Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
LOS ANGELES — The title of Aria Dean’s solo show at Château Shatto, lonesome crowded west, aptly captures the dichotomies inherent in the the exhibition. Taken from the title of indie band Modest Mouse’s second album, it alludes to a relationship between the individual and the group, between experiences as personally lived and the sweeping generalizations of the media or historical modernism. She explores this phenomenon in search of what she calls “an ontology of blackness.”
On the gallery walls hang five round panels, deep red in color, their shiny surfaces gritty in texture. Titled “Forward Proxy 1.1-5” (all works 2018), these objects aesthetically hew to conventions of geometric minimalism, however they also encompass a personal narrative that complicates this formal reading. Composed of Mississippi clay mixed with resin, they recall Dean’s family history, the clay being sourced from an area where her paternal grandfather was raised. It can also be seen as a more general reference to the Great Migration, the mid-20th century movement of millions of African Americans from the rural South to urban centers in the North and Western US. It is not representational work that tells this story, but the physical material that connects the personal to the historical to the individual work of art. Whereas minimalism often claimed to offer ahistorical universal forms, Dean begins with the specific and lets the material shape the work, bottom up, as opposed to top down.
Near the panels, two video monitors play a 10-minute edit of crowd scenes taken from hip-hop videos, a piece with the ungainly title “But as One Doesn’t Know Where My Centre Is, One Will With Difficulty Ascertain The Truth . . . Though This Task Has Made Me Ill, It Will Also Make Me Healthy Again (Crowd Index).” The crowd scene is a ubiquitous trope in rap videos — especially from the early ’90s through the aughts, the period these clips are taken from — much more so than in rock videos, which favor the angst-riddled loner or the glamorous rock star. In these clips, however, what is prominent is the community, the extended network of friends and family that celebrate and commiserate together, and whose members empower each other. Similarly to how different groups perceive left-wing mobs and migrant caravans, this piece is like a rorschach test: How you view the black crowd says more about you than it. As Dean noted in a recent Artforum interview, those with little experience or empathy for communities of color will perhaps see a threatening mob, a singular, faceless body, as opposed to a collection of unique individuals who band together for support, security, and camaraderie.
The final piece, “Summer Ghost,” is an ethereal work that acts as a punctuation of sorts to the whole show. A white sheet draped over a sphere mounted on a pole hangs limply, almost reaching the ground. The haunting form — the most basic expression of a ghost — references an absence, a loss that pervades the black American experience, from slavery, through segregation, geographic displacement, economic disenfranchisement, police brutality, and institutional racism. Bound up in this generic spectral image is the connotation of the white sheet with the hoods of the KKK, and the fact that “spook” was once a well-known derogatory term for an African American. The fact that these connections will strike some as more obvious or troubling than others only serves to deepen the tension between the one and the many, the specific and the collective that Dean thoughtfully teases out.
Aria Dean: lonesome crowded west continues at Château Shatto (1206 Maple Ave #1030, Los Angeles) through October 27.
Editor’s Note: This endorsement is part of a special edition that Hyperallergic published on the ongoing legal case to return the photos of Renty and Delia Taylor to their descendants. * * * Your Honour — On April 11, 2018, The New York Times published a report on the differential outcomes for maternal and infant…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…