Arts & Culture

‘Inappropriate’ re-envisions appropriation

By
Arts & Culture Staff Writer
Monday, April 13, 2009

The title of the David Winton Bell Gallery’s current exhibit, “Inappropriate Covers,” contains many shades of meaning.

Braxton Soderman GS and Justin Katko GS, who curated the exhibit, assembled an array of works that seeks to reach past the tactics of aesthetic appropriation prevalent in the art world. According to the curators’ statement, “an act of inappropriation is a giving back, a return, a release of aesthetically and politically reconfigured significance,” in contrast to the appropriation of materials in artworks labeled new and original simply because of ownership conventions.

Many of the works in the exhibit achieve this goal while also embodying the other, more common connotation of “inappropriate.” Kelly Heaton’s “The Surrogate” is a cloak composed of 64 used ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ toys stitched together as a “substitute lover,” blurring the line between child’s play and adult desire.

L. Amelia Raley’s  “I never should have done those things,” a series of handkerchiefs embroidered with disturbing lines from a daytime TV psychiatry show, renders the horrors of violence and verbal abuse in delicate lettering. The shock value of Raley’s piece causes the viewer to question the widespread acceptance of unscripted emotional dysfunction as casual entertainment.

The other aspect of the exhibit is the idea of a “cover,” both as concealment and, in the music industry sense, as re-interpretation. Ted Riederer’s “The Resurrectionists” is a particularly compelling piece with three components: a slow-motion video in which a white-attired band destroys its instruments, a display of those same instruments repaired to a fully functional state and an audio recording of a composition played on the reconstructed instruments.

“Body Double (Platoon/Apocalypse Now/Hamburger Hill)” by Stephanie Syjuco also plays with the idea of “covering.” In her multi-channel video piece, she selectively blacked out everything except the natural scenery of three American movies about the Vietnam War which were shot in the Philippines, Syjuco’s birthplace. Syjuco reconnects with her heritage while drawing attention to Hollywood’s deceptive presentation of the gritty reality of war.

Other noteworthy works are pieces by Brian Dettmer and Jim Campbell. Dettmer’s carved-up encyclopedias are visually appealing, the vintage images and typeface popping out of each sculpture as a reminder of the vast geographic and historical distances that can be crossed in a single volume.

Campbell’s three pieces rely on electronics and the blend of art and the physical senses. For “I Have Never Read the Bible,” Campbell, who is an accomplished engineer, recorded himself whispering each letter of the alphabet with Mozart’s “Requiem” playing in the background. He then electronically cut and rearranged the letters to spell out every word in the King James Bible.

His “Portrait of My Father” and “Portrait of My Mother” are photos of Campbell’s parents behind glass panels. The glass becomes foggy and obscures the photo in sync with a recording of his heartbeat (“Father”) and his breath (“Mother”), taken while he slept. The effect is somewhat haunting, as if a phantom — specifically, the phantom of the artist — is standing in the gallery alongside the viewer, controlling the visibility of the portraits with his most fundamental bodily rhythms.

Soderman and Katko define an inappropriate cover as a work that innovatively challenges traditional materials without resorting to tired appropriation techniques. The pieces in the exhibit approach this concept from many different directions and make striking statements about society.

“Inappropriate Covers” will be on display at the Bell Gallery in List Art Center until May 29.