On ViewGazelli Art House
November 25, 2022 –January 14, 2023
Time plays a funny role in Aziz + Cucher’s latest exhibition, You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry, at Gazelli Art House. The show features new works on canvas and a sampling of multimedia pieces that span their thirty-year collaboration. It isn’t so much of a retrospective as it is a kinetic force that distills a shared ethos within layers of satire. Installed across two floors, the works seem to suggest that there is a glitch in the fabric of society, where someone keeps alternating between pressing the fast-forward and rewind button.
Each piece is its own version of a time machine, which compresses and expedites a spirit of urgency throughout the gallery. This sort of manic, oscillating mechanization found within the exhibition mirrors the very paradox that the artists have long endeavored to address. It marries the gifts and penalties that digital technology has bestowed onto society—you’re welcome and I’m sorry.
Anthony Aziz explains that at the onset of their careers in the early 1990s, “there was this rush towards the future; a sense of euphoria and promise about technology.” Bearing witness to all that clamoring from the fault lines of San Francisco, the artists were quick to contextualize the utopic and dystopic paradigm that would impact the cultural stratum. This reckoning has continued to be the thread that connects their work, enabling them to explore and taunt global socio-political conventions.
The six-channel video installation that is the namesake of the exhibition is a parodied spectacle that targets those conventions directly. First shown at MASS MoCA in 2019, the screens display a cast of whirling and squirming characters, wearing a wacky sort of business attire that could rival the costumes of Dadaist Hugo Ball. Their environments jump and switch from the World Economic Forum stage to Wall Street corporate offices. Stock exchange banners, emojis, and slot machine icons sputter across the videos while financial verbiage cuts through a metal soundtrack. The work denotes claims of economic ignorance made by world leaders, mocking white nationalist ideologies, and neoconservative policies.
This troupe of caricatures make a reprieve across the five newest canvases in the exhibition. These works pulsate just as rapaciously as the preceding installation. Taken as an example is The Lobby, (2022), where nine characters are jumbled together in tattered corporate wear and nacho libre masks. Despite the bright colors and acute spatial dimension, the canvas doesn’t feel truncated. Instead, the Memphis-like prismatic collages that delineate the figures seem to springboard them into another space-time continuum.
The patterned layers make the canvases feel simultaneously generative and crafty, a combination of digital and folk ornament. It is a motif not without precedent. Several earlier works on view illustrate Aziz + Cucher’s creative progression towards it. These include two works from their 2018 Frieze series and Some People, a tapestry fabricated in 2014. Much like the Classical architecture referenced in name, the figures in the series are statically arranged in profile but still reflect a dizzying social critique.
Muted in tone, the tapestry contains hints of the same motif. A sense of handicraft is reinforced through the cotton-made composition, which contrasts significantly with the rigid machine-like positions taken by the rendered characters. Like the canvas works, the figures in Some People were abstracted from a video piece of the same title, only this time the subject of the works is human history in conflict. There is a barrage of individual narratives coated into the tapestry where persons are fixed in uneasy moments; perceptions of time ricochet from one figure to the next.
The figure plays a critical role in the work of Aziz + Cucher. It is used to fractionate lived experiences, convey movement, and isolate contradictions. Their 2012 video, Time of the Empress #6, however, subverts this entirely, and yet it arrives at the same exact place. It is a photographic animation of a solitary Modernist skyscraper that is in a cycling state of fabrication and disintegration. It illustrates the stubbornness of human innovation, where time is suspended, and the future is never fully realized. Technology is situated as the root and reach of today’s economy and culture, just as the artists first expected it might.
You’re Welcome and I’m Sorry, includes one work created during the early years of Aziz + Cucher’s partnership. Entitled, Rick, (1994), it is a photograph of man whose features have been blemished to the point of complete anonymity. His identity is masked to conformity. Within the context of this show, the portrait could be interpreted as a blind soothsayer, foretelling the paradigm of digital technology, as well as the unanimity of these two artists. While there are a lot of paradoxes presented in their work, a conflicting perspective is not one of them. Reflecting on their three decades of collaboration, Sammy Cucher underscored their unity, “our vision, our views, are never an issue. It’s been a long time; we are always in sync.”