Gallery Project exhibit tackles the "Politics of Fear"
by John Carlos Cantu
As John Cale tunefully notes: Fear is a man’s best friend.
Apparently Ann Arbor’s Gallery Project agrees, because its “Politics of Fear” is the show this cutting-edge Ann Arbor gallery’s been aiming at since its opening in 2005.
“Politicization of fear is a familiar historical means to power and control, achieved through the threat of danger and the promise of protection,” says the Gallery Project’s exhibition statement.
“These tactics, used by ideologues, politicians, and corporate interests are spread and inflamed via the ubiquitous voice of mass and social media,” continues the statement. “Threats are misrepresented, and required responses are distorted. Covert agendas are achieved and secret interests are fulfilled.”
OK. Those are pretty strong words. But what better way to describe the art that the Gallery Project has supported through its history? It’s this kind of art that’s made the gallery a vital avenue for post-modern expression, because Gallery Project has been fearless in its chosen task.
Indeed, it’s indeed the very absence of fear that motivates the venue’s 35 local, regional and national contributors who have found a home in the gallery. They’re a brave lot, using their artistic insight to diagnose our contemporary discontents.
Contributors include curators Heather Accurso of Ann Arbor and Royal Oak’s Lynn Galbreath; as well as Curtis Bartone, Jamie Berlant, Jackie Brown, Peter Bugg, Fred Burkhart, Carla Butwin, Nick Caramagno, Rocco DePietro, Rose DeSloover, Lynn Galbreath, Leon Golub, Richard Haley, Ed Janzen, Chido Johnson, Osman Kahn, Merrill Kazanjian, Margarete Koenen, Vijay Kumar, Christopher Lee, Melissa McGurgan, Tom McMillen-Oakley, Bert Menco, Eric Mesko, Mario Moore, Tim Pewe, Gloria Pritschet, Mark Reamy, Clare Rosean, Eric Ryser, Eric Smith, Diane Thodos, Vito Jesus Valdez, Peter Williams and Marilyn Zimmerman.
Austin, Texas resident Jamie Berlant is back with a sculpture similar to last summer’s “The Cat Restraint/Human Pleasure Devise” (displayed in the Gallery Project’s “Animal Farm” exhibit). Her “Toddler Restraint Mittens of the Rest Easy Device Line” is a devilish, Neo-Dada baroque sculpture; being two elongated, aged steel mesh mitts hanging off the gallery wall. These “Toddler Restraint Mittens” are inquisitorially more frightening than the earlier work because the question still remains as to how sincere Berlant is about her art.
Detroiter Mario Moore’s oversized oil on canvas “Detroit’s Crisis” is pointed social commentary about the city’s possible future. This large canvas features two fiercely angry youths being restrained by friends in front of a shuttered school. Moore’s talent as an artist elevates the work to the level of tragedy as these youths’ frustration spills into self-destructive confrontation. But the work ultimately pivots more rightly on an understated background sign signaling the school district’s willingness to sell the property.
Fellow Detroiter Christopher Lee’s four color photographs — “Fuse Box,” “Americana Custom Dispenser,” “Good Living,” and “TP Holder” — touch even more forcefully on Detroit’s economic blight by illustrating the city’s urban decay. Scathing photo-journalistic commentary, Lee’s photos are an unflinching mirror of that city’s spiritual decline through its physical decline.
Among the other mixed-media on display, Manhattan, Kan. assemblage specialist Eric Ryser’s “Scuba Steve’s Combat-Ready Camp Fire Grill,” is literally of a rank all its own. This military green grill has been crafted out of army surplus materials, with spades for legs supporting a martial-themed field unit that sports a hand grenade crowning the accessories.
Of the exhibit’s installations (always a Gallery Project specialty), Detroit-based Zimbabwean artist Chido Johnson’s “plugged” has a particularly wry, haunting effect. Johnson’s cast of 26 painted ceramic busts vaguely resembles the upper-part of the famed second century terrac otta army of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang — albeit, solely from the neck up. Johnson’s bald, blue-tinged ceramic busts are uniformly chilling as they burst out of the Gallery Project’s basement floor with red plugs covering their ears.
Yet of all the art in “Politics of Fear,” there’s an artwork that both the gallery and its creator don’t particularly want anyone to see. Ann Arborite Osman Kahn’s computer, custom software, electronics, and track lighting “Noor” is programmed to briefly flare in the Gallery Project basement in the event of an American fatality in Afghanistan or Iraq — and to dim shortly afterward. “Noor” is a thoroughly justifiable fear waiting to strike at any moment. It’s also a profoundly disquieting aesthetic.
“Politics of Fear” will continue through Oct. 17 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Exhibit hours are noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; and noon-4 p.m., Sunday. For information, call 734-997-7012.