Boombox, 2005, 51 used speakers, paint, wood substrate, 96 x 96 x 4 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Style absorbed technology, accepted method and technique, aspired to science. It spun self-defense into skill, skill into art. It invented itself, violently, enclosed itself in outlaw codes and attacked normally. Out of ruin, it pulled beauty. Style would make you friends, inspire loyalty, and devotion, spawn a hundred imitators. It would make you enemies, unleash jealousy and fear, bring down the brute force of authority. The one thing style would never leave you was neutral.1 Jeff Chang
t. Louis artist Moses is interested in style, technology, technique, and hip-hop. He designs large-scale works that capture, monumentalize, and challenge the contemporary culture of hip-hop. In his latest work, entitled The Audiophile Series, he assembles massive structures that house electronic equipment such as speakers, old stereo components, turntables, records, mixers, and microphones. As Moses will tell you, “this series is totally hip-hop.”2 Born and raised in St. Louis, Moses split time growing up between his family’s residence in an unincorporated part of a St. Louis suburb and his father’s liquor store located across the Mississippi in East St. Louis, Illinois. It was during his formative years, while listening to the radio between these two residences, that hip-hop had a sweeping influence on him and he became an audiophile. An audiophile is, literally, a person who loves to hear and is devoted to the best results in the recording and playback of music.3 An audiophile with a hip-hop slant is even more serious. This describes Moses; artist, audiophile, and hip-hop warrior ready to astound (with style) and honor.
Moses chops, reassembles, paints, hangs, and boasts about the 1,500 records, 351 speakers, 148 old stereo components, 42 turntables, three giant photographs, one microphone, and an SUV outfitted with hundreds of speakers throughout its exterior. The audio equipment amassed in The Audiophile Series represents three years of national travel to collect over 50 years of consumer sound producing electronics. Boombox, one of nine large-scale pieces in the exhibition, is a box that hangs from the wall, teaming with speakers that range in size from massive to modest. “Boombox is supposed to be an exaggeration of what a really killer stereo system should look like. I was too poor to have a banging system in real life, so I fabricated a fake one to reflect my desire of what I really wanted to own,” Moses explains. For the hip-hop audiophile this would produce a heavenly hit of the classic 808 bass thump. Two Turntables and A Microphone is a large shelf holding 1,500 LPs, two record players, a microphone, and a mixer. Paying homage to Moses’ past, this piece spurs nostalgia of growing up with his father’s old record collection and highlights the essentials of getting a hip-hop block party started. It also honors the beginning of hip-hop culture, and figures like DJ KOOL HERC, who made the most of his own father’s records and monstrous sound system of speakers, turntables, mixer and a microphone, becoming the driving force behind the creation of hip-hop. Moses adds, “I was heavily into the abstract style of San Francisco DJing called Jeff Chang, “Furious Styles: The Evolution of Style in the Seven-Mile World,” in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, ed. Jeff Chang, New York: St. Martin’s Press; 2005., pp 124-5. 1
All quotes from Moses are taken from an artist statement, December 2005.
Two Turntables and a Microphone, 2002, 1,500 LPâ€™s, record players, mixer, microphone, paint, wood substrate, 84 x 60 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
American Dream: We Like The Cars That Go BOOM!, 2004-2005, 300 speakers, Chevy Blazer, paint, bass sound system, 96 x 204 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
turntablism,” which consisted largely of other artists like Q-Bert from the Invisible Scratch Pickles. Demonstrating an admiration to diverse musical styles, the albums in Moses’ piece range from big band to Mozart. As an object of every MC’s thirst and affection, the piece’s hanging microphone symbolizes the moment before the jam kicks off. Early MCs used call-and-response techniques to help lead the flow of the party through oral directives and catch phrases. This piece is mounted in respect of all the vinyl-loving DJs and wordsmith MCs that set off the parties back in the day. The works Revolution and Revolution 2.0 are hanging sculptural paintings, one black and the other white, both measuring 60 x 60 x 5 inches and housing 20 record players each. They appear to be virtually identical pieces, but they are quite different when viewed closely. These record players come from the 70s and 80s, when style was the main selling feature. Each platter and arm, a slightly different design or shape, vies for the viewer’s visual attention. Style is essential to hip-hop culture. Famed graffiti crew 123Klan established “style is the message” as their graffiti motto – and their impact was huge. But creativity in hip-hop is important for another reason. In nearly every historical account, the pioneers of hip-hop culture were economically poor. As such, it was through a creative economy of means including altering shoes, hats, jeans, necklaces, colors, dance moves, lines, beats, and words that members of the hip-hop civilization won recognition for their supreme style and originality. The record players in these pieces literally square off next to each other, begging the viewer to decide which possesses the most style. Another piece, Soundboard, is a gigantic, 1,500-pound, hybrid stereo face. It was designed, in part, using nesting technology similar to that used by NASA technicians for the
purpose of cramming a maximum amount of electronics into the smallest space possible. All of the stereo faces were sawed away from original all-in-one type stereo/record player/radio/8-track players. Soundboard looms as a mix between an enormous studio soundboard and the largest designer stereo system from the early hip-hop period. The chrome knobs, glowing lights, shiny faces, and bouncing level indicators animate the machine’s façade, making it the audiophile’s monster instrument for hi-fidelity sound. American Dream: We Like the Cars That Go BOOM! is an ultimate sign of urban status, sex appeal, force, and style. A Chevy Blazer is encrusted with hundreds of speakers, referencing the 1988 hip-hop hit by L’Trimm, Cars with the Boom. In the song two female rappers, Tigra and Bunny D desirously rap, “They’re always adding speakers when they find the room, cuz they know we like the guys with the cars that go boom.”4 The work also engages the culture of Bass Heads, which emerged out of the worlds of car enthusiasts, hip-hop, and audiophiles. Bass Heads combine the spirit of competition in the car world and the revival of the original speaker system battles of the early hip-hop world (which actually originated before hip-hop in Jamaica) to battle for stylistic and sonic dominance.5 Emanating deep bass beats, Moses’ American Dream summons the Bass Head and the unassuming museum visitor alike. Public Broadcast Systems are three monumental photographs each featuring a single enlarged boombox. The enormous scale of these boomboxes memorializes and isolates them L’Trimm, Cars with the Boom, 1988 from http://www.lyricsbox.com/ltrimm-lyrics-carsthat-go-boom-2514nv8.html. 4
Jeff Chang, “Making a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop,” in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, ed. Jeff Chang, New York: St. Martin’s Press; 2005., p 68. 5
as cultural artifacts. In fact, the entire Audiophile Series venerates all of its components as cultural artifacts, which stood as status symbols throughout America’s various subcultures. They are responsible for communication, education, attraction, celebration, and inspiration within the ghetto, the country, and the hills that belong to people of all races. More directly, Chuck D from the 80s political rap group, Public Enemy, pronounced “hip-hop is the black CNN.”6 Wherever there was a stereo or boombox in sight the hip-hop head could tune in to hear who was inspiring admiration and taunting challengers, thus winning the battle of style. Moses makes art in honor and respect of the past while challenging new urban contemporaries. In the words of b-boy historian Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon, “Through the spirit of competition, hip-hop culture continues to present new ideas and innovations in the worlds of art and society.”7 A hip-hop DJ can spend years searching every record store, garage, and backyard bargain sale to find that one hot break beat, catch phrase, or obscure sound to thrill a party with a unique style that can’t be beat. Moses has done the same. Obsessively collecting these aged consumer stereo products and judiciously using only the best of the bunch, Moses has cultivated his own unique style. The Audiophile Series showcases a style respecting the past, exciting the present, and demanding a challenger for the future. Ben Shepard Education Associate/Lead Instructor top to bottom: Raquel Cepeda, “Introduction,” in And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the last 25 Years, ed. Raquel Cepeda, New York: Faber and Faber, 2004., p 28.
Public Broadcast System TRC-920, 2005, black and white print, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon, “It Isn’t What We Wear, It’s How We Rock It!,” in Hip Hop Files: Photographs 1979-1984, ed. Martha Cooper, Cologne: From Here to Fame Publishing; 2004., p 210.
Public Broadcast System D8443, 2005, black and white print, 72 x 84 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Revolution 2.0, 2004, 20 record players, paint, wood substrate, 60 x 60 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Exhibition Checklist Boombox, 2005, 51 used speakers, paint, wood substrate, 96 x 96 x 4 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Two Turntables and a Microphone, 2002, 1,500 LPâ€™s, record players, mixer, microphone, paint, wood substrate, 84 x 60 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Revolution, 2002, 20 record players, paint, wood substrate, 60 x 60 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Revolution 2.0, 2004, 20 record players, paint, wood substrate, 60 x 60 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Soundboard, 2004, 160 used stereos, electric, interlocking steel framework, 108 x 144 x 7 inches. Courtesy of the artist. American Dream: We Like The Cars That Go BOOM!, 2004-2005, 300 speakers, Chevy Blazer, paint, bass sound system, 96 x 204 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Public Broadcast System HX-4635, 2005, black and white digital print, 72 x 84 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Public Broadcast System TRC-920, 2005, black and white digital print, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Public Broadcast System D8443, 2005, black and white digital print, 72 x 84 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Biography Moses’ recent solo exhibitions include Printed Circuits, Northwest Gallery Space, St. Louis, MO (2003); Zuluphonic Projects, Privately Rented Warehouse, (2000); and War Peace, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, both Portland, OR (2000). His selected group exhibitions include Inaugural Exhibition, Bruno David Gallery, (2005); Size Matters, Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, (2004); Untitled, Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, (2004); The Exhibition, Art St. Louis, (2002) all St. Louis, MO. He completed an unauthorized solo performance project, Rejected, outside the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001). Moses received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Reed College, Portland, OR. Acknowledgements My gratitude goes out to the individuals and businesses whose generous contributions made the work in this show possible. First, I’d like to extend my thanks to Rob Gault and Eminence Speaker for donating immeasurably to the project. Ron Jackson and Jamac Speaker for giving so many times. Greg Landrum deserves great acknowledgment for his exacting eye and expertise in the photography for the Public Broadcast Systems. My appreciation also goes to Allied Photocolor for their photographic services, to Gale at Laser Labs for his technical guidance on Soundboard, as well as Tom Soper for his assistance with the electric in this piece. Major thanks to Rich Guttzeit and Majestic Systems for his computer analysis on Soundboard. Thanks to Dave Young and Mike Swisher from the Soundroom who were instrumental in providing a sound system. Thanks to Paul Perez at Wheel Image for his part in the car project as well as everyone at Reuther Ford who aided in the project. I’d like to give a heartfelt thank you to Steve Morby for his constant friendship and mentoring. Thanks to John Butler, Joe Carretero, Lynette Hicks, Jane Higgens, Emily Pulitzer, Mike Spink, and Brian Wolf for all their support. Thanks to the Gateway Foundation and the entire Contemporary museum Staff. Lastly, thanks to my family, my friends, and Leslie for all the times they have been there for me.
Matthew Strauss: A Contemporary Vanitas
or his exhibition Dead Language, Matthew Strauss has created a new series of contemporary still life paintings, entitled POEMS that are akin to the vanitas tradition, wherein artists employed simple imagery to create complex comments on materialism and transcendence, illusions and reality, and life and death. This dark, mysterious, and occasionally bitingly funny work possesses all these qualities, yet the target of his critique—the symbol of the vanity of worldly things—is the art historical canon.
The symbolic and fleeting quality of the traditional still life vanitas painting provides the conceptual framework in which Strauss is able to explore notions of futility, failure, and obsolescence. Most of the imagery is unsettling and strangely contemplative. In order to craft such imagery Strauss selects “dead” forms for pure formal reasons and for their inherent symbolic attributes (human skull and ribcage, fruit, tools, carnage). The content is presented before perfect, modular, square and rectangular planes of white paint marked with pencil, further articulating the Modernist grid. Vanitas paintings were intended to impart a moral lesson and incite meditation on death. Obsessed with the idea of death as the only absolute truth, Strauss updates the vanitas genre with a new iconography of the absurd that represents the passage of life, art, Modernism—a sort of post-everything aesthetic. Comprised of assortments of peculiar objects placed on unstable floating tables, large-scale canvases feature grisaille-like, X-ray style assemblages that occupy a proportionally smaller amount of the total picture. Painted black and white grids isolate the objects under scrutiny and render them as specimens. Strauss’ highly staged juxtapositions combine still life painting strategies with modern technology to create a puzzling representation of art history—through a literary lens—that challenges ideas about originality, authorship, and appropriation. According to Plato and Aristotle, poetry, like art, exists in the realm of imitation; Strauss presents art history as a species subject to analysis that continues this line of inquiry into mimesis. A dead language is one that is no longer spoken or learned by native speakers, but nevertheless is often studied by large numbers of people because of its historical and literary significance. Strauss’ compositions present a subject for analysis that is, presumably, dead, or at the very least, a mere simulacrum, emptied of its original intention and meaning, but as if a ritual or sacrifice has occurred. Content is consistently staged before modernist, geometric, white forms that run off the canvas and connect to the wall, suggesting something else; a limitless continuation. image right: POEM #1/ Whistler v. Ruskin, 2003-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 46 x 50 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Following the pronouncements in the 1980s of the death of painting, the death of the author, the death of man, and the death of the real, the practice of painting seemed to retreat to photography in the 1990s. In 2003, two roundtable discussions were published in Artforum on this passionately debated theme. In his introduction to the discussion, Author Danto stated: The death of painting as it was discussed in the pages of art journals was a distant corollary of all this. It was easy to proclaim and difficult to argue with given the battery of theoretical artillery that carried so much prestige in the culture of the 80s. Appropriation, to be sure, was licit, perhaps because it conceded the point that there was nothing left to do.1 With nothing new and “nothing left to do,” Strauss culls from art history and literature to ignite a ‘new’ debate of his own making. Dead Language confronts directly the anxiety of painters who must work in the wake of these challenges to the authenticity and validity of painting, as well as the threat of new technologies and modes of representation. As an artist whose practice is precariously positioned somewhere outside the categories of painting, sculpture, photography, and new media, Strauss purposefully embraces all methods of working to refute the validity of any hierarchal order. He insists on “his own ‘originality’ while vandalizing the whole of art history.”2 Strauss employs tactics of appropriation and critique in order to suspend meaning, engage the improbability of absolute truth, uniqueness, and even challenge the very terms of the debate on authenticity. One of the most influential writers on ‘uniqueness,’ Walter Benjamin begins his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, thus: In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Manmade artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new.3 Incorporating duplicitous art making strategies (photography, silkscreen, and digital technology) into singular works, Strauss’ mechanical reproduction, combined with his liberal appropriation of masters such as Michelangelo, Giovanni, Whistler, Rodin, image left: POEM #62/ Revision (After Rodin, after Moore), 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 70 x 70 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Arthur C. Danto, “The Mourning After,” Artforum (March 2003): p 208. French theorist Roland Barthes was one of the first to address this issue in “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, 1967. 1
All quotes from the artist are based on conversations and correspondence between October-December, 2005.
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, New York: Schocken Books; 1969., p 218. 3
and Moore, among others, represents a solemn pursuit in futility. Strauss then instills his work with a literary subtext—often taken from infamous authors (Pound, Ruskin, Melville)—that imparts new meaning to his replicated artifact. Individual canvases represent distinct narrative platforms from which to engage futility, skepticism, and disbelief. A struggle for authenticity and ownership is literally played out in POEM#62/ Revision (After Rodin, after Moore), wherein a pair of wrestling sculptures battle for primacy, with both ultimately losing their position in the canon. Figuration, landscape, and abstraction are simultaneously considered, within a still life, to effectively eulogize art history. A Rodin is taken down and smashed to create a Moore, which is then destroyed to create a Strauss. It’s an arrogant gesture, meant to break down iconical representation and the ideas of originality and authorship; is the Strauss before you an original, or a fraud? Another fraud is played out in POEM #1/ Whistler vs. Ruskin, the subject of which is the infamous 1878 libel suit issued by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler against critic John Ruskin. Strauss recreates the case using toxic venom (art criticism) oozing from a tube on the table, while a helmet (intellectual protection) and goggles (visual & aesthetic protection) are staged opposite. The artist brings the notorious trial up again for (re)consideration to assert that the battle between the old (dead) and the new is still being waged. The battle waged by Whistler in response to Ruskin’s declaring him a fraud stands to elucidate the conflict between the newly formed aesthetic movement (the vanguard of modernity) and the Victorian ideal of art. Likewise, futility and creativity are nuanced in another historically notorious circumstance presented in a large-scale triptych entitled POEM #68/ Note from Pisa (How to Dig Yourself a Hole). Three canvases present a narrative based on the detainment of American poet Ezra Pound in a cage in Pisa, Italy, where he was accused of treason. A perfunctory shovelmachine, three shrouded, pre-Columbian anxiety figures, and an empty, mangled cage are the objects put forth. This work, which is about self-destruction, possesses a quiet fury, as the social, political, and self-imprisonment of the poet is only implied. While Pound was a prolific poet, he was also a vocal fascist and ardent supporter of Mussolini. Strauss’ triptych functions as a surrogate portrait of the poet, who began to write one of his most famous works, The Pisan Cantos, while seized in a gorilla cage on an airstrip in Italy. According to Strauss How to Dig Yourself a Hole signifies “the trouble Pound’s true thoughts and words got him into, the trouble his vocalization brought on himself.” The notion of invention (and the role of the inventor) seems to have gone awry in POEM #5/ The Surgeon at Rest and POEM #70/ For Going Down, Kicking, and Screaming. The first drama features human ribs, gothic looking medical instruments, antenna-like cameras on roving tubes, and a Japanese lantern that illuminates the threatening scene. Only a mad scientist would create the kicking and screaming contraption of the latter work. The fictional apparatus is comprised of motorcycle handles, a bull horn, an air filter, a hand crank, and gears, which are seemingly controlled by a master instrument image right: POEM #70/ For Going Down, Kicking and Screaming, 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
beneath the table to operate a human leg outfitted in Converse All-Stars. Both works are suggestive of medieval torture devices, time travel machines, and detective work. As in any good science fiction novel, modern science is deployed to invent a way to glimpse the past in order to arrive at the future. Ancient comedy originated as a curious and improbable spectacle consisting of men frolicking around the image of a large phallus. Comedy and tragedy likewise figure throughout this series, and debauchery and the Bacchanalian are certainly conjured in POEM #61/ Cocksuckers’ Blues. Inspired by the Rolling Stones album, infamous tour, and unreleased 1972 film of the same title, Strauss claims the blues under scrutiny, is “the plight of the metaphorical cocksucker (the artist), who is always overwhelmed in one way or another, choked and silenced on his or her knees before the object of his or her labor.” The tragic flaw or moral weakness—to return to the classical sensibility—is the inability to communicate as symbolized by such disparate objects: a bunch of grapes, mechanical tubing (resembling erect phalluses), a tablespoon, a scarred esophagus, jawbone, and teeth. If, in comedy, an unfavorable circumstance of the main character (the artist) deepens the plot, then the humor of this work is that a sympathetic character invites pity. It is due to its tension between intention and meaning, illusion and reality, and specificity and ambiguity, that the vanitas formula is a viable strategy for Strauss’ visual language of manipulation. His formulaic stagings reveal a sense of despondency that challenges creative integrity, and presents it as inherently flawed, thus reconfirming the fact that questions of originality, authorship, fraud, and imitation are complex, and still worthy of (re)consideration. Benjamin purports that in the age of mechanical reproduction, everyone can be a producer of art. This claim seems to lie at the heart of Dead Language. And where Plato expresses a distaste for mimesis, Strauss subverts the disdain to create enigmatic works about creative futility. Since art, art history, literature, and life are fluid, paradoxical, and imperfect, Strauss can look forward to years of creative fodder. Shannon Fitzgerald Chief Curator
image left: POEM #61/ Cocksuckers’ Blues, 2004-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. following image: POEM #60/ Notes on Organization, 2004-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 70 x 70 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Exhibition Checklist POEM #68/ Note from Pisa ( How to Dig Yourself a Hole), (triptych), 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #1/ Whistler v. Ruskin, 2003-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 46 x 50 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #5/ The Surgeon at Rest, 2003-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 70 x 70 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #62/ Revision (After Rodin, after Moore), 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 70 x 70 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #60/ Notes on Organization, 2004-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 70 x 70 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #70/ For Going Down, Kicking and Screaming, 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #61/ Cocksuckersâ€™ Blues, 2004-2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. POEM #71/ Message (After Giovanni da Bologna,) 2005, Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 64 x 64 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Biography Matthew Strauss’ first solo exhibition was Matthew Strauss/Paintings, Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, St. Louis, MO (2002). His work has been included in several group shows including Inaugural Exhibition, Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis, MO (2005); The Ken and Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Collection, Southwestern Illinois College, Belleville, IL (2004); Showcase2: St. Louis Painting and Sculpture Invitational, The Sheldon Art Galleries, St. Louis, MO (2004); Schmidt’s Picks, Phillip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO (2003), and New Faces, Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, St. Louis, MO (2000). Acknowledgements Matthew Strauss extends his thanks to Leon & Mary Strauss, Ernest Trova, Mike McNally, Bruno David, Tim Helbling, and Matt Lauer.
Hero, Compromised (video still), 2006, DVD, 45 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
ason Wallace Triefenbach’s exhibition Hero, Compromised (Autobiographical Fiction/Narrative Medley) is a multi-media installation comprised of performance, music, spoken word, sculpture, and props. For two days, Triefenbach conducted a live performance at the Contemporary which he videotaped and then edited with additional footage shot off-site. Sculptures and props from the performance reside in the gallery as residue of what previously occurred, and the video is displayed on monitors within the space. With these various components, Triefenbach creates a woven four-part narrative that is part autobiography, part fiction, and is based upon a central character, the Protagonist Everyman, and his frustration with an overabundance of pop culture, fear of living in obscurity, and his attempt to escape from it all. According to Triefenbach, “This piece is a conglomeration of half finished puzzles, jokes, and associations—beginnings of stories or a bit from the middle, but never the whole picture.”1 Multiple metaphors, references, and associations pertaining to consumerism, cultural iconography, the artist’s life, and political ideologies are embedded within the storyline, thus creating Triefenbach’s own fantastical expedition for the viewer to navigate, pose questions, seek answers, and formulate their own conclusions. images on right: Untitled (Head for the Mountains) (video stills), 2005, ATM machine, music video featuring The Dissonettes, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. 1
Artist’s quote from email correspondence with the author, October 2005.
Conceptualized in four parts, the videotaped performance features the Protagonist Everyman, peformed by Triefenbach, who embarks on a multi-tiered journey beginning with the first segment, The City That Isn’t Anywhere. Situated in front of an ATM machine located in the city, the Protagonist Everyman’s attempt to dispense money fails. Adding to his frustration is the perplexity of the screen flickering and transforming into a music video featuring three female vocalists, The Dissonettes, who are tauntingly singing the phrase “head for the mountains” over and over again. The vocalists are located in a saccharine-saturated, slumber party-like atmosphere amongst satin heart-shaped pillows, streamers, and other brightly colored objects. Functioning as a fragment from a dream or fantasy of an otherworldly place, The Dissonettes’ taunting gestures suggest to Triefenbach’s character that maybe he should flee the city and seek a serene location free from the overabundance of stimulation and consumerism. The Protagonist Everyman runs from the ATM machine, Untitled (Head for the Mountains), and the footage segues into the gallery space where he jumps on top of painted wooden boxes that function as a stage complete with disco lights radiating down from the ceiling, and begins to perform the song, Some People. Written by Triefenbach, the lyrics reflect his thoughts on living in the city and the fear of his life passing by in obscurity: Some People Some people were fast asleep when it happened / Some people made their escape / Some people were accused of breaking and entering / Some people came back for more / Some people stayed indoors most of the time / Some people failed / Some people were afraid of windows / Some people wasted their time Some people ate their fill / Some people had high hopes Some people believed / Some people watched the rain Some people were allowed inside / Some people were used to it / Some people paid their rent on time / Some people didn’t / Some people gave their opinions / Some people kept to themselves / Some people wore clothes that didn’t suit them / Some people clamored for something Some people were attacked / Some people made it through Some people read about it on TV / Some people died in obscurity In part two, The Eggshell Thickness of Order and Decency, the cryptic elements of the installation contain cultural iconography and, once again, the objects appear to be derived from a surreal place. Cast aluminum deer antlers, Courtship Decoys, hang on the wall which the Protagonist Everyman picks up and scrapes, clacks, and clangs together. An oversized Xerox portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie O, is pasted on the wall, and a grassy knoll is located underneath it. The Protagonist Everyman caresses the portrait which refers to the fascination surrounding the First Lady’s life and the mythos surrounding the Kennedy family. He sings Winnebago Warrior a cappella, written by the 1980s West Coast punk rock band the Dead Kennedys. A dichotomy forms between the two uses of the Kennedy name that calls into question the historical, political, and cultural status the Kennedy name has in American society.
The Protagonist Everyman makes his way back to the stage and begins to sing Lamentation of the LONELY. This song, Triefenbach explains, “reflects hope and despair—a longing for something new, somewhere else—and a resignation to the overwhelming possibility of failure:”2 Lamentation of the LONLEY Someone sneezed beneath the stairs / I think maybe it was me / I was descending… …into the blackout moment… / I think maybe that moment was me! The horizon is an illusion / Frontiers are just circles and squares / Baked black in a frozen oven / They don’t really lead anywhere / The green spaces of off-ramps / Through the windshield they seep / Beckoning, sizzling and breaking / Like promises made in our sleep I want to take my chances / I want to live peacefully / I want to go to a place that doesn’t require one’s credentials upon entry / I want to breathe at the bottom of the lake / I want to cry myself to tears / I want to be awake when I die, I want to consume – and be consumed by – my fears My eyeglasses this morning were toilet bowl rims / In a Home For Protestant Ghosts / And the breakfast they serve this pitiful stage / Is just sawdust painted up like toast / I feel the fingers in my spine / And I see behind the curtain / I see the monster, Me, Myself / Composing, so uncertain No more Universe, no more Battle Church / I want to finish this song and get on with my day
Study for Jackie O, 2005, Photostat enlargement and manipulation of appropriated digital image, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Artist’s quote from the performance script.
The Protagonist Everyman stumbles around the space exhausted and finds his way to a pop up tent, entitled Untitled (Metamorphosis), and crawls inside as if entering into another dimension that will transport him from his current location into nature. He zips up the flap and settles into his new dwelling. The peacefulness he is trying to attain is suddenly interrupted by the sound of children pelting Little Debbie Cakes at the tent and then mischievously running away. Again, he is confronted by the confines, plethora, and gluttony of consumerism. Covered and dripping with a liquid substance, the Protagonist Everyman eventually emerges from the pod-like tent, signifying a birth or the hatching of a cocoon. A metamorphosis of some kind has occurred. In part three, Rural Perversions: A Role-Playing Adventure, the Protagonist Everyman reaches into a model of a covered bridge, Wormhole Vernacular, located in the gallery, which metaphorically serves as a portal to another place. He is suddenly and mystically transported in an Alice in Wonderland-like fashion to a woodland area. Dressed in white, he runs frantically through fallen leaves on a quest to find a secret “key.” He arrives at his final destination, a covered bridge, where he encounters the “witch” that guards the object of his quest: a shovel. In this segment, Triefenbach draws inspiration from his childhood fascinations with mythology, fantasy and adventure literature, comic books, video games, and the role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons” in order to signify the Protagonist Everyman’s fulfilled mission of fleeing the city in order to recover his true self. images on right: Hero, Compromised (video stills), 2006, DVD, 45 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Transported back into the museum for the fourth and final scene, The City That Ate Itself, the Protagonist Everyman makes his way towards the image of Jackie O. and the grassy knoll that lies underneath her portrait. Armed with the shovel from his woodland quest, he digs into the knoll until he suddenly strikes something hard. Reaching his hand into the moist dirt, the Protagonist Everyman extracts a sledgehammer that he raises over his head and then smashes into one of the wooden staging modules located nearby. Cans of Busch Beer and other objects spill from its contents. Confronted with his fate of having to accept that he lives in a society filled with inescapable consumerism, the Protagonist Everyman’s expedition comes to a close as he departs the museum. Footage of the city and young people dancing is featured as the film ends and credits roll, while Triefenbach’s final song, In This City, is heard in the background. This song signifies one man’s experience and imaginings in an anonymous city that could be here (St. Louis) or anywhere. In This City In this city there are a hundred paths to each destination / And hundreds more that lead nowhere Every miscarriage carries with it a promise / Every rooftop is waiting for rain Every graveyard is accessible by taxi / The drivers hold smiles in the palm of each hand Lamps cast shadows longer that the sum of their parts / All apples are hollow – All buckles are soft Today I will walk until I come to the end of the city / If such a place exists I know the clouds are judging me and the sun is a gavel / The sky is an anvil waiting to fall The dirt on my fingers is a fetish waiting to happen / I can’t dig these radishes from my eyes The tears on my cheeks are the anger of angels / Today it’s raining inside my brain Today it’s raining inside my brain / Today it’s raining inside my brain In Hero, Compromised (Autobiographical Fiction/Narrative Medley), Triefenbach leads the viewer through a complex installation that intertwines video footage depicting the journey the Protagonist Everyman has embarked on with the residual sculptural components; leaving the viewer to contemplate them individually or as a whole. This amalgamation in Triefenbach’s work creates a compelling tension between fact and fiction, which cannot be deciphered into an ultimate conclusion, but rather remains suggestive of multiple potential outcomes. Andrea Green Curatorial Assistant
Courtship Decoys, 2005, cast aluminum antlers, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Hero, Compromised (video still), 2006, DVD, 45 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Exhibition Checklist Untitled (Head for the Mountains), 2005, ATM machine, music video featuring The Dissonettes, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Courtship Decoys, 2005, cast aluminum antlers, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Jackie O, 2005, Photostat enlargement of appropriated digital image, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Wormhole Vernacular, 2005, popsicle sticks, marker, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Grassy Knoll National Historic Site, 2006, various landscaping materials, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Transubstantiative Totem, 1999, cast aluminum capitol letter â€œEâ€?, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Insignificant Man, 2005, ceramic figure, latex wall paint, aerosol spray paint, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Untitled (Metamorphosis), 2006, tent, hair gel, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Staging Modules, 2005, wood, latex paint, dance floor lighting component, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis. Hero, Compromised, 2006, DVD, 45 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Bruno David Gallery, St. Louis.
Biography Jason Wallace Triefenbach’s selected exhibitions and performances include Inaugural Exhibition, Bruno David Gallery, (2005); Midwest Mayhem, City Museum, (2005); ARTICA 2004: And Sacajawea Makes 3, (2004); Dystopic Visions, Regional Arts Commission Gallery, (2004); Rice Pudding and Massages, Radio Cherokee, (2004); A NEOCONSTRUCTIONIST Reunion, MOSSA Center, (2004); ARTICA 2003: Axis of Humanity, (2003); and Critical Mass Three Day Weekend With Dave Muller, Mad Art Gallery, (2001), all in St. Louis, MO. Triefenbach received a Bachelors of Fine Art at Webster University, St. Louis, MO. He has been involved with numerous non-profit organizations in St. Louis; as an artist and mentor at St. Louis Art Works, artist–in–residence at Craft Alliance, and teacher at South City Open Studio and Gallery. He was co-founder and co-director of Crowe T. Brooks Gallery, (2000-02). Acknowledgements Jason Wallace Triefenbach would like to give special thanks to the following people for their assistance to make this exhibition possible: Chad Eivins, Julee Kamp, Tripod, WIGPAW, Patrick Hunt, John Watson, and the Webster University Art Department, The Dissonettes: Jenna Bauer, Celia, Lyndsey Scott, and Ben Shepard and students from the New Art in the Neighborhood Program: Tasya Basaria, Tessie Brady, Leila Conway, Romeo Henry, Ryan LaFerney, Lara LaFontain, Evan Moore, Justin Rulo-Sabe, Brandi Scott, Rachel Waldemer, Ja-Mes Watson, Jill Firns, Samantha Howze, Kristine Randolph, Terry Whitfield, and Rebecca Willman.