CHICAGO—In her exhibition, The Last Cruze LaToya Ruby Frazier presents a deep dive into lives of factory workers in Lordstown, Ohio, still reeling from General Motor’s decision to “unallocate” (read: effectively close) the local plant whose production of the eponymous sedan had guaranteed their livelihoods. At the Renaissance Society, Frazier installed over 60 photographs from this new body of work, alongside texts and other elements that portray the resulting state of limbo, as workers must decide to accept relocation, or lose their jobs, pensions, and benefits.
Frazier’s work has always offered an unflinching sense of intimacy and directness; it parses the violent aftermath of late-stage capitalism and racism, even as it highlights the resiliency of affected communities. In The Last Cruze, she unsentimentally preserves the stories of union reps, assembly-line workers, managers, workers in adjacent industries, and those of their families and children.
Installed on a series of orange-red panels that hang from the ceiling, the exhibition is immediately reminiscent of the assembly line. Panels of texts and images are hung close together, leaving little space to navigate between each, positioning the viewer in close proximity to the people Frazier has so sensitively photographed, and only inches from the details they relayed to her about their lives in the wake of an economic and social undoing. The gallery’s chapel-like space is further accentuated by the different hues of blue chosen for the walls and ceiling panels, as well as by several large scale prints installed high above the red assembly-line.
Frazier forces viewers to look beyond blue-collar stereotypes and generalizations about “flyover states” so often referenced in political speeches today. The depth of her research is palpable in the extensive timeline produced for the show, which calls out false promises made to these workers, including the empty words of President Trump, whose policies continue to rend the fabric of long-standing industrial communities. Here, she implicates all of us, including herself, in materializing the harsh realities of the people whose lives she documents. And she demands we pay attention to the details, that we struggle with not fully understanding the terms and situations described, and find a way to learn the important histories of unions in the United States, as well as their powerlessness in the face of the ever increasing domination of corporations in the US (see, for example, the Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission decision). Through her work, Frazier maps these complexities in such a way that makes them visible and urgent, honing in on the vast inequities that persist in US society, as well as the tender relationships that enable survival and persistence in spite of them.
LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze continues through December 1 at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (5811 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL). The exhibition was curated by Karsten Lund and Solveig Øvstebø.