Set in the cool freshness of the now frescoed Good Weather in North Little Rock, Arkansas, is a picnic installation by multimedia artist Azikiwe Mohammed, whose work is known for making tangible the Black imaginary. I walked the uphill driveway to the single car garage that forms the gallery as a beleaguered public school teacher, bearing the additional weight of the caste “single mother,” and I ambled back down a person renewed by the particular form of travel only the experience of art provides―denuding oneself of an habitual vista, stealing a glimpse of another person’s perspective on the world, and finding sanctuary there.
In Mohammed’s Welcome Home: A Sunday Afternoon (2019-2020), the gaze of the flattened wooden figures is preternaturally open; the whites of their eyes are arresting. Their frontality calls to mind the aesthetics of ancient Egypt and the symbolism of children’s drawings. The quartet of figures, “Marquis,” “Malik,” “DeAndre,” and “Lamondrae,” have no hands with which to grasp the compressed wooden colas or baguettes set within their reach. Their gestures are hinged together in cord and metal eye hooks, in a rudimentary fashion that is joy-producing in its accessibility, as is the artist’s use of blemished wood and his metonymic application of paint. An Igloo brand ice chest with clear fish tank marbles for ice cubes bridges the space between the figures. The installation is a refuge in its representation of the things that make life liveable: friendship, shared meals, and time away from the production of capital. It reads as a respite from the prolonged trauma of being Black in America―the quotidian existential threats endured by Black Americans and the subsequent triggering into a state of flight/fight/freeze which is antithetical to the body’s needs for rest and repair―and from the protracted, dulling fear and loneliness of a global pandemic whose losses are magnified by political polarization.
However playful the aesthetic, the effect is remarkably poignant, as collective access to refuge remains out of reach. Mohammed’s installation is framed by the 2017 fresco Little Stone, Open Home by Marial Capanna, which itself displays a childlike configuration of space, with its registers and verticality. It’s an ahistorical suburbia whose denizens participate in a curious visual interplay with Mohammed’s through their flatness and absent body parts.
Online, at the platform Gondola Wish―named after a CIA research program on psychic spying―the work of Frankfurt/Berlin-based artist Inga Danysz is concurrently on view through Good Weather. Danysz’s project The Italian Machine references the 1976 short film of the same name directed David Cronenberg and the displaced religiosity of capitalism, this time in the form of motorcycle fetishism. The protagonist of the film seeks to “liberate” a rare Ducati motorcycle from the clutches of a “dilettante” art collector and cries out, “How can he look at it and not want to make it go? I don’t understand!”
The online exhibition of Danysz’s work shares artifacts of an ongoing performance. There is a black-and-white flyer requesting information about a Ducati Desmo 900 Super Sport (which may be downloaded and posted); it reads, “Please get in touch.” A script and accompanying photographs from the artist’s Fondazione Ratti performance in Como (2018) document a large plinth with helmet and leather jacket, noticeably absent of the “authentic Ducati.” The script reads, “There is no momentum, it’s the recurring trip towards the summit and later the release, if only for a moment, falling into the abyss.” The artist’s writing is interspersed with lines from the Cronenberg film and exchanges from a Sophie Calle-like game she played on online forums with potential Ducati sellers. Photographs of the artist, clad in motorcycle gear and turned away from the viewer, mimic the aesthetic and induced longing of fashion photography.
In the Cronenberg film, a coke-addled character loafing around the property of the art collector asks why he shouldn’t be paid “to sit around, look gorgeous―in short to be an art object.” The collector responds, “In the electronic age, the machine becomes a work of art.” The wife of the collector adds, “In the age of automation, human beings become works of art.” These glib statements are eerily prescient of our labor market in the era of planned obsolescence and untaxable multinational corporations (whose CEOs benefit from the complicity of the art market to shelter funds). Meanwhile, the flow of capital circulates in a closed feedback-loop between a few people, and the rest of us persist “in a recurring trip toward the summit,” without traction, American Dream-less, “falling into the abyss.”
Azikiwe Mohammed’s Welcome Home: A View from Sunday is on view at Good Weather in North Little Rock, Arkansas, through October 26.
Presented by Good Weather, Inga Danysz’s The Italian Machine is available to view through the online platform Gondola Wish.