The Condition of Being Addressable
On ViewInstitute Of Contemporary Art Los Angeles
The Condition of Being Addressable
June 18 – September 4, 2022
On view at the ICA LA, an intergenerational group show of contemporary artists takes on the broad topic of identity politics as a lived experience, or, as the exhibition is titled, The Condition of Being Addressable. The title comes from a section of Claudia Rankine’s 2014 novel Citizen in which Rankine quotes Judith Butler: “Our very being exposes us to the address of another.” In the wake of social and cultural movements over the last fifty-plus years, the artists in the exhibition confront issues of representation, visibility, surveillance, vulnerability, and resistance across mediums. As broad as the topic may be, the exhibition is tightly curated by Legacy Russell and Marcelle Joseph, narrowed to a group of twenty-five artists.
Opening the exhibition is a somber found-object installation by Jessica Vaughn titled After Willis (rubbed, used and moved) #012 (2022). Comprised of thirty-six individual pairs of used public transit seats hung on the wall as if in a grid, the work at first glance presents as a formal, nearly abstract composition. Looking closely the wear and tear of the seats is revealing, and a remnant of their past lives as functional objects begins to surface. The title refers to the name of a former superintendent of the public school system in Chicago who in the 1950s and ’60s oversaw structural programs that perpetuated systemic inequality within the city’s schools contributing to overcrowding and a fundamental lack of resources in primarily Black school districts. In repurposing the seats from city buses, Vaughn’s work uses the language of conceptualism and the readymade to represent the bodies of the students whose lives were directly impacted by the systemic racism of the public schools’ bureaucracy. Vaughn’s work engages with a common thread throughout the exhibition, that of distancing, abstracting, or distorting representation of the body as a method of resistance and critical inquiry.
Acts of critical distancing take shape throughout the exhibition in all mediums, including video. Particularly striking is Imran Peretta’s 2017 video installation brother to brother, made in response to the artist’s personal experience of being searched by a customs agent at a London airport. In grappling with the experience, Peretta speaks to the ways in which the violence of state surveillance is enacted on specific bodies; the artist, who is of Bangladeshi descent, uses his own body to express the hypervisibility of Middle Eastern/South Asian men in a post-9/11 world. The video itself, projected on a tilted large screen that rests on the floor, depicts the artist naked with a bag on his head in various poses of subjugation, and then cuts to spliced aerial drone footage of the artist, still with a bag over his head, now in soft focus as poetic text is interspersed. In putting his own body on display, while removing his sight, Peretta establishes the viewer in the role of the authority and evokes the power dynamic of the experience. He also distances himself by distorting his representation with the use of the bag and focus of the camera. In speaking about the work in the recent roundtable hosted by the museum, Peretta also described the experience of making the work as somewhat retraumatizing, noting the pain and labor of representing such subjectivity.
Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work Home Front (1993-2011) also uses video to speak to painful representations of subjectivity and violence. She presents a video installed in a dollhouse-scaled sculpture of a two-story home. The video, which projects from two windows in the front of the house, presumably where the kitchen would be, depicts an argument between a typically heternormative couple: the homemaker wife and breadwinner husband. Their argument escalates as they dispute the value of each other’s roles; it unravels into a grisly scene of domestic violence. Viewing the work is a solo activity: one has to wear headphones and peer down into the window to watch the scene unfold, viewing made even more difficult by the sheer curtain that distorts the video. Through this gesture, Leeson positions the viewer in a role of surveillance, underscoring the particular vulnerability of women who experience domestic violence. In stark contrast to Peretta’s use of the drone footage, Leeson’s work contends with another aspect of marginality—that which is typically invisible.
A poignant photographic pairing examines the instability of representation as well as the obfuscation of the image as a tool to grapple with one’s subjectivity. Hung next to each other are an iconic image from Ana Mendieta’s “Silueta Works in Mexico” series (1973-77) and Tiona Nekkia McClodden’s 2016 photo The Backlight (5.10.2016). Mendieta’s photograph of her silhouette dug into sandy terrain with red pigment poured into the figure enacts self-representation but with the total absence of her body. In rendering her form in this performative and ephemeral manner, Mendieta engages with themes of femininity, gendered violence, displacement, and exile, among others. In McClodden’s work, the artist photographs herself with her phone as if standing in front of a mirror or reflective surface while wearing a reflective jacket, resulting in an image in which her body is completely invisible and only partially represented by the reflectivity of the jacket and flash of the camera. Made in direct response to Mendieta’s work, McClodden’s self-portrait engages with a similar tactic of refraction to distort or confront the fetishistic gaze—she displays herself in full figure yet is not visible, not allowing her body to be made readily available for consumption.
The exhibition convincingly presents a cohesive argument for an intergenerational dialogue showcasing the continuing challenge of representation in the age of identity politics. Through the conversation suggested by the curators, the exhibition posits an affecting perspective on the ways in which artists articulate the state of subjecthood and slipperiness of such subjectivities. The frictions present in the exhibition speak to a cultural discourse centered on interrogating structures of power and tools of oppression linked directly to visibility, surveillance, and consumption of the body and spectacle of certain modes of representation.