I attempted some art fag-ery last Friday, as it seems I do best at activity-driven procrastination when I am under the pressure of Grad school deadlines. My first stop was the Whitney, and apparently my first task was to haggle the pretty boy art students at reception for my tickets. Skinny mini attitude is best rocked at the club, I think, where bitchy can look cuter with your new haircut and horn-rimmed glasses combo. But hey, what do I know, I like to remain only a visitor to the art fag universe.
My friend and I were first drawn to the multicolored kid’s room on the ground floor which houses Alex Bag’s brilliant installation video. Planted ourselves on a bright yellow rectangle and nestling our feet in the faux polar bear shag carpet, we slipped into a trippy world of hyper consciousness. In the style of 70s era children’s show “The Patchwork Family,” Bag places her super imposed selves on screen in conversation with a witty red dragon puppet whose wake-up call commentary provides hilarious punch to the self-deprecating humor. Dressed in various costumes, Bag and the dragon discuss dysfunction, depression and denial as their background melts together images of Renaissance art and trippy graphics. Every so often, Bag’s ghost appears as a semi-transparent double that hovers creepily around and upon her as she talks about how the ghost is able to surpass the limits of her body in a way she herself cannot. Cutaways from this existential dialogue include David Bowie covers performed by a tired-looking man in a wheelchair surrounded by children who stand and sit awkwardly around him and clips from “The Patchwork Family” in which Bag’s mother was a host.
The video has a slow pace and parts of it drag on–in particular, the Bowie covers. While other segments are straightforward in their symbolism, the most complex and layered segment is Bag’s exchange with the dragon and her ghost. Bag’s different characters and the dragon play counterpart to each other as if they are each separate parts of her mind–conscious, sub-conscious and ego. The dialogue is deep and witty, coming from a place of pain. However, Bag does not use her multi-media space as an emotional dumping ground. She is careful to critique her own self-indulgence and adds a broader critique on artistic navel gazing. At moments, the video offers advice to children that feels deeply reflective and tinged with regret. Bag’s warped children’s show is an adult arena for processing but it brings to mind an adolescent emotional absorption that feels really universal and eerily familiar.
After watching Alex Bag’s piece, my friend and I strolled through the rest of the museum. Lynda Benglis’ sprawling latex formation in the “Synthetic” show struck me as beautifully conceived. I was also intrigued with one of Elad Lassry’s 16 mm films in which actors sit on a two-dimensional painted surface and appear inside a three-dimensional space. When we got to Alexander Calder’s moving sculptures, I realized I was already exhausted. Amidst the tinkling of small weights wandering freely through the air to hit bottles and metal, I took a rest to gather some energy for the next leg of the art day.
We headed to Rush Arts Gallery for the opening of “Latitude”. The work in “Latitude” explores mixed cultural identity, homeland as an unstable concept, and deconstructing fixed identities and definitions of authenticity. The pieces range in medium with photography, sculpture, and mixed-media installations. The artists in the show include Sung Jin Choi, Brendan Fernandes, Mona Kamal, Sungmi Lee, Vered Sivan and Jessica Vaughn. Packed tight with gorgeous folks buzzing in conversation, there wasn’t much space to walk around and get deep into the work. Already art-fagged out, I was perfectly content to sip on some wine, chat with the few kids I knew, gawk at the beauties and absorb “Latitude” more conceptually than anything else. I am particularly interested in visual art and writing that explores notions of identity along cultural and political faultlines, so I’ll have to return for another closer look.