Monday, July 27, 2015

Studio Harlem's 'Everything, Everyday' Artists-In-Residence Deliver A Refreshing Bite of Black Ordinary Perception

Checked out the new summer shows at Studio Harlem and this year's artist-in-residents stuck out like a chewing gum with nonstop flavor.
In the asymmetrical upstairs gallery of Studio Harlem, among low ceilings, white walls and glossy hardwood floors, newly opened exhibition honors the museum legacy's three precocious artist-in-residents tradition. This year's eclectic trinity simultaneously pummel center stage without tripping over individual independence. Everything, Everyday thrusts forth magical manifestations of glitter and glamor tropes framed in a vapid sense of bourgeois commonality. Interruptions of psycholedic afrofuturism narrative weave in between Eric Mack, Sadie Barnett, and Lauren Halsey's wickedly delicious outer space continuum, their sharp laser-beamed unison encompassing defiant push and pull puppeteer mechanics.
Theoretically, afrofuturism is a pulpy concept beyond scope of tomorrow, blending visual art, literary writing, and science fiction in a consciously hot boiling pot with African diaspora seeds embedded in thought-provoking soil. Intellectual movement introduces gratifying brain stimulation to black consciousness; that kind of cerebral titillating stimulation serving as an erotically engaging current to those who know clandestine secrets and those in fetal yearning. The paradoxical triad of Mack, Barnett, and Halsey escort us into the golden cusp of afrofuturism via tersely maneuvered installations.

Mack's vivacious, high contrast palette emerges straight from Octavia Butler's obscure tenacity- sucking on systematic witchcraft and ironic symphonies playing orchestrated anarchy. Thick paint applique fabrics seem to mimic splattered blood speckles. Deliberate and intense like a confrontation, these vocal green and blue earth colored splotches deliver meaningful blows in a voracious rioting scream of acid tongued linguistics. Two medium sized urban styled jackets- one black bubbled and the other denim- feature fat sinister metal grommet holes like riddled bullet holes. On white hangers, they spin slow and creepily as if mirroring a barbaric Southern lynching. These ghastly unassuming 'bodies' tell cathartic stories that appear an almost violent commentary on the short life span of the African descendent or perhaps spark fueling debate about the politics behind used, voided cloth. In its sparkle, glimmered, textured surface, there is a mundane attitude, something cold and deceptive spitting blunt, metaphorical rhymes. He has carefully and precisely sewn together modern time with old history, logic with confusion.

Barnett is the pragmatic documentarian. Vivid, chromogenic color prints have a peculiar three-dimensional sensory reaching out and touching in soft, sedulous pleasure, harrowing leverage mirroring dilated pupils overwhelming eye sockets. On another wall, Barnett's collection of typewritten letters with faded stains and aged off white paper housed behind wooded frames and glass are highlighted by direct ceiling bulbs. They entail passionate correspondence from the heated 1970's. Angela Davis had been forced underground to escape the FBI who placed her on America's Most Wanted list, but these collected manifestos contain behind-the-scenes rebellious visionaries determined to keep Davis a free woman. Barnett has spoken strong, articulate language transcending boundaries of the norm. She lets past accounts bridge onto gaping passages of the now and of gritty obstacles burgeoning on horizon.

Halsey is the savory third branch, reigning sharp corners in a sweet effervescent surprise- a profoundly whimsical work-in-progress. On one side of her monumental cave installation, viewers are seductively invited inside hand tiled plaster floor and ceiling, reading chiseled Egyptian hieroglyphics as though in the midst of archaeological excavation. However, these are not typical, historically accurate Egyptian hieroglyphics nestled in perfect squared compositions. Alongside geometric pyramids and pharaoh motifs are braided hairstyles, nappy Afros, repetitive Air Jordan logos, chewed out Ebonics, and other recognizable iconographic chronology defining the twenty-first century black American experience. At cave end, majestic African deities simmer, but ambitious architecture turns monstrously abstract, submerging out of morphed wall in pastel colored clusters. Another white wall, resuming path of handmade cave, has rhinestones spelling “V.I.P.,” brown skinned portraits, and burned CDs. Just when engulfing enough saccharine dripped visual confection, Halsey presents an ebony world with outbursts of schematic saturation. A white My Little Pony with black synthetic braids hides under a cliff where a rainbow sun hangs mid orbit. A question rises to the surface. Is Halsey a reincarnated Butler? How else can one entomb heavy handed diligence and serious astrological chops?
Unified Mack, Barnett, and Halsey are varied in approaches, but sustain a quiet, ingenuous dignity. Everything, Everyday is an arousing, sophisticated science promising intellectual lexicons that aren't insufferable complicated jargon.

My traveling companion was Jonathan Chase an up and coming artist also in PAFA's illustrious MFA program. It was nice seeing what Studio Harlem's residents have to offer the world this year.

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