Alabama is the inaugural exhibition of Office Baroque Gallery. The exhibition is based on a John Coltrane composition from 1963 and intimately and intuitively conjures an environment that is able to belong to a broader cultural imaginary.
Coltrane’s Alabama is a composition that is inspired by dramatic events. It refers to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Coltrane patterned his saxophone play on the intonation and rhythm of Martin Luther King’s funeral speech honoring the victims, four African-American girls aged between 11 and 14 as an explicit, yet hidden statement on racial struggle and the civil rights movement.
The exhibition offers an approximation of how artists respond to traumatic cultural events. It takes the conceptual simplicity of Coltrane’s Alabama as a starting point and embarks on a critical analysis of new cultural imaginations that de- and reconstruct our fetishist approach to disaster, memory and the self. Alabama features works by 11 artists.
Gerard Byrne (Dublin, 1969) deals with particular forms of belatedness. 1984 and Beyond (2005–ongoing) is an ongoing series of photographs that were made as a research of Playboy magazine discussions from the 1960’s. The 7 photos from 1984 and Beyond appear to date from the 1960’s but there are several elements that contradict these origins. With them, Byrne is tracing a history of ideas that starts in the 1960’s. Revisiting history allows for the thinking of radically different forms of ‘today’. It also allows to uncover the differences between the survival and the recycling of specific traits of a particular revolutionary era in various manifestations of culture and politics today.
Jamal Cyrus (USA, 1973) has realized a series of record covers of an imaginary record company that was active in the black power movement in the 1970’s but was forced by the CIA to suspend its activities. Machete (2007) is a small sculptural piece that is probably the most direct reference to the title of show. It is a trumpet that has been transformed into a machete and brings to mind the atrocities of genocide. Simultaneously it questions the role of subcultural expressions like jazz or music to effectuate a change, i.e. to be a weapon for a particular revolution.
Jeremiah Day (USA, 1974) has spent several years working on the concept of a portable memorial, specifically within the context of photography and space in relation to the monumental function of images. Former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Building (2007) and Preparations for Founders Day, Celebration (2007) are two series of photographs that were methodologically inspired by Polish director Kristof Kieslowski’s magnum opus Decalogue. They mimick the Polish director in an attempt to create a portrait of a regime from within. In his photographs Day displays both the American system and its excessive derailments without taking recourse to an external third space.
Ivan Grubanov (Belgrade, 1976) spent more than two years in the international tribunal in The Hague as a visitor where he made over 200 drawings of Serbian former dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Grubanov continued his research into power and national identity in a series of drawings called The Evil Painter (2005–6). A central motive in these drawings is a pair of white gloves. Both the attributes of power and dignity, they have a criminal dark side because they also protect the criminal from being found when they are used for covering up traces, like fingerprints. The gloves become a symbol for power through anonymity and as such they both lead to and protect the person guilty, becoming a powerful memento within Grubanov’s broader questioning of the Balkan genocide.
Leslie Hewitt ’s (USA, 1977) work is centered around the space of African American culture and how its environment is defined by images and memory. CMYK (2006) is a collaboration work with Matt Keegan (USA, 1976). It consists of a floral arrangement that is changed every week in the four different basic colors of the visual (photographic) spectrum: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. ‘CMYK’ is a work that deals with the construction and the decay of images. Within the context of Alabama, CMYK also relates to the memorial function of images and creates an act of dedication through deconstruction.
Christopher Knowles (USA, 1954) typings are a poetic/conceptual series of word games, puns, song lyrics and graphic compositions on letter size and composite size paper. Knowles’ work is often coded and it features a critical complaint against the developments of American imperialism. Formally it seems to engage in a playful way with the vocabulary of conceptual art. His typings are filtered by mainstream culture and by daily experiences (top 40 songs,…). Often they have the nature of disclosure and they display the ability to reorder and rethink reality along different standards.
Robert A. Pruitt (USA, 1975) in his work deliberately makes use of the tropes of African heritage and history as a way of uncovering a latent potential in an environment of American standards. Pruitt proposes hybrid representations, often in the form of composite drawings where African cultural stereotypes are mixed with Americana as a way of ‘attaching Africa to the body’. A series of two drawings Supermathematician (2007) and Shadowboxing (2007) and four photographs was realized during his recent residency at Site in Santa Fe.
Rosalind Nashashibi & Lucy Skaer ’s Flash in the Metropolitan (2006) is a collaboration work that was shot during night at the Metropolitan museum in the department of Near Eastern, African and Oceanic arts. The film is a series of pulses of light on the sculptural and design objects of the collection in an otherwise pitch dark museum. Flash deals with the way institutional preservation, study and display of global cultural objects is monofocal, disenchanting and violent. Eyeballing (2005) is a film by Rosalind Nashashibi that engages in a more playful analysis of the urban landscape. Nashashibi went looking for the most schematic human representations in urban landschape: two dots for the eyes and a line for the mouth, with a series of still shots of these faces Eyeballing opposes the human character of the city to the uniformed, anonymous NYPD police officers as they swarm in and out of their precinct office in New York city.
Michael Queenland (USA, 1970) investigates the connections between the puritan strain in American thought and culture and the success of American imperialist art like minimalism through a research of vernacular design classics commonly known as Shaker design. In a series of black and white photographs Queenland stages a haunting portrayal of American Gothic through a research of interiors, ventilation holes, sewer pipes and blind windows. Shaker Smallcraft: Sconce, Sister Garment Hanger, Pipe Box and Brother Hanger (2006) is a sculpture that is part of Queenland’s analysis of shaker design classics as one of the underpinnings of American puritan ideologies. Michael Queenland is interested in how fundamental belief structures permeate both the vernacular, everyday and the sublime forms of aesthetic and ideologiccal imagination.