“Heterogeneous: States of American,” Josh Byers, David Cuatlacuatl, and Faith Goodman @ River House Arts

What is the American identity? We are experiencing a time of intense debate when it comes to who and what is considered American. As the push against the United States’ melting pot heritage continues, three Toledo-based artists’ works are brought together to examine what it means to be American; a concept which can be encapsulated by a single word: difference.

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Works by Josh Byers, David Cuatlacuatl, and Faith Goodman.

A mix of painting, collage, and ceramic sculpture from Josh Byers takes a trip down memory lane by presenting a nostalgic, yet sharp, look at formative years. Sketches and doodles of pop-cultural icons and consumables litter the work: Hustler, Penthouse, and Playboy covers, Etch A Sketches, and Trapper Keepers. Images of buxom celebrities, and manly heroes of the seventies and eighties exude a distinct masculinity that was a hallmark of the their time, as well as echo the male anxiety that was a defining feature of Reagan’s America. Byers’ work speaks of the quintessential American infatuation with pop-culture and its fads, trends, and advertising that, to this day, is still growing strong.

American identity can’t be boiled down to consumption alone, there’s also aspects of rejection inherent within it. Faith Goodman’s work deals with a rejection of identity due to not meeting the expectations of one’s culture. Goodman processes this struggle through use of stereotypes and foods commonly associated with Black culture, appropriating typically racist caricatures to subvert expectations built from decades of ignorance. Mixed media and paintings confront the viewer with issues that many would rather just ignore or erase: imagery of watermelons with seeds in formation of how slaves were packed into ships as they were abducted, sculptures created from weaves, hair and tar, and depictions of voluptuous and vicious feminine forms. The confrontational work is timely, echoing the struggles – historically and contemporarily – that Black Americans are facing in this time of intense opposition.

The instability of existence, whether it’s due to social, economical, or political circumstances, is dealt with through issues of boundaries and mobility in David Cuatlacuatl’s work. Paintings and mixed media collage feature figures from pop-culture and found objects, giving them new meaning and life in disjointed compositions. The work is simplistic, an intentional move that takes a jab at the idea of value and hierarchies, which seem to constantly shift. Concepts of conquest – of nature, body, and consumption – are depicted on flat, matte surfaces, never following a linear path. The elements in Cuatlacuatl’s work come together to form snippets of a story, never presenting the full version, though we really don’t need it.

We’re currently in a time where the idea of what’s American is a polarizing issue. These three artists’ works meld together to show that the American identity is more complex, complicated, and varied than most would care to admit. This exhibition serves as a timely reminder that identity, American or otherwise, is always in flux and comprised of so many elements that the only constant factor is difference.

Heterogeneous: States of American is on view until March 4th. For more information visit http://www.river-house-arts.com/

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“The Conceit of Memory,” Brittany Ann Campbell & Zachariah Szabo @ Walter E. Tehrune Gallery

Memory is a tricky thing; we put so much faith in something so malleable. We are always so confident of our memories, of their authority and our ownership of them. The Conceit of Memory, features the works of Brittany Ann Campbell and Zachariah Szabo. These two artists challenge our conception of memories and put into question their perceived truth.

The exhibition is comprised of photographic work and sculpture. Brittany Ann Campbell’s installation of found gloves hanging from tree branches is a memorial, reminiscent of disregarded pairs of shoes found hanging on telephone lines or in trees. The act of gathering the forgotten gloves is a tender gesture, the result of a year’s worth of collecting. The series of portraits next to the installation, featuring the gloves interacting with a disembodied hand, gives the objects life and presents an intimate moment. The prints are created from scanning the interaction between glove and hand, flattening the image and allowing us to witness a simulacrum of a moment we’ve all experienced at one time or another.

 

Whereas Campbell’s work confronts us with tenderness and the collection of disregarded or lost memories, Zachariah Szabo’s work acts as a chameleon, taking on other people’s memories and making them his own.

Szabo creates still lifes through arranging objects that mimic ones he encountered throughout his childhood in other peoples’ homes. The photographs, printed on adhesive paper and mounted directly to the wall, are loaded with patterns, pastel colors, and floral imagery. The tchotchkes featured in the work evoke nostalgia. They seem like the same ones that lined the shelves and dressers of your grandparent’s house. These compositions and their parts are familiar without ever actually existing – an implantation of memory.

On the floor of the gallery is a collection of glass blocks with a strip of white paint on the sides, resembling thick books. Perched on top of the neat pile is a pink ceramic figurine, a kitschy foil to the clear architectural glass. This sculpture acts as a physical manifestation of the content presented in the photographic prints.


Szabo’s works seems to span from childhood to death with no in-between. Slabs of granite, each with its own vinyl epitaph mounted on the surface, are lined up on the floor. Statements such as “I don’t understand you, you’re a cold person,” “Throw away your family tree books, it’s just paper to you,” and “You attended a mass for me under duress,” are words that seem like many we’ve often thought but would never say, rendered in a material that isn’t meant to last. The series of slabs present a sardonic eulogy to someone we’ve never met, and at the same time, all the people we’ve ever known.

There are moments of tenderness in this exhibition but upon closer inspection many of these moments are fabrications with a certain edge to them. It’s moments like this within the exhibition where the artists’ challenge of the idea of memory is apparent, revealing that it isn’t all that we thought it was. None of these memories are the artists’ own, but rather moments and mementos collected and displayed for us to reflect on the idea of memories and their value. And ultimately, their fallacies.

The Conceit of Memory is on view until February 17th. More of the artists’ works can be found at their websites: http://brittanyanncampbell.com/ and http://zachariahszabo.com/