A liver shot in boxing is a short, quick body punch delivered to the liver with a left hook. The effect can be devastating. (Bernard Hopkins knocked out Oscar De La Hoya with such a shot.) Unfortunately, the tool is often overlooked in today’s prizefights, as boxers prefer headhunting with right-hand crosses aimed at the opponent’s chin. What does the liver shot have to do with Nurture Art’s new show, Systemic Risk? Not much. The exhibition, unlike the body punch, exists in the realm of ideas; it’s a cerebral affair.
Systemic Risk, now on view until March 16, features the work of Daniel Bejar, Sujin Lee, Laura Napier and Risa Puno. Each artist is an alumnus of Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace (AIM 28) program, as am I.
Despite a small exhibition space, the show does not feel crowded. The installation gives the pieces room to breathe. And while the work ranges from animation to video to photography, and even includes a large tabletop game piece, the objects work well together. If I had to choose one element that unifies the work, it would be performance.
The artists in this show, according to the exhibition statement, “work to reorganize specific parameters of a given system in order to point to phenomenological behavior, inequality, misperception, and in some cases compete lack of understanding.” Because I find the show’s mission statement so opaque, I was pleasantly surprised that guest curator Jonathan Durham managed to organize a heady show with unexpected moments of unbridled joy.
Risa Puno’s interactive sculpture, “Good Faith & Fair Dealing” (2012), is based on the classic wooden game Labyrinth, which invites a solitary player to guide a steel ball through a maze. In her version, Puno has made two notable changes. She has designed a two-person tabletop game, which invites head-to-head competition, and she has increased the scale to Foosball proportions. The sculpture, which is built like a brick shithouse, invites raucous toe-to-toe action. The game surface is divided in halves, with opposing identical mazes that each player must navigate. The players are situated at either end of the board with equal control of the same tilting surface. As I played the game, I instinctively tried to prevent my opponent from winning, as he did to me. (Cooperation does not come naturally to me. I want to destroy my opponents.) After repeated failures to complete the maze, we realized that in order to navigate it successfully, we had to work together. That shared epiphany, which occurred during foulmouthed exchanges, was worth the trip alone.
Sujin Lee’s video, “This is a story for small children. a true-life love story,” is made up of three components: written text in English subtitles, spoken text in Korean voice-over, and a series of black-and-white still images. As a non-Korean speaker, I had no idea if the voice-over corresponded to the written text and still images, which allude to a failed romance that concludes in a spasm of violence. I found the voice-over mesmerizing, and I was quite happy to be lost in translation. I’d also like to mention Lee’s “Turtles are Voiceless” (2010), the artist’s first foray into animation, which is delightful. The crude, childlike drawing is disarming. It features two turtles — one white, one black — jitterbugging in an upside-down turtle shell. From the looks of it, the duo shares eight left feet as they stumble and bumble back and forth across their tiny stage.
Laura Napier is a people watcher. Her performance-based videos document public interventions that she has been staging since 2006. Much of this work inserts inconspicuous performers engaging in subtle choreographed movements in public spaces. How will the crowd react to these stylized movements? In “Project for a street corner (Connaught Place)” (2011), she films a group of pedestrians crossing a busy intersection in New Delhi at night. The anonymous throng includes five plants, or invited participants. There is no traffic light, no crosswalk and no pedestrian overpass. To walk across the street, these pedestrians must move en masse, or get hit by a speeding car or motorbike. To look at her work is to behold the poetry of crowds in motion.
Daniel Bejar is an internet trickster, a folk rock impostor. His muse is Dan Bejar, the front man of soft rock outfit Destroyer. “Daniel Bejar-Destroyer (The Googlegänger)” (2009 – ongoing) is a Web-based search engine intervention. What does that mean? Daniel Bejar, the visual artist, restages and uploads images of Dan Bejar, the indie balladeer. Daniel Bejar shares not only the same name as the musician, but also a foppish mop of tangled black curls, scruffy beard and dime-store wardrobe. The most engaging work in his series is a screen grab of a Google image search, which reveals the intervention in action. (The appearance of Kevin Corrigan, who plays Daniel Bejar in The New Pornographers video, “Moves,” is a nice surprise.) I wonder how far Bejar can take the intervention? I’d like to see him let his hair down and go psycho like Jennifer Jason Leigh in the film Single White Female. Seduce his girlfriend. Get his SSN, birth certificate and driver’s license: identity theft as art.
Systemic Risk raises questions, lots of them. Systemic Risk, as I understand it, can broadly be defined as risk that threatens the entire financial system, not just specific parties. The title is provocative, of the moment, and it makes me think of excessive risk and bursting financial bubbles. But I cannot get past “Lehman Brothers” and “subprime mortgages” and “home foreclosure,” and I keep thinking what does this have to do with the work on view?
Is Systemic Risk criticizing capitalism and its inherent need to compete and make a profit, even if it’s at the expense of others’ well-being? The pieces by Puno and Napier feature subjects who learn through interaction to cooperate to achieve a common goal, rather than compete to one-up the other.
Systemic Risk continues at Nurture Art (56 Bogart Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) until March 16.