Art

Confronting the Hazards of Power in Photomontages of Recent Mass Protests

A tale about the hazards of power ties together a collection of large-scale photomontages of images from mass demonstrations around the US and Europe.

Installation view of The Sword of Damocles (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES — The Sword of Damocles, the title of artist Felix R. Cid’s show at Garis & Hahn, is the story of a sycophant in the court of Dionysius II. Damocles’s fascination with power leads the king to exchange places with the courtier for one day but with a twist: Damocles must sit on the king’s throne while a sword, suspended at the pommel by a single strand of horse hair, hangs above his head. This tale about the hazards of power ties together a collection of six large-scale photomontages of images from mass demonstrations around the US and Europe.

Felix R. Cid, “Untitled (Trump Inauguration)” (2017) (detail)

Instead of a street-level view of the action, Felix Cid’s photomontages take a drone’s eye view of resistance, with participants appearing as an indiscernible mass. The prints, made up of composite images, provide a holistic view of events like the Women’s March by representing sheer numbers of people in a densely packed frame. Closer examination, however, reveals detailed scenes with identifiable faces, signs, and clothing. Observing the work up-close can feel like an act of surveillance, your gaze in search of anomalous details. The composites can also result in some humorous juxtapositions. Out of the six works displayed, only one, “Untitled (Trump Inauguration),” does not have throngs of people filling the entire frame. Almost half of the print is covered by a patchwork of gray sky (actually, it’s a composite of the empty grounds of the National Mall), a not-so-subtle dig at 45’s inability to draw massive crowds on Inauguration Day.

The Sword of Damocles suggests that those in power hold only a tenuous grasp on their authority, but during these times when the right seems to be homicidally driven to play for keeps, mass rallies and demonstrations don’t always seem to be translating to political power. In “Untitled (2017 Paris Elections),” a large number of French protesters hold up signs for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing La France Insoumise party, which ultimately failed to make it past the first round of elections. Perhaps the centrist Emmanuel Macron’s ultimate defeat of right-wing populist Marine Le Pen frames this work as a hopeful celebration of a nation’s repudiation of the far right, but it remains to be seen whether we have seen the last of Le Pen and her ilk.

Felix R. Cid, “Untitled” (2017) (detail), cast concrete

Representation and numbers alone may not immediately result in power, but Cid’s prints serve as a hopeful reminder that the sword is sharpened and primed to fall on the heads of the powerful, even if it doesn’t always happen as soon as we’d like. The waves of civil society groups convening for women’s rights or marching against the immigration ban may some day result in the sea change of political power that has occurred outside of the US and Europe. South Koreans, for example, weathered years of resistance and several months of mass demonstrations before finally ousting their former president Park Geun-hye from power.

The show also proposes the possibility of collapse and ruin, particularly as it relates to the “West,” represented here by a cluster of broken Greco-Roman statues. (Again, Cid injects a bit of humor by covering some of the busts with wrestling masks, an oblique reference to the artist, who is of Spanish descent and has been mistaken for being Mexican in the US.) The mass revival and mobilization of civil society in the Americas may one day topple those in power, and the fall of the “West” — characterized by inequality and xenophobia — could be a positive, transformative outcome. From these ruins, we may be able to look upon these images as a record of moments before another significant transfer of power. Whether that power ultimately swings left or right, to the masses or the select few, remains to be seen.

Felix R. Cid, “Untitled (2017 Paris Elections)” (2017) (detail)
Felix R. Cid, “Untitled (Immigration Ban)” (2017) (detail)

Felix R. Cid: The Sword of Damocles continues at Garis & Hahn (1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles) through December 16.

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