Cara Benedetto and Christine Wang
“Please recall the name Medea,” asks the narrator in the opening minutes of Cara Benedetto’s video currently on view at Night Gallery. While conjuring the Greek mythological character who avenges her husband’s betrayal by killing their children, the video pans down from blue sky to reveal a pair of skinny legs on a beach in the vein of the internet meme, “hotdogs or legs?” The narrator continues, “Her body couldn’t be broken, her alliances were too strong.” Filmed with a phone, the video slowly sweeps down the legs towards the bikini with the blurred smudge of a finger covering the upper right corner of the image area. Finally, the video’s grave title appears in large block letters: The Descent of Woman.
Does Benedetto knowingly engage in such over the top self-seriousness? It’s possible. In the first gallery, Benedetto’s show, also named “The Descent of Woman,” begins with a penis-shaped candle on top of a mirror, a cryptic press release, trays of donut holes—titled Donut Holes Against Lack (2016), and photographs lining the walls depicting a naked white woman lounging in an indoor pool. Each photograph, titled AngryPorn (2016), contains white text superimposed on the woman with ambiguous lines such as “NOT TODAY SATAN.” Benedetto doesn’t exactly give a nuanced investigation of sex, gender, and—judging by the donut holes—psychoanalysis, so much as presents these topics in hazy confusion.
In the adjacent gallery, Christine Wang in her exhibition, “Devotional Art for Your Home,” paints with clearer intentions: contemporary political figures in the style of 15th Century northern Renaissance painting. In one, a saintly Bernie Sanders ushers in the redeemed through the gates of heaven while overseeing a Hieronymus Bosch-style nightmare of demons attacking Trump, Clinton and others. The uncomplicated paintings are cast in a more troubling light by a series of candles on the floor, with the deadpan title Candles that smell like skid row (2016). In her private life, Wang for years has organized against for-profit prisons; according to the press release, she views these efforts similarly to the saintly ordeals of her 15th-century subject matter: one must have faith in order to counter an entrenched system of oppression. Yet, Wang decided to capitalize on Skid Row’s scent, selling it at Night Gallery in the guise of a counter-demonstration. Does selling a protest-joke count as social justice? Perhaps it’s more appropriate to ask whether profiting off of other people’s suffering counts as social justice.
Cara Benedetto, “The Descent of Woman,” and Christine Wang, “Devotional Art for Your Home,” October 15 – November 12, 2016 at Night Gallery, 2276 E. 16th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021, www.nightgallery.ca