is less tasteful than some commentaries on the media, but it certainly—and this quantity is at the heart of Insurgents—presents a clear opinion.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville painter and writer.]
who:Asheville-based ceramist Heinz Kossler, the One-Three Collective, Susan Lee-Chun, Nelson Gutierrez, Mike Estabrook and Guerra de la Paz
what: Insurgents, a high-energy, postmodern art exhibit
where:Flood Gallery Fine Arts Center
when:On display through Sunday, May 11 (Free. 254-2166.)