Installation view of Adam Helms’ Under Western Eyes at Kathryn Brennan Gallery.
All kinds of creatures lurk in the corners of Chinatown at night, some with tails, others with tales of the darkside. Opening this evening at Kathryn Brennan Gallery, Adam Helms’ rich charcoal drawings portray dark creatures of a different sort. Shamanistic forms instantly disturb and conjure Fuseli-like nightmares, and a sort of involuntary possession occurs when viewing. Yet while there exists something primitive and iconic about the totemic figures and reaper-like representations, they all seem closer to propaganda than ghoulish portrayals.
Helms elucidates a core notion of Gerhard Richter’s practice, or the trademark blurring and reduction that essentially make literal form out of unspoken horror and psychic trauma. But unlike Richter’s arbitrary intervention that maintains a critical distance, Helms’ personal and strange narrative utilizes naturalism and reinforces what appears to be a commentary on the role of the artist/creator. Helms seems to serve as a witness or shaman in order to remind us of certain moral rights and obligations, or at least the aphoria (irreconcilable uncertainty) surrounding his responsibility in addressing the social ailments he presents. Perhaps this resolution is based on the formal arrangement of the work that gives equal validity to spectors of mayhem, such as Latvian or Estonian anarchists, and generalized transformation figures.
Gallery says: “Portraits and symbols from a varied area of sources – male virility talismans, an ethnographic icon, a Chechen Rebel chieftain, a zombie, a black metal musician, anonymous portraits, heraldic iconography – that point to varied perspectives and periods of time…”
The largest piece in the show functions as a flag, or resolute symbolic representation of the artist’s discourse. The exhibition title is derived from Joseph Conrad’s 1911 book in which the main character, a Russian scholar named Razumov, becomes helplessly enmeshed in a plot to abet a political assassin/secret agent with the recourse of treachery, creating a commentary on the dismal conditions of revolution and lives ruined as a result. No doubt there still remains a great opportunity for the critical dismantling of contemporary ideology. Whether Helms reaffirms the politics of a rigid conservatism through cultural legitimization, or places the viewer in a sympathetic stance towards enemies of the state, remains to be seen[.]
This post was contributed by Maya Lujan.