MARCH 31, 2018
Birds of Prey Don’t Sing brings together eleven artists who sweat the petty stuff, who take Wolfgang Tillmans’ seemingly emancipatory claim “if one thing matters, everything matters” perhaps a bit too literally. The artists are precise, but irreverent; a surgical attention to detail does not prevent the works from being somewhat disrespectful.
Michael E. Smith’s Untitled is comprised of a sheet of LSD blotter paper with an illustration of fetal pigs nested in a yin/yang pattern. The sheet is mounted on a broken tablet and illuminated by a red laser. Smith denies the archival impulse, as the laser produces a pattern ostracizes the digital spectator. In PSA, Alexis Musinski painstakingly recreates the audio from a Gerber Baby food commercial. The piece is an indulgent subsumption into the overly saccharine, perpetually infantilizing demands of advertising culture—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
The gestures in the show oscillate between obsessive care and outward hostility towards objects. The sculptures hold latent potentialities of violence; in Kevin Hernández Rosa’s 2:00 Godmother, mounting brackets are refigured as weaponry. In Raza Kazmi’s Lateral Trick, a reptilian knit shirt slinks along the ground of its own accord. The shirts’ exoskeleton compresses and expands, unsettling our sense of bodily cohesion. The artist is shown kneeling at the edge of a body of water, his back in flames. Self-immolation, in this case, is not a catalyst for political change but a strong sign of urgency itself—we get the sense that we are out of time. Viewers are short of breath as they wait for the curtain to fall and for Kazmi to finally motion for the extinguisher. Comprised of softballs, dirt, and plastic, Dylan Ahern’s Playstation Gold refers to a kind of all-American waxing nostalgic fantasy of play. Both the title and the form of the work, which resembles a console, are in opposition to the connotations of its constituent parts.
Other works in the show should be understood as stages for actions between objects. Ed Brown lights a candle and allows the wax to flow over a faux leather mask. Macayla Sandusky subjects a piece of Teslin paper in a DIY-skin care routine in Exfoliate Onwards. Anna Bonesteel’s drawing Emily operates somewhere at the intersection of visual poetry, memes, and diagrams, plotting and assigning terms such as “my doctrine” and “my idiom.” Both Brian Oakes and Audrey Ryan subject their materials to a slow torture; the subject of Oakes' Waxing (offline melting form) is a chunk of brown wax melting within a custom circuitry structure, while Ryan forces white towels far beyond their carrying capacity. A more overt, prolonged violence occurs in Vijay Masharani’s short looping video Hic Fit, in which a writhing chimpanzee appears to be drowning in an empty warehouse.
As independent journalist Bobby London has noted, despair is the unfortunate sibling of hope. Pessimism can emerge from a dearth or an excess of belief. Birds Of Prey Don’t Sing effectively runs the gamut here, juxtaposing works that allude to a kind of cynical distancing alongside utterances of anguished heartbreak that are necessarily downstream from emotional investment.
Kevin Hernández Rosa
Michael E. Smith