Luis Gispert at Fredric Snitzer Gallery FEELING THE BLAST
‘Heavy Matter’ Luis Gisbert s recent show at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami., a near cousin to shows of his work elsewhere, includes sculptures, remarkable photos, and a rather personal video about the artist’s childhood called ‘Smother’.
The photos are huge (5 foot by 10 foot) composite testimonials to the spectacular technical possibilities of contemporary photography as well as the art (or craft) of photoshop. In fact, the technical virtuosity of these photos potentially upstages their content; and the high budget proximity to advertising suggests that the references to socio-political propoganda may be intentional. The sculptures are big audio speakers with guitar base or heart-shaped speaker cut-outs that evoke the slick , heavy-base audio systems associated with Hip-Hop, gangsta’ car audio systems and urban lower class styles in general. And the walls of the gallery are painted a roaring pink that seems to breathe down your neck.(As in ‘Smother”, but that’s in another room.) The photos are crystal clear images shot with a 4 x 5 neg film camera, scanned and converted to digital file, meticulously photo-shopped together; they clearly show dog hairs and dust on the seats of the Humvee and the dashboard of the tricked-out car, for example, although the juncture of the collaged skies and skylines is undetectable. There’s a series of 4 photos that show a car made to look like a jet cockpit, a B-17 Bomber interior, a bomb test site and a Humvee interior.
All share skies and or horizon lines stitched together with photos of graffiti from New York and elsewhere, Public Housing complexes in New York's outer boroughs and industrial areas. Content aside, the technical quality and sheer scale of these photograph are on a par with the kind of photography we usually see in advertising; they’re pretty overwhelming, and it must be true what they say about size : it matters. The bomb-site photo depicts a military-uniformed dictator-type speaking into a microphone and presumably being broadcast thru the large speakers set around the concrete circle of the bomb test space. And in this photo, the only one with a human figure actually present, the use of disparate elements such as the bomb test space, the public housing towers, and the Palestinian graffiti, seamlessly sewn together, is arguably the most disturbingly powerful. In the other images the human presence is prescient: maybe the drivers of these macho machines didn't make it; their ghosts haunt these interiors that seem to confirm the drama of aggression and power.
The complexity of the bomb test site and it’s creepy military leader seem a more complete narrative and this photo becomes the cue to the others because the figure in this photo is speaking into a mic with speakers set up around the space, so the speaker sculptures seem to be connected to this photo too. Even so, the cockpit photos become interesting because their occupant are gone, and we study these battle stations for clues to what could only be a tragic story of conflict and destruction.
Beyond the technical qualities of the photos, they seem to be about the culture of power and domination, whether in the form of dictators, graffiti-marked territories, or the equipment of war (or it’s admirers in the case of the car). In all there’s a kind of post-apocalyptic spirit, which is kind of funny since although people probably don't have a problem with the idea that our urban neighborhoods are battlegrounds, it’s a little disappointing to imagine that the war is over; not least with so many people anticipating the end of the world, (in some form or other) a few years from now (2012 right?). And alongside these , the artifacts (and sounds) of the music of domination: as in the (Heavy Metal) kind used to flush out Panama’s Dictator from the Church where he sought sanctuary in the US invasion in the early ‘90’s, or the overload base sounds of Rap that blare from the huge black SUV’s or metal-flaked Toronado’s of Hip Hop aficionados, and vibrate everything within 20 feet of them. The connection between the culture of aggression exemplified by these kinds of music, the macho stuff of military equipment, and the post-conflict look of a lot of our wasted urban neighborhoods seems to be the point. And it s worth remembering that many of the soldiers who fight America’s wars come from battlezone environments, and of course, go back to these neighborhoods (if they make it back.) It’ s not exactly a new theme, but certainly one worth reviewing at the moment when the US is involved in 2 wars, and an ‘Economic Downturn’ that, as always, affects those on the bottom most.
The American people may be more focused on other issues, but the connection of war and the most un-self conscious of our urban neighborhoods, is a reminder that the US has more or less been continuously at war since Pearl Harbor; and that the neighborhoods that often produce a disproportionate number of the soldiers, or that exist in a kind of socio-economic survival mode that can be reminiscent of war, might actually mirror each other.
There’s also this thing about returning post traumatic soldiers who occaisionaly start shooting at their neighbors; So even if the war in question is taking place somewhere else, there is that possibility that the violence can kharma back from whence it came. One thing that stands out here is the references to music and advertising, in this case as forms of mass (and presumably manipulative) media. Not necessarily to suggest that there are conspiracies to drum up violence among the natives via music or advertising perhaps; but that the aggression-based messages may really just be mirrors of a survival-mode social environment. And these splendid photos are the perfect way to feel a vicarious connection with this quasi-hidden aspect of our civilization, without actually having to go there. Let’s face it: this kind of drama is easier to take secondhand; these neighborhoods are outside most of the art world’s comfort zone after all. But the centerpiece of the exhibit has to be the video: for whatever the artist’s real or heartfelt connection to the ‘Projects’ of New York or Jersey City (where he was born) , he grew up, first generation, in Miami , more alongside than inside the kind of environment his photos reference.
And the examination of emotional violence and survival, perhaps more related to being an artist in an environment unable to accommodate the profound or dramatic sensibilities that temperment implies, are presented with a real personal power in the video SMOTHER: Fear and intimidation, and an atmosphere of emotional violence that expresses itself in mundane or subtle gestures of disdain and selfishness, are presented in a way that demonstrates how every bit of human interaction is fraught with interpreted meaning, and how powerfully it affects those, like artist-survivors, who’s sensibilities have somehow, miraculously, remained intact.
David Rohn grew up in the suburbs of New York, the city in which he lived during most of the ’70’s and ’80’s. After studying Architecture, Art and Urbanism at NYU, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Pratt Institute, he moved to Miami where in 1995 he began to exhibit paintings, videos, installations, and performances. Currently associated with Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, Miami, his work has reached museums and collections both public and private. David Rohn has contributed art reviews to Art Press (Paris), The Sun Post (Miami), Art Papers (Atlanta), and TWN (Miami-now defunct), and online publications TuMiami, MAEX and ARTLURKER. For more information please visit: www.davidrohn.netview all articles from this author