Have you ever felt like a poser while staring at a work of art? “I totally get it,” you may say out loud, while secretly pondering whether it is a cat or a toaster that is pictured before you.
Though I am usually the first to admit my naiveté when it comes to understanding other people’s visions, mine are equally confused at times; I’ve been there.
And it frustrates me.
What I hate more than a lack of understanding when it comes to objects (or ideas) in my field is the extended-pinky-let-me-prove-to-you-how-smart-I-am-and-how-dumb-you-are pretension that has become the black mark of the art opening.
The underdog aura of SPRING/BREAK is what characterizes this playful (and downright fun) art fair; unlike the parent shows of yesteryear, which are dealer and market-driven, SPRING/BREAK is artist and curator-driven, resulting in work that is more participatory and ephemeral than it is sell-able, such as the room that offered free “str8” haircuts for anyone who wanted to trim away the unwanted hairs of snobbery.
Despite the lack of pretension, as I’ll call it, the show was anything but clumsy.
This year, SPRING/BREAK was based on a theme that anyone living on the fortunate side of the digital divide could relate to (from kids to aging adults); it was themed “Black Mirror,” which is not a direct reference to the popular Netflix series, but more an ode to the act of self-reflection, which at times may look mystifying, abstruse, mediated, and any other word you can conceive that has to do with the difficulty of seeing reality.
For a show that consists of work from over 400 artists, there was an impressive cohesion that I have rarely seen in a group show, especially one of this size. The varied interpretations on this theme ranged from ideas surrounding memory, history, and of course, our digital technologies.
Justin De Demoko, curator of “I Was Thinking About Everything But Then Again I Was Thinking About Nothing,” described looking into a black mirror as seeing an obstructed view. “You don’t really see the real image of yourself, you only see certain things,” he told BTRtoday.
Tamara Santibañez, the LA-based artist who created the work in De Demko’s show, chose to re-create the faded memories of her childhood bedroom in an exclusively white palette via a full-room installation. A white-framed bed with white sheets sat beneath a white curtain next to a white bed stand, lamp and boom box (yes, boom box). On the opposite side of the carpeted room stood a clothing rack that displayed a series of white T-shirts representing some of her favorite punk bands, whose logos were all drawn in ball-point pen.
According to De Demko, Santibañez wanted to represent her memories in white as opposed to black because she felt that black would represent a somber or angry childhood, which was not the reality of her upbringing.
Curator Anne Spalter’s show titled “Personal Tesserac” also dealt with childhood memories. Spalter explained memories as being analogous to a fourth-dimension, which is visualized most closely in the work of Carla Gannis, who created wall-mounted prints that were meant to be viewed through the lens of an Augmented Reality (AR) app. Once the curator’s iPad is placed between the viewer and the print, the seemingly mundane family photograph becomes a dynamic graphic image that draws from the artist’s memory of her grandmother singing the murder ballad “Pretty Polly,” with her grandparents providing the instrumentals in the form of acid-inspired, floating musicians.
As anyone who has seen the Netflix series “Black Mirror” can attest to, viewing life with an augmented reality lens can wreak havoc on our ability to focus ourselves in the present. I’m thinking specifically of Season 1: Episode 3, where the protagonist has a hunch that his wife is cheating on him and obsessively rewinds and pauses and slow-plays back his memories to see if he missed any signs of infidelity.
What can we really learn from the past?
According to Karolina Ziulkoski, not so much.
“Future Past News,” created by Ziulkoski and Andrea Wolf, shows terrifying similarities between our current political situation and that of other perilous times throughout history, such as Nazi Germany.
This room, like that curated by De Demko, also resembled a domestic space. Instead of a bedroom, though, “Future Past News” was set up as a 1930s living room, with the focus of being on a TV set playing historical news footage. On top of the TV rested an iPad that had been programmed with another AR app.
When viewing the TV through the iPad, contemporary footage of political trappings such as the Trump administration and police brutality were superimposed over strikingly similar images from history, such as KKK and Hitler rallies.
“What if people found footage from 2016, would they be thinking the same feeling we have looking back on this kind of footage?” asked Ziulkoski, pointing to an image of Stalin. “How did we let this happen? We should have known by now. We keep making the same mistakes and the same thing keeps happening again and again.”
Personally, I think the fact that our current president’s identity as a reality TV star exposes more clues to our credulity than Colonel Mustard. A desire for fame and fortune drives individuals in a way that gives them confidence that can become a reality to millions of desperate people.
Take Jo Karlins, for example: the European-born artist “superstar” who received his MFA from Goldsmart in London. His show at SPRING/BREAK titled “Killin it” is a critique and parody of art market trends, including the hyper-aestheticization of works made for art market’s sake. Using cheap and readily available materials, Karlins critiques the populist art-market ideals: flashing videos, gold toy guns, and a hot-pink Elvis.
His show was also a critique on the bigger—more dangerous—global epidemic of alternative facts, which is evident in the fact that Jo Karlins (the deceitful, revolutionary, capitalist art store that everyone came to know, love and follow) was not real; he was a creation of Jamie Diamond, Lauren Silberman and Elisabeth Smolarz.
In a world of fake news, disguising the real behind a veil of greed, hatred, and ego is becoming more confusing than the pensive thinker standing in front of a Mondrian.
SPRING/BREAK was a break in the armor that allowed for a few laughs in the face of self-reflection and propensity. And for that I am grateful for the invite.