Exhibition Dates: June 8 – August 3, 2012
Opening Reception: June 8, 2012 7-10pm
Shaun El C. Leonardo
Kerry James Marshall
* CUAC will present a special screening of Edgar Arcenaux’s and Kurt Forman’s new film mashup project Hulk Alter You!. Venue, date and time T.B.A.
Over the course of history, speculative art has taken a number of shapes, from classic Greek myths to comic books and graphic novels, from sci-fi literature to television and film. The fantastic qualities of this work have made it extraordinarily popular among audiences, but it also has provided artists with an important means for exploring serious cultural issues. This exhibition features artists who pull freely from speculative models, working in various mediums to help shape modern hybrid styles and bring new audiences into the conversation, challenging the assumptions that have sometimes kept speculative art outside serious discussion.
The innovative and highly influential artist Kerry James Marshall incorporates comic book themes and style as well as African art in his “Rythm Mastr” series, highlighting the age-old anxieties that have pit culture against technology. In William Pope.L’s video The Great White Way, the artist appears in a superman suit crawling the 22-mile stretch of Broadway, raising questions about the mythic image of the great white superhero. Chitra Ganesh blends fantastic elements from Greek myth, comic books, and classic Hindu and Buddhist folklore to examine the cultural messages buried in the iconography. And Edgar Arcenaux collaborates with Kurt Forman in the production of Hulk Alter You!, a filmic mashup that explores how Hollywood transforms evolutionary science into entertainment for mass consumption.
Other artists have tackled similar themes. Shaun El C. Leonardo has turned to the iconic imagery of superheroes and professional wrestlers to explore matters as diverse as masculinity, male stereotypes, and identity. Dulce Pinzón’s photographs of migrant laborers costumed as popular American comic book idols challenge the negative public perception of Hispanic immigration. In her dreamlike video, Empathetic Plant Alchemy, Saya Woolfalk draws on the invented, whimsical realm of “No Place” (an etymological play on utopia), to explore ritual, identity, and community. And Kevin Darmanie’s vibrant and playful works feature an alter-ego figure in a comic format, touching on topics from sexuality to gentrification, while Blanka Amezkua’s work, deeply influenced by the depictions of women in Mexican adult comics, marries the goddesses of ancient myth to these femme fatales, challenging traditional conceptions of female power.
Fairytales and folklore are also important sources of inspiration for a number of these artists. In her photograph Untitled (Pink), Xaviera Simmons invokes fables in which the heroine—armed with little more than her feminine ingenuity—must face mysterious and frightening creatures and an untamed wild. Taiwanese-born artist Fay Ku melds elements from Chinese folktales and myths in her stunning works on paper, provoking questions about childhood, transformation, and assimilation. Other artists examine more explicitly intimate topics, grappling with issues of race, mixed culture, and blended rituals in a way that reflects a personal engagement. Robert Pruitt’s animated video Black Stuntman incorporates references to comics, hip-hop, and science fiction, while his drawing Be of our Space World uses comic books and architecture to explore his own thinking about race. And Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz’s “Wepa Woman” series, informed by graphic novels, centers on a Puerto Rican heroine who faces poverty and sexual violence in a crime-ridden, urban landscape. Many of these artists subvert traditional archetypes, mix mediums and genres, and even dare to imagine a more dramatic, supraracial future.
By incorporating the mythical and fantastic, these artists compel audiences to look beyond our contemporary notions regarding race, gender, sexuality, cultural rituals, and even art itself. Like the half-human characters of myths, comic books, and sci-fi, these new speculative art forms may well point the way to the future of art and culture, stepping across the threshold as either an invitation or a warning. They resist easy categories, thwart the boundaries between high and low, and present a new vision of a shared superhuman experience.