Visual ArtCurrently Hanging: Irony, 9/11, Jenga, and Justin Bieber
by Jen Graves
on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 8:49 AM
Tuesday night was the opening of Derek Erdman's International House of Paintings at 666 S. Jackson Street. The place will be open for four months, Erdman* says. It’s part of Seattle Storefronts, a program that hands artists the keys to vacant retail spaces for limited time periods. The last resident in this particular windowed room fronting Jackson—a room that’s exactly, comfortably halfway between spacious and intimate—was IDEA Odyssey, a collective gallery devoted to the experiences and expressions of artists of color. Derek Erdman’s International House of Paintings (tagline: “a place for the people.”) has a different tone.
In short, the tone is ironic. And this opening show is a September 11 show. An ironic 9/11 show. The prospect of this raised mixed feelings in me. If a line must be drawn, I’m on the earnest side of the earnest/ironic divide. (In me, it’s a matter of choice, chance, and circumstance coming together. Plus, it is not always the case that a line must be drawn.) Applying irony to the 11th anniversary of a terrorist attack seems a certain type of potentially understandable but not-native-to-me response, both layered critique and defense mechanism. (I'm also unsure about what exactly is the meaning of the 11th anniversary as opposed to the 5th or the 10th; for me, it was different in that this was the first year I didn't think about it that day until around noon.)
The most directly critical pieces in the show were anti-commercial works like this needlepoint by Derek Sanchez-Hoeksema.
In this case, though irony is not much in my blood, I find an allure in anything that punctures the American exceptionalism lurking beneath the way we sometimes elevate September 11 above other, just as serious, attacks around the world. (See how doubling down on earnestness backflipped me into supporting irony?) Why shouldn’t September 11 receive all types of responses, even the stubbornly shallow? After all, there is an enormous difference between stubborn shallowness and unintended or ignorant shallowness. And there is enormous risk in ruling out an entire category of response as valid. Remember when Susan Sontag was excoriated for her perfectly reasonable and honest hey-um-it’s-kind-of-our-fault-folks immediate response in The New Yorker?
Yes. I defend your right to make those things, even if I am not moved to take them home with me and love them as my own.
Tara Thomas, Look Out!
As a whole, the show felt distant, disconnected. Which seems, in some of the works, perfectly intentional, just not primarily what I want in this moment on this subject. I appreciated the pieces that grabbed me and held on beyond amusement and stun-ment. For instance, Tara Thomas's painting crowded with grotesque faces turned up toward the unseen grotesque calamity of the attacks. Faces that have become mirrors. Each face, despite the obvious facial/phrenological exaggerations, is yet a specific character. It immediately brings to mind James Ensor.
Emily Nokes, Too Soon
I liked Emily Nokes's* large flag made of limp, thin fabric with the letters "TOO SOON" cut out but dangling there still, casting themselves on the surface like shadows. On the related theme of silences, Aaron Bagley made a black-and-white comic from the perspective of a person who wakes up on September 11, 2001, and as his morning progesses, is increasingly loudly and violently shushed by people glued to the news. Theresia Rosa Kleeman's See Dick Read is, in its stark simplicity, a fairly devastating visual shorthand for the massive cultural denial that leads to such things as an I'm-just-a-regular-head-in-the-sand-ignoramus-like-you president (led around by a Dick) performing the symbolically meaningful action of continuing to read a children's book while the towers burned.
But the totem and monument of the exhibition is Dan Paulus's* Twin Towers Jenga game set up right in the storefront window. During the opening party, it was a Rorschach test. Some people responded to its ultimate collapse by chanting, parodically, "Never forget! Never forget!" I responded with a mix of sympathy for the woman who pulled the final block—having gone through the Jenga-is-already-stressful-but-now-you-added-a-metaphor experience an hour earlier—and relief. At least the towers weren't waiting to fall anymore.
Derek Erdman's International House of Paintings is open seven days a week. Contact information is here.
*Achtung!: Derek Erdman contributes regularly to The Stranger and is married to our music editor, Emily Nokes. Dan Paulus worked for years in the art department at The Stranger. I wouldn't blame you if you developed the conspiracy theory that this exhibition was an inside job, but I hope this review was useful, anyway.