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Above: Susan C. Dessel, Our Backyard, A Cautionary Tale, photo by James Wagner, from the exhibition "Dangling Between the Real Thing and the Sign in the Window" at Dam Stuhltrager, Brooklyn, NY, through November 13, curated by Wagner and Barry Hoggard.
Acknowledging that the Iraq war "may not be popular with the public," Dick Cheney says that it "doesn't matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right." He speaks clinically because so far, only the families of soldiers have been affected and the majority of Americans aren't "feeling the war" except through fleeting, carefully controlled images on TV. The work above is a protest piece, icy in its own way as Cheney's statements. The bodies, or lumps shaped like bodies, are wrapped in plastic as if tagged for the morgue, and arranged in neat rows. Their placement in this verdant courtyard is doubly incongruous, since the courtyard itself is fairly out of place in a gritty Williamsburg block near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (the yard sits behind the gallery, out of view of the street). What might be a fairly common sight in Baghdad these days looks beamed down from space in Brooklyn--for now. The photo is good but you need to see the work in person. It really hits you. Goddamit, we didn't do enough to stop the meaningless retaliatory slaughter by this, our supposed democracy.
Inside the gallery, the mood swings back and forth between the dire and the ebullient. A little Joy Garnett painting of a fireman's ladder surrounded by an uncontrolled blaze captures a random, but sadly all-too-familiar moment of urban chaos with flailing gestures of orange. Jacques Louis Vidal's pixelated digital photocollage on Duratrans depicts a pyrotechnic insanitarium in both senses of that term: the actual archaic nickname for Coney Island and a Mark Dery-esque, meth-shooting evangelical quasi-culture gone berserk. (I wish my camera's "memory stick" hadn't chosen today to break--I had a good photo.) I also liked Ina Diane Archer's Jazz Age, Deco film credits excerpted from her video "The Lincoln Film Conspiracy," conjuring an alternate-universe African American Hollywood studio with its slick production Black Ants in Your Pants 1926, starring the artist herself in various guises as well as Sun Ra as "Dr. Cosmos." And Nicolas Garait brings us back to the Middle East with his video installation "28 Months," an abstract montage of 8mm film and found sound evoking Algeria during the 1954-1962 War of Independence, as if seen through a haze of smoke and imperialist propaganda. Lots to like (and worry about) in this show.