By VICTOR SLEDGE January 7, 2024
Brian Singer, also known as Someguy, is a San Francisco-based fine artist whose provocative works push the boundaries of materiality as well as social engagement and criticism. His new solo exhibition, showing at the Torrance Art Museum from January 20 to March 2, 2024, interrogates the realities and contradictions we see in American lore through deconstructing and reimagining culturally symbolic materials.
The exhibition is titled Everything you say can and will be used against you, and it’s Singer’s way of coaxing people into contemplating the society we have built. He explores the American experience with paranoia, injustice, and inequality to force his viewers to shake down the costumes we’ve dressed our society in and face what lies beneath.
“These problems haven't gone away. We're still battling against racism, for a woman's right to choose, for income equality. The concepts stand the test of time because, unfortunately, war, mass shootings, and abuse of power seem to be part of who we are,” he says.
Singer is of Japanese American descent, and his mother was one of many Japanese Americans who had to endure the internment camps during WWII. As a result, his connection to the injustices he explores in his work is deeply personal. However, Singer aims to prioritize the focus on other individuals rather than himself through his work.
Whether by virtue of Japanese social norms, which aren’t necessarily open to discussing traumas, or by a natural hesitation to revisit a painful past, Singer’s family didn’t spend a lot of time exploring his mother’s experiences at home, and it doesn’t make itself directly known in his work.
“Most of my work has been about my observations and criticism of society at large,” he explains. “It’s always a projection or reflection of outside society, and I think the reason for that might be my own hesitancy or fear to look inward,” he says.
Singer’s aim is to comment on the world we’ve collectively created. In his intention, there is nothing personal about his work, but the personal always circles back to him somehow. It’s the nature of the era we’re in, and it creates a striking dichotomy in his work that plays on the personal within the collective.
We live in a time where perception has never been more acute. We have constant access to each other, our lives, what we think, where we go, who we support and more. While social media and other technology based on connection may once have been meant for that purpose only, now, it seems we as a society have prioritized surveillance over connection.
“We’re in a state where it feels more like everyone’s watching you all the time, and anything you do can land you in hot water depending on who’s around,” Singer explains.
There’s a certain existential dread that comes with visibility and how it raises the stakes for everything we say, think and do in current times. And Singer is not immune to this.
In Everything you say can and will be used against you, Singer plays on the shaky “truths” that line our history books in a way that some may find uncomfortable or offensive. Many of the pieces in the exhibit are reconstructed flags that are disassembled and then rewoven around objects that carry their own cultural implications.
For example, one of the pieces is a US flag rewoven around a Bible. He plays on our shared understanding of the loaded meanings behind the US flag and what the Bible represents in the history of this country to force us to consider conflicting ideas that our society isn’t always open to facing.
Having been raised with the epigenetic trauma of his mother’s firsthand experience with one of America’s great atrocities, Singer’s confrontation of our vices and how we have ignored them as a society is inevitable.
Whether by fixating on the materials he uses, the objects he recreates or the history behind the work, you are damned to face yourself and the society you live in when you experience the pieces in Everything you say can and will be used against you.
Singer is also aware of the fact that working with such heavy ideas leaves him open to scrutiny at the very least. What’s maybe most chilling is that whether we mean to or not, it’s all of us that nurture these Orwellian levels of surveillance that creep around the corner when artists like Singer are working.
“All those dystopian novels are actually starting to happen,” he says. “It’s a fine line to walk, and I hope fear doesn’t prevent artists from continuing to push boundaries and be provocative. It gets hard to defend your work when everyone is yelling,” Singer admits.
When you see these deconstructed flags or the silhouette of familiar cultural objects, you may pause to sit with what feels known, but what’s unknown becomes more vocal. You recognize the objects in this exhibit just enough for it to catch your eye, but the gravity of the work is found where your familiarity stops.
Even with the title of his newest exhibit, Singer plays on this paranoia with a phrase that’s changed the lives of so many people.
Singer’s attention to our shared understandings of cultural phenomena acts as a sort of lure in his work. He draws you in with a phrase that’s definitely familiar but certainly off as well. And you carry that uneasiness into your experience with the work. In this way, the title feels like a letterhead, a slogan even, of the current era, marked by hypervigilance and hypervisibility.
But Singer’s attention to and hesitation with the state of hypervisibility we’re in isn’t to avoid the accountability of the work he does. He recognizes and accepts the charge of being an artist that observes and reacts.
Maybe it’s because by nature Singer is a documentarian. He captures the ethos of our society and mounts his work as a mirror for what we’re all privy to, whether we’re ready to accept it or not, including himself.
“In my heart I’m an activist, but the work I make is more like documentation, reflecting our behavior,” he says.
While the documentarian in him may allow him to be at peace with capturing the world as he sees it, Singer’s activist side keeps him wondering about where his work is leading him and the people who see it.
It’s a natural question to ask in a time like this. History is but a flat circle. And it’s one that artists like Singer skate around over and over again, erecting traffic cones and caution signs at every bump.
However, though this documentarian approach to commentary and critique in his work may seem impersonal at face value, a parallel happens with Singer’s work that completely embodies the contradictions we see in the American experience today.
He may want to keep things impersonal in the age of social connection, but the reality of this time of social technology is that, on a level, our constant connection has started to blend our experiences in a way that makes everything and nothing personal at the same time.
We’re watching times that have all but forgotten precedence, and we’ve all been somewhat lapped in a wave of completely overwhelming events. It’s created a sense of collective dissonance we all experience that no one is personally expected to have the answer for. Singer’s work is not meant to provide answers but rather an unflinching record of our collective and deeply flawed behaviors, which we do not appear to be altering any time soon.
“I’m always hopeful that my art is having an impact, helping move us in the right direction. But then there’s another mass shooting and I’m like, nope,” Singer says.
If you’d like to learn more about Brian Singer, you can visit his website at https://someguy.is/, and you can view Everything you say can and will be used against you at the Torrance Art Museum starting January 20, 2024. WM
Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia. He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic.