Masks have haunted Arnold J. Kemp’s pictorial and sculptural follow considering the fact that the late 1990s. He to start with turned to drawing West African masks, spurred on by a hunch that conventional African carving could have a lot more in typical with minimalist sculpture and conceptually inflected image-creating than we may well at first intuit. In the early 2000s this project gave way to a collection of photos of the artist sporting a assortment of Klan hoods executed in fabrics reminiscent of Ghanaian Kente cloth, returning the notion of masking to its much more common dwelling in the context of functionality, purpose participate in, and stagecraft. These works’ conception of identification politics as theater resurfaced in Kemp’s installation Headless (2016), which marked the to start with visual appeal in the artist’s oeuvre of the rubber Fred Flintstone mask. The cartoon character re-emerged in Kemp’s photograph series Humorous Dwelling (Speech Functions), from 2019, in which the artist’s hands manipulate the rubber mask to produce an array of monstrously deformed “expressions.” Born from the artist’s wish to make functions of art that can concurrently amuse, enchant, and frighten the viewer, these photographs faucet into the ambiguous stature of Fred Flintstone as the eponymous mainstay of one of the most financially productive and longest- managing animated television series in historical past (The Simpsons surpassed it in 1997) as properly as the irredeemable archetype of a relaxed, 1950s-type suburban bigotry and poisonous masculinity that, in the wake of the Trump encounter that these will work may well be referring again to, has aged in particular terribly. (Fred’s proverbial fear and suspicion of all matters “other” and divergent are, of training course, intricate by the intensely homosocial charge of his pairing with Barney Rubble.) In truth, seen inside of the context of America’s most new political trauma, there is inevitably an element of cathartic, vengeful violence folded into the parodic spectacle of a black man’s hand “fisting” this talismanic symbol of straight white male entitlement. The work’s titular “speech acts” thereby develop into exercises in articulating awkward “feelings,” allowing our fingers do the speaking we’d somewhat not be caught doing with our heads.
The title “Less Like an Object and Additional Like the Weather” is a reference to a John Cage job interview in which the American composer described the nature of his long-time collaboration with the choreographer Merce Cunningham. The exhibition options a meticulously laid-out grid of some 500 compact ceramic objects exhibited on a small, phase- like system (the set up by itself is titled Speaking to the Solar). They were produced by the artist even though kneading the soaked clay guiding his back, without having looking. Working with just his thumbs and index fingers to poke two holes in each and every hand-sized slab of clay, Kemp made hundreds of “masks.” These ceramic artifacts are presented reverse two man-sized photos of the aforementioned Fred Flintstone masks, prompting the question of who is looking at whom – who is the viewers (i.e., those who pay attention), and who is basically being seemed at? What does this neatly arrayed armada of a thousand eyes hope to see? Presented the symbology of masking in the heritage of theater (feel of the archetypal smiling mask denoting comedy and its tearful double denoting tragedy), we may well look on the ghoulish crowd of ceramic objects as a choir or refrain of types. What are the users of this refrain whispering and murmuring about? Something as ethereal and ephemeral, potentially, as the coalescing and dissipating of clouds—the ominous polysemy of “weather”?
Curated by Dieter Roelstraete
At Neubauer Collegium for Society and Society, Chicago
until eventually April 10, 2022