Rehema Barber's Director's Choice exhibition at Power House, "Everywhere, Nowhere, Somewhere," packs multiple existential, emotional, and visceral punches. Five talented local artists and six nationally noted painters, sculptors, and videographers explore our increasingly complex world and the often overwhelming sensory stimuli flowing through its cell phones, cables, and cyberspace 24/7.
The words "Real Niggas Don't Die" are hand-stenciled across the face of RNDD: Tupac, Charles Huntley Nelson's large acrylic painting of the car in which Tupac Shakur was killed. Mounted nearby are Polaroid images of tourists posing in front of the painting. The hollow braggadocio of Nelson's graffiti and the photo-ops of Tupac's fans suggest we are more titillated than moved by the death of this multitalented rapper, actor, and philanthropist.
Red vinyl ribbons flow out of Joel Parsons' 3-foot mound of latex, acrylic, oranges, and incense work titled A Secret I Wouldn't Know How To Tell. In the exhibition's most evocative site-specific touch, the tattered ribbons cross the floor and trail into one of Power House's singed, crumbling furnaces.
The rich textures and colors of Keith Anderson's burned-and-broken phonograph record As Africa Turns remind us that nature's decay can be beautiful. Anderson's unorthodox and formally satisfying sculpture is also richly metaphoric. As Africa Turns (as the world turns, as the music industry turns) evokes royalties that have been lost, African-American recording artists who have been burned, and lives that have been broken by the world of entertainment.
Jack Dingo Ryan explores what happens when we stop listening to ourselves and each other. At first glance, Ryan's delicately fluted, ivory-white polyurethane ears (hundreds of them) seem out of sync with the work's title, Blood and Guts Forever. By adding two noticeably turned-off light switches to the piece, Ryan's installation becomes, in part, an unsettlingly original metaphor for what happens when we stop communicating, stop valuing creative output, and, instead, measure success with military power, including the time-honored tradition of tallying battle kills with piles of severed ears.
The show's allusions to Greek gods and biblical figures remind us that the desire to make our mark and find our place in the world is an ancient one. In Mary and Jonathan Postal's montage of antique photos, Vulcan Forging Wings, an African-American blacksmith forges metal in his workshop next to images of a precariously tilted tenement and a large bin of tires, worn-out and discarded like the blacksmith's ancestors who worked the plantations, chain gangs, and backbreaking jobs of industry.
The image of an African American just coming into his own as a skilled artisan poignantly parallels Vulcan's refusal to return to Olympus to serve the gods, choosing instead to remain in the underworld forging works of great beauty. Pigmented beeswax heightens the intensity of the narrative. Sweat on the blacksmith's nearly naked body glistens. The red that oozes into the bottom of one of the iridescently white wings looks as fresh as blood just spilled, somewhere in the world, in the ongoing struggle for freedom.
The videos in the show provide important insights for understanding and surviving our multicultural world. Tall, lean Massai warriors dancing and models slinking along a catwalk in Brendan Fernandes' digital video Aya Mama demonstrate humankind's desire — in every country and culture — to adorn itself, to strut its stuff.
The two teenagers in Kambui Olujimi's video Night Flight create a room (or rooftop) of their own by rendezvousing in the middle of the night on top of a Brooklyn apartment. They make their own music and create their own dance steps as one of the teens, ebony body swaying with boom box in hand, moves in tandem with his fair-skinned roller-skating partner.
Dwayne Butcher's digital video Partagas both lampoons and pays homage to his redneck heritage. Instead of a hot tub, Butcher mellows out in a makeshift pool in the back of his pickup drinking Dos Equis and smoking fine cigars.
At one point in the video, Butcher places his feet flat on the bed of his red truck, hoists his body, and pours golden liquid from two cans of beer across his torso to the slow measured sounds of classical music.
With his signature mix of stand-up comedy, confessional poetry, and absurdist theater, Butcher describes his worldview in his artist's statement for the show:
"I think I will be okay as long as I can keep making digital videos with the personality of a redneck hillbilly drinking beer naked in the back of a truck."