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Sometimes you can feel a little awkward laughing in a gallery, especially when you are laughing because you think something is so absurd that you are not exactly sure why it is there in the first place or why you are standing in front of it. Dumb made me laugh. And according to Mathew Jones's catalogue, I think this was the response that I was supposed to have. Mathew Jones has curated an exhibition that reflects a trend towards art that can see the ridiculous side of much cultural production, a trend towards art that is both self-reflexive and humorous. Jones does not presume that the viewer possesses certain 'insider information' in the form of complex theories to interpret art. This is not to say that Dumb is anti-intellectual or rejects theory wholesale. Rather, the works of Hanson, Lexier and Lopez open up and challenge the absurdities and obsessiveness of some conceptual art practice. Jones has selected works that among other things, made him laugh.
Premised by notions of banality and absurdity, the works in Dumb are reliant, somewhat, on the viewer's identifying with the artist's obsession. Micah Lexier's Portrait of David appeals to a broad spectrum of interests in that it deals with our (or more specifically his) anxieties about aging and death. Lexier seems to see the humour in working through his own anxieties by embarking upon a monolithic conceptual art project. He has photographed seventy-five males named David whose ages range from one to seventy-five, representing the artist's expected life span. In order to gather his Davids, Lexier advertised in local papers and on radio in Canada. Overwhelmed by six hundred callers, he asked staff at the Winnepeg Art Gallery, Toronto, to select the first respondents of each age group. These Davids were then photographed by the gallery photographer and, in Dumb, Lexier displayed all seventy-five photographed Davids in chronological order.
Unlike Portrait of David, Erik Hanson's The Man Who Sold the World, deals with a slightly less universal obsession: David Bowie. Hanson has photographed the midpoint (at which perfect stereophonic sound is created) between two speakers playing David Bowie's original vinyl recordings that were released by RCA between 1970 and 1982. He has left the lens open for the duration of the recordings. Perhaps one needs to share an appreciation of David Bowie, which I do, to grasp the serenity of such a project, or may be one can just marvel at such obsessive and idolatrous behaviour.
Like Lexier, Diana Lopez uses other people to take her photographs. Franklyn's Eye is part of a project in which she gave children an instamatic camera and film and asked them to take photographs and to title each picture. Lopez then paid for the processing and, without editing, enlarged the films. It is important to note that Franklyn is Lopez's housekeeper's son. Lopez's own role in this process (as financial backer, collaborator, adult, employer, ... ) is unresolved within the work. As Jones mentions in the catalogue, there is an uncertainty in the viewer as to why he or she should look at these images at all.
It is in the lack of resolution and conceptual untidiness that the interest in these works lies. Jones has curated an exhibition that is both challenging and amusing, allowing us to reflect without pressure.