Masks have haunted Arnold J. Kemp’s pictorial and sculptural exercise considering the fact that the late 1990s. He very first turned to drawing West African masks, spurred on by a hunch that traditional African carving may perhaps have a lot more in prevalent with minimalist sculpture and conceptually inflected impression-earning than we may possibly at to start with intuit. In the early 2000s this undertaking gave way to a collection of images of the artist sporting a range of Klan hoods executed in fabrics reminiscent of Ghanaian Kente cloth, returning the principle of masking to its additional regular home in the context of efficiency, part engage in, and stagecraft. These works’ conception of id politics as theater resurfaced in Kemp’s installation Headless (2016), which marked the initially physical appearance in the artist’s oeuvre of the rubber Fred Flintstone mask. The cartoon character re-emerged in Kemp’s picture collection Funny Dwelling (Speech Acts), from 2019, in which the artist’s fingers manipulate the rubber mask to create an array of monstrously deformed “expressions.” Born from the artist’s desire to develop is effective of artwork that can at the same time amuse, enchant, and frighten the viewer, these photographs faucet into the ambiguous stature of Fred Flintstone as the eponymous mainstay of one of the most monetarily profitable and longest- working animated tv series in record (The Simpsons surpassed it in 1997) as nicely as the irredeemable archetype of a casual, 1950s-style suburban bigotry and toxic masculinity that, in the wake of the Trump expertise that these functions may well be referring again to, has aged particularly terribly. (Fred’s proverbial fear and suspicion of all points “other” and divergent are, of system, challenging by the intensely homosocial charge of his pairing with Barney Rubble.) Certainly, seen in just the context of America’s most new political trauma, there is inevitably an element of cathartic, vengeful violence folded into the parodic spectacle of a black man’s hand “fisting” this talismanic symbol of straight white male entitlement. The work’s titular “speech acts” thereby become workouts in articulating unpleasant “feelings,” allowing our arms do the chatting we’d instead not be caught performing with our heads.
The title “Less Like an Item and Additional Like the Weather” is a reference to a John Cage interview in which the American composer explained the character of his lengthy-time collaboration with the choreographer Merce Cunningham. The exhibition capabilities a meticulously laid-out grid of some 500 small ceramic objects shown on a lower, stage- like system (the set up by itself is titled Talking to the Sunshine). They were built by the artist although kneading the moist clay driving his back, without the need of hunting. Utilizing just his thumbs and index fingers to poke two holes in every hand-sized slab of clay, Kemp generated hundreds of “masks.” These ceramic artifacts are introduced opposite two male-sized pictures of the aforementioned Fred Flintstone masks, prompting the query of who is observing whom – who is the viewers (i.e., those people who hear), and who is simply becoming appeared at? What does this neatly arrayed armada of a thousand eyes hope to see? Offered the symbology of masking in the heritage of theater (assume of the archetypal smiling mask denoting comedy and its tearful double denoting tragedy), we might glance upon the ghoulish group of ceramic objects as a choir or chorus of kinds. What are the customers of this chorus whispering and murmuring about? Anything as ethereal and ephemeral, possibly, as the coalescing and dissipating of clouds—the ominous polysemy of “weather”?
Curated by Dieter Roelstraete
At Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Modern society, Chicago
right up until April 10, 2022