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Coercive Atmospherics

Dumbo Arts Center (Washington Street)
30 Washington Street, 718-694-0831
March 24 - May 13, 2007
Reception: Saturday, March 24, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

Artists: Sam Clagnaz, Devon Costello, David Kennedy Cutler, Taylor Davis, Regina Jose Galindo, Gareth Long, MaryKate Maher, Samantha Moyer, Luke Painter, Ted O’Sullivan, Stephen G. Rhodes, Tim Roda, Pawel Wojtasik, and Balint Zsako.

Curator: David Hunt

In the current political climate of America, opposing forces collide in the public realm of digital media. Controversial issues share headline space with trivial celebrity gossip. Big business and corporate conglomerates dictate how society functions at a level that rivals government. The difference between the two is near indistinguishable. The motives of those in power remain hidden from the confused or distracted eyes of citizen voters. If you wish to know the truth, you must first see through the proverbial wool “they” pull over your eyes and essentially, excavate the ulterior. Every move is contrived and orchestrated behind the closed doors and private offices of those in whom we have placed our trust. Such tactics have become the tried and tested procedures through which manipulation and coercion succeed in creating a specific atmosphere based on false pretenses. Mass consumption, hypnotizing political campaigns and complacent patriotism are the elements that allow the status quo to remain functional and intact.

In Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say, by Douglas Rushkoff, Penguin USA, 2000, the renowned cyber-culture author, coined the term, “coercive atmospherics,” to describe the insidious nature of ambient thought control. Long before the Internet, the ad agency, spin-doctors, Noam Chomsky, or indeed Rushkoff, Niccolo Machiavelli, recognized that the ability to manipulate appearances was the key to success in politics (The Prince, first published in 1515).

The fourteen artists featured in Coercive Atmospherics either utilize tactics of subversion, mimicry and deceit to achieve concealed motives or as Smart Kids, respond to today’s most powerful yet indiscernible force behind the erosion of free thought. The subtext could be “Manifest Dystrophy.” The atmosphere is menacing and mordant, and whether visceral or spare in execution, the collective pathology creates a tension threatening an imminent short circuit.

Obsessed with conspiracy theories and marked with the short attention span that symbolizes today’s youth, Sam Clagnaz builds eccentric assemblages from household utilitarian ephemera, implicating the various layers of the artist’s invented personal mythologies that, like the physical objects themselves, are subject to complete breakdown. Using keen art historical dialect, Devon Costello satirizes the modernist sensibility by echoing the formalist approach where motifs derived from primitive sources are used to achieve perfection of form that, as a result, deteriorate, mocking the macabre fate of painting. David Kennedy Cutler subverts cultural iconography by employing materials profuse in metaphorical allusion e.g. a mirror of silicate traps a puddle of used motor oil, an introduction to the Declaration of Independence is made from ransom-note collaged lettering, soaked in the alleged abortifacient, Pennyroyal Tea, and the Grunge-era’s signature flannel shirt has been fabricated from band aids and chewing gum.

Taylor Davis marries two opposing art movements, conceptualism and minimalism, in her wood box sculptures that abstract the recognizable into objects of confusion and uncertainty, all via superb craftsmanship and minimal use of contextual information. Photographs documenting a performance by the Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo, depict a pregnant woman, splayed as if ready for slaughter, her hands and feet tied to a bed with an umbilical cord. Galindo addresses the cover-up of the brutal ethno-cleansing rapes on pregnant peasant women carried out by the militia of her native country with images that scream for attention. The title, MIENTRAS, ELLOS SIGUEN LIBRES, translates to, While They Walk Free and unmasks the disturbing truth that none of the perpetrators were tried or convicted. Gareth Long’s rendition of Don Quixote, disguised as a hard cover copycat and presented in a museum case, was filtered through voice recognition software from the retranslated Books on Tape edition. The ultra-convincing pristine presentation of a mangled message says it all.

Mary Kate Maher gives sinister form to the phantasmal vocabulary of her imagination e.g. a vomiting pig-dog creature, which recalls the post-Chernobyl mutants, born of pre-natal exposure to excess radiation. Samantha Moyer’s One Dead Puppy is a poignant elegy to the rituals of life and death through the juxtaposition of an empty beer keg, reindeer pelt and a felt blanket, hardened in hydrocal plaster. Exploring the barriers of recognizable fantasy worlds and dismal reality, Luke Painter constructs a desolate landscape and an abstracted pylon in black India ink paintings that defy reference despite their graphic precision and detail. Ted O’Sullivan’s epic cyber-expressionist maelstroms converge the untamed with structure and are, according to O’Sullivan, “formalism in drag.” Stephen G. Rhodes dismantles and defaces an adapted screenplay of Stephen King’s classic horror novel, The Shining, as well as Sol LeWitt’s cerebral geometric art, in allegorical decries of discontentment against the fallacy of human memory and cultural reiterations.

Tim Roda’s black and white photographs, developed in a bathtub, are compositions based on spontaneous three-dimensional collage interventions in which the artist and his son situate themselves in peculiar role reversal and metaphorical high jinks. Balint Zsako’s colorfully distorted figures are grotesque, yet playful representations of the mechanical, animalistic tendencies of the human psyche. If David Kennedy Cutler’s, Declaration, 2007, is the visual leitmotif of this exhibition, the cacophony of sounds emanating from the back of the gallery is its sonic accomplice. On closer investigation of the interfering static, Pawel Wojtasik’s video, Pigs, documents the omnivores in a slurry trough somewhere near Las Vegas, feeding from the leftovers of casino restaurants and squealing, snorting, and copulating. The dumb beast basks in its own shit.
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