featured gallery for November 2007

Mnemonic Provocations

As an archivist trying to masquerade as a curator of the visual arts, I must admit a certain prejudice. Although attracted to the stunning paintings, sculptures and photographic works that make up the slide archive at Visual AIDS, I found myself continuously gravitating to those works that ruminated on the artistic possibilities of the everyday artifact. In my line of work, there is a constant effort to re-frame the meaning of pieces of paper, family snapshots and the ephemera of daily life; so that the commonplace object becomes imbued with historical significance and shines with a brilliance it did not seem to have sitting at the bottom of your drawer or in your dusty basement. Therefore, in the process of selecting images for this web exhibition, I couldn’t help but wonder about the status of the re-signified and/or de-naturalized artifact and what, if any, new meaning it could achieve outside the boundaries of its intended incarnation. Indeed, what now becomes of the object’s meaning? How does it re-signify? What transformations must it undergo before it can displace its old self? And, in turn, what does the formerly accepted and everyday nature of the object say about our society (its racism, homophobia, etc.), about us and what we found acceptable as a people?

Of the works assembled here, there is a pervasive obsession with this very process of reconfiguration and re-signification. What in its daily usage functioned as a pedestrian object for our bemusement, entertainment, psychological comfort, sexual titillation and/or medical or informational needs, is somehow displaced from its original context and given a meaning that, although at times implicit, leads us down a very different path. Whether it's the stuffed bunny from our childhood which James Fackrell reminds us always had its sinister facets, or the archival clippings and images used by Memphis which trouble our modern sensibilities with normative racist practices from the past, the works that are part of this exhibition beg for a critical perspective on how we as their viewing public consume imagery and are consumed and packaged ourselves. Moreover, they strike a dissonant ripple in our field of vision, juxtaposing a variety of visual, artifactual and textual elements to formulate a renewed perspective on questions of marginalization and historical memory. At times whimsical, camp, disturbing and, yes, even angry, the pieces displayed here never lose sight of the need to approach the very serious nature of the various –isms which may impact our lives with a certain sense of levity and humor. By borrowing from the detritus of the everyday and reconfiguring it for the current present and future, these artists add layers of material, critique and meaning to the resultant artistic object, helping create a dialogue with the past that poses prior misconceptions against newer insight, while giving a cacophony of voices a forum for mutual contention.