Pick of the Week
The subject of appearances and disappearances is not new to Edgar Arceneaux – in fact it might be considered a through-line in his work over the years. But Arceneaux is always acutely conscious of the sea-changes of time and history and the chain of causality traceable in their residues. Until, Until, Until… actually exists in two iterations – emblematic of what Arceneaux has assembled here and its chaotic, almost delirious power. Originally conceived as a multi-media live performance for the Performa Festival, it’s installed here both as video of the actual performance (with Frank Lawson the ‘leading player,’ if you will) and broadcast footage of what inspired this excavation: a performance by Broadway legend Ben Vereen conceived as a tribute to a legendary black vaudeville performer, Bert Williams, a black performer who performed (as was the then-required custom) in blackface – for the gala entertainments organized around Ronald Reagan’s 1981 presidential inauguration. For those of us unaware of this performance until (well) Until…, the first reaction might be ‘what was he thinking?’ It was a question that did not go unasked at the time (and regardless of Vereen’s intentions, it reflects something of the danger inherent in conceding the merest hint of vulnerability to the right). Lawson’s performance answers part of the question, reproducing the second half of this notorious performance – which the ABC television network, in its own spectacular betrayal, cut away from for a soul-drained rendition of Stevie Wonder tunes by two Osmond siblings (pre-Kardashian staples of the television entertainment of that era). The viewer is free to wander between two scrims with overlapping footage screening on either side with a television monitor and props strategically situated between. In another gallery, Arceneaux recreates this historical ‘box’ of truth, denial, memory, reflection, and their shadows in miniature – actual framed boxes of abstracted landscape watercolors beneath newspaper front-page negatives printed onto mirrored glass – a kind of plein-air vision suffocated beneath political (and psychological) repression. Elsewhere the fossilized residues of pre-Plessy jurisprudence (vintage copies of caselaw volumes, legal hornbooks, and commentaries encrusted in sugar and salt crystals) are exhibited in vitrines and assembled across a platform that might be their coffin, while drawings on muslin allude to the surreally selective memory conditioning this troubled (and on-going) trajectory.
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Show runs thru July 1, 2017