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Really Really REALLY: The Reach of Realism at MOCA NOMI


Xaviera Simmons, Breedlove (Mason) (2009). Detail view.

The Reach of Realism, curated by Ruba Katrib at MOCA NOMI isn’t asking the perennial question “What makes Art real?” We’ve heard those questions from the Pictures Generation Artists – is the image mediated or authentic, appropriated or original, a presence or a representation? This show turns that questioning inward; not “is the Art Object real,” but “are we real?” If we are mediated beings, full of contrary interchangeable points of view, can we still be authentic and real?


Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova, Trivial Few (80:20) (2007).

Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova take a distinctly post modern point of view in their work The Trivial Few. Rather than railing against the degradations of the capitalist Art World, they use an almost arbitrary theoretical construct (an Italian sociologist’s theory that 80 percent of people and events are influenced by only 20 percent of individuals) to develop a position that is connected, yet distanced from that world. Their often hilarious lists allow the viewer to confirm a comforting sense of being part of the “in jokes” without having to directly confront or confirm allegiance to the upper case Art World.


Olaf Bruening, Different Perspectives (2009). Dimensions Variable.

Olaf Bruening takes a relativist perspective on the question in Different Perspectives (2009). His stiff wooden points of view converge, but never meld. The stick figures maintain a pristine individuality, each perspective equally valid, but ultimately mutually incomprehensible. But in our hyper mediated age, is it really possible to maintain such a pristine individuality? Isn’t our real interior life more like a performance? As Slavoj Zizek says in Defense of Lost Causes, “What if this immediacy is already staged for an observer, for an imagined other’s gaze? What if in their innermost lived experience they already imagine themselves being observed?” Ragnar Kjartansson plays with these ideas in his role as an artist as well as an Icelandic pop star, his “real” life melding into his Art. In God we watch him take on the part of a matinee singer, his dolorous lyrics wrapped in hot pink satin.


Ragnar Kjartansson, God (2007) Luhring Augustine. Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery.

Another contemporary analogy for internal reality is the archive, a strategy employed by Xaveria Simmons in Breedlove (Mason). Starting from a literary collection that reflects her southern roots, Simmons then sorts bits and pieces of objects into mason jars arranged on shelves. What began as a list of words takes on layers of possible meanings; the homemade quality of Mason Jars, the racial/gender conversation between Imitation of Life and hot pink satin. As Derrida says in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression,“the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event.


Xaviera Simmons, Breedlove (Mason) installation (right). Photo by Steven Brooke.

With Shut Up Child This Ain’t Bingo, Lars Larmann seems to be referencing a feminist idea of personal identity akin to Carol Gilligan who claims that “the sense of self grows in relationship rather than separation.” In some ways this stance relates to the Chisa/Tkacova lists, attempting a similarly engaged yet critical perspective.  Larman’s camera follows artist Kjersti Andvig as she collaborates on an installation piece with a death row inmate Carlton Turner. Their work obviously references the death penalty system in Texas, yet Andvig begins the video with a coherent speech about how she wishes “to not be angry with the system, but to understand.” But unfortunately for her theoretical distance she’s dealing with human beings, not lists. By the end of the video she has fallen in love with Carlton and is bible thumping resurrection quotations with her trailer park landlady while wearing totally round the way girl earrings. Larmann interjects his own “sane” distanced commentary, but he has his own requirements for Carlton; he needs him to be the authentic Negro: “If you’re not able to speak authentically when you’re on death row…” Each self develops in relationship, but who can say which is real? The shots of the two lovers gazing into each other’s eyes through bullet proof glass seem truly heartfelt, but as Andvig says near the end of the video, in retrospect “I don’t know if it was just curiosity, it really doesn’t matter.” This may also be true in the Art world.

Andvig was nominated for a Carnegie Art Award for the collaboration, but Carlton Turner is just dead.


Lars Larmann, Shut Up Child This Ain’t Bingo (2009). Video still.

This post was contributed by Lori Kelly.

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Really Really REALLY: The Reach of Realism at MOCA NOMI