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Janet Biggs, Chamblee, 2003/2007, single channel video . Courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Fine Art, NY.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

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Schroeder Romero
637 West 27th Street, Suite B, 212-630-0722
Chelsea
November 29, 2007 - January 5, 2008
Reception: Thursday, November 29, 6 - 8 PM
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Schroeder Romero is pleased to announce the group exhibition, Keeping Up With The Joneses, curated by Jane Harris. Keeping Up With The Joneses examines who (and what) is considered productive, successful, attractive, etc. in today’s corporate-driven, consumerist culture, and challenges the underlying value system behind these designations. Today, the idiom “Keeping Up With The Joneses” implies more than just material aspirations, defining the perfect body, career, relationship, family, state of mind, etc. It assumes both a desire to fit in, and the ability to do so, even when such aspirations are for most impossible to attain, or simply unappealing. It is this silent majority that the exhibition gives voice to; exploring counter-realities and perspectives that expose the absurdities, limitations, and consequences of current standards of success and happiness. The strategies and subject matter included in Keeping Up With The Joneses are therefore deliberately varied, though each contribution is marked by a spirit of risk and boldness epitomizing its rupture with the status quo.

Janet Biggs has been making video-based installations featuring athletes and/or animals that explore the nature of power in an antagonistic society that encourages competition for competition’s sake. Biggs’ combines choreographed loops of repetitive, seemingly fruitless gestures – in Chamblee, 2003/07, for example, adolescent male wrestlers are shown in the endless push-pull embrace of a head lock – with provocative soundtracks that blend music with sports talk. From the humiliating taunts of coaches to the demands animals are trained to submit to, the latter underscores the sexually charged, ritual aggression inherent in our relationship to sports, suggesting a larger paradigm of success that is ultimately sadomasochistic at root.

Breyer P-Orridge (comprised of Genesis P-Orridge and the late Lady Jaye) takes the increasingly common goal to “better” one’s appearance through plastic surgery, and proposes an alternative end: to create a third sexual reality, or gender, they call Pandrogeny. In their eponymously titled project, Breyer P-orridge documents the plastic surgery undergone by the artists, a process described as being “not about defining differences, but about creating similarities. Not about separation but about unification and resolution.” Rather than propagate narrow ideals of Hollywood beauty, Breyer P-orridge – like the artist Orlan – reveals the revolutionary (and ontological) potential of plastic surgery to “alter” our understanding of what it means to be human.

In her “trophy wall” installations of intricately decorated cat, cow and hen skulls, Alessandra Exposito explores our relationship to animals as fetish and status symbols. As a Cuban-American, Exposito’s relationship to the hen is particularly informed by its cultural associations with femininity. Her delicate, feminized skulls each adorned with a set of grandiose horns ironically call to mind the sport of hunting, and the growing popularity of exotic game preserves where wealthy men can “bag” wild animals with the ease of shooting fish in a barrel. The artist’s use of animal parts as a medium also invokes the increasingly popular practice of preserving dead pets through taxidermic and freeze drying processes.

LaToya Ruby Frazier has unflinchingly documented her family in both sumptuous black-and-white photographs (and real-time video) since high school. The camera, rather than interloper, functions for Frazier as a kind of transparent shield with which she can interact with her mother – a woman addicted to crack cocaine, and hence prone to erratic, often desperately destructive behavior – while maintaining a degree of emotional remove. By blurring the line between self-portraiture and social document, Frazier’s work constructs a view of family that refuses the simple classifications of function and dysfunction, unity and division.

In her strangely intimate, dubious collaborations with middle-aged single men, Laurel Nakadate uses role-play to enact various scenarios of love and courtship, many of which the artist herself participates in. Nakadate alternately reveals the narcissism and innocence of these pathetic lonely men (and by extension, all lonely people simultaneously obsessed by their desires and state of aloneness). By refusing to hide the ugly, violent nature of sexual fantasy, Nakadate creates a portrait of the unsuccessful lover that is both tender and harsh, one at odds with the myth of poetic loner our society prefers instead to uphold.

William Pope.L, has been provocatively confronting American attitudes about race and class since the late 1970s. In his infamous “crawl”, The Great White Way: 22 miles, 5 years, 1 street, 2002, Pope.L dressed in a Superman outfit, and crawled his way from Battery Park along Broadway up through Manhattan to the Bronx; an antiheroic, martyr-like gesture of endurance and social struggle. In other works such as his ongoing Black Factory project, Pope.L uses “the black experience as a funnel to talk about difference,” taking on the commodification and cultural production of blackness as a means to question the relationship between identity and mass entertainment as African-American culture is continually re-constructed to serve a consumer-driven, a-political culture.

Carol Saft has been making video-based work with and about her brother, Todd, for several years now. Part documentary, part mythology, the relationship between the two shifts from sister to brother, video-maker to subject, and director to actor, as Todd plays out his fantasies of masculine adventure, and heroism with unabashed vigor. Often engaging violence and weaponry, the personas he assumes evoke the play world of a child, where the adult concerns of the so-called real world are far away. As Saft puts it, “The only thing that holds together these personas that Todd displays is his courage to be himself. He exhibits his passions and vision without apology or ingratiating himself to a normative standard. And I want to live in a world that makes a place for Todd.”

Marion Wilson has long used the domestic realm as a means to engage issues of class and politics (her Last Supper series, 2004, for example, cast the food requested by death row inmates as their final meal before execution). Insisting we see the humanity of even the lowest criminals among us, she reminds us of our complicity in their de-humanization via the culturally-sanctioned myths we perpetuate about “us” versus “them.” Her documentation of the house of notorious serial rapist John T. Jamelske, in Syracuse, New York – including Jamelske’s basement “dungeon” and realtor advertisements – upends the cliché of the safe, suburban lifestyle.

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