At Dallas Biennial, five artists take the long view of resistance and struggle

 

“This exhibition is intended to remind us to fight – to carry on,” says Stephen Lapthisophon, co-curator of this year’s Dallas Biennale. Works by five different artists play on topics such as resistance and disenfranchisement and leave the viewer without illusions, but not without hope.

“DB20” is the fourth iteration of the Dallas Biennale, which first appeared in 2012. Each of their iterations was a nervous affair, due more to conversations between artists than to the tastes of established collectors.

Taking into account the current conditions, “DB20” is taking place on a smaller scale than in previous years. This year’s show takes place in a small house that sits right on the fault line of gentrification, between the humble old neighborhoods of West Dallas and the massive apartment blocks of Trinity Groves. It is curated by three artists who all rely on uncompromising conceptual work: Michael Mazurek, Lapthisophon and Jesse Morgan Barnett.

“DB20” comprises installation, video and works on paper and does not show a uniform style but an attitude shared by all five artists. That is, a dark view of the social structure, combined with an urgent demand: go ahead; do not give up!

Keith Walsh’s “Black Congress” is one of seven drawings by the Los Angeles-based artist at the Dallas Biennale. Walsh uses a didactic, text-dense style to tell stories of radical left politics from Marx and Trotsky to Huey Newton. (Nan Coulter / Special Contributor)

In the front room, seven drawings by Los Angeles-based Keith Walsh surround a single installation by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the center of the floor.

Working in color, ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper, Walsh uses bright primary colors in a didactic, text-dense style to tell stories of radical left politics from Marx and Trotsky to Huey Newton. His work provides a historical context for the increasing popularity of democratic socialists such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Gonzalez-Torres’ black pile of papers, which he grimly called Untitled (Party Platform – 1980-1992), pointed an accusing finger at the Reagan-Bush-era Republican Party platform, which he portrayed for calloused indifference to the AIDS crisis accused. What would Gonzalez-Torres have made of the current government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020?

In the next room, two photographs by Dorothea Lange from the Depression flank the viewer on opposite walls. According to Lange’s title, they show the migration of bums, vagrants, individual transients and undesirable indigenous people from Los Angeles County due to police activities. Despite the grim reality of homelessness in 2020-1936, these images aren’t entirely depressing – they capture the deep American myth, from Huck Finn to Jack Kerouac, of taking to the streets and finding freedom by advocating for the territory.

Finally, two small, darkened rooms are dedicated to the video: one has a single work by Tala Madani and the other two pieces by Pope.L.

Los Angeles-born Tehran-born Madani is a painter, and her short, grotesquely violent video titled Wrong House has an exuberantly expressionistic, painterly style. In it, a bald, disheveled man opens his front door for a number of unhappy visitors, whom he bloodily murdered upon entering. While some claim that Madani’s work deals with “power structures” and “gender norms,” it can be taken as easily as offering the brutal animal pleasures of a simple horror film.

Pope.L's videos at the Dallas Biennale record his appearances, the power of which arises from the staging of symbolic, ritualistic acts.Pope.L’s videos at the Dallas Biennale record his appearances, the power of which arises from the staging of symbolic, ritualistic acts.(Kevin Todora)

Pope.L’s videos record his performances, the power of which arises from the staging of symbolic, ritual acts. For example, he sets out on The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 5 Years, 1 Street (Segment # 1: Dec 29, 2001), crawling the length of New York City Broadway on his hands and knees as he one clothing wears superman suit. Like his black conceptualist David Hammons, Pope.L has been working for many years but is getting renewed attention in the era of the Black Lives Matter.

Although Pope.L’s political views could be identical to those of the Walsh socialists, Pope.L operates on an imaginary, emotional, rather than a textual level. But his self-imposed task of crawling 22 miles in rain or shine could well be an inspiration to anyone discouraged by the state of American politics but unwilling to give up anytime soon.

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