Glenn Kaino’s mid-career retrospective at Contemporary Arts Center finds him mixing the personal and political with finesse
Los Angeles-based conceptual artist Glenn Kaino’s first mid-career survey, A Shout Within a Storm, exhibits the work of the trained sculptor, whose choice of media is inventively fluid. The Contemporary Arts Center’s exhibit, curated by Steven Matijcio, shows how that fluidity allows for the artist’s continued investigations of ways to visualize the actions of social-justice movements.
Twenty-three works are displayed, including drawings, sculptural installations, videos, interactive robotics and print-based media. The idea, itself, is the keystone to Kaino’s work, and his process-based ways of realizing an idea as art often involve collaborations with radicals and agents of change.
Kaino is known for “kitbashing” — a model-making term referring to the practice of taking small parts off existing models to create ones that are wholly new. That process is integral to Kaino’s work in Shout.
The exhibit contains three of the artist’s large-scale examples of kitbashing: “In Search of New Systems (Southern Skies),” “In Search of New Systems (Logarithmic)” and “In Search of a New Model (Photosphere).” They include hundreds of parts from model kits of tanks, planes and other military machines cast in silver and gold, as well as sparkling clusters of amber and quartz.
“Now Do I Repay a Period Won (Syria)” is an installation of stainless steel surfaces, based upon specific windows of U.S. embassies in foreign cities and countries (Benghazi, Damascus, Yemen, Turkey, Cairo, Athens and Sudan) where glass has been broken by area activists. Kaino thus is working with those actions — with those protesting U.S. colonial-like interventions in foreign ecosystems. In doing so, he is collaborating with the political protestors to make his art. Kaino further throws rocks gathered from those various regions to dent the surface of the steel, thereby giving the piece an exponentially broader, more metaphorically expansive space than the geographic one referred to in the (mostly) palindromic title.
In most of the work in Shout, Kaino freezes the moment of potential energy inherent in radical social actions. For example, the sculptural installation “Suspended Animation” features rocks from sites of political resistance around the world, arranged along a 14-foot conveyor belt precariously balanced on two wheels. These remnants of landscape have been collected from friends and colleagues living in protest sites such as Egypt, Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia, Crimea, Benghazi and Ferguson, Mo., so Kaino is elevating these otherwise inert objects into instruments for revolution.
In others, acts of resistance are performed by the artist himself. “Spontaneous Combustion,” for instance, features a video showing a white-cotton American flag, basted in Civil War-era tarring solution, spontaneously combusting when the fabric is folded. Kaino’s short performance action results in a black, white and yellow tie-dyed pattern upon the recognizable stars and stripes and serves as a larger allegory for the growing extreme polarization of political thought in America today. One of the four flags used in the video is part of the display.
Located in a space on the lower portion of the second-floor gallery where the ceiling juts up to be more than 20 feet high, “L’ènetènafionale” is an installation featuring an animatronic crescent moon and a Pierrot clown whose face features the countenance of the radical, anti-colonialist 20th-century writer Frantz Fanon. The moon’s one eye tracks visitors who enter the blackened space and when three or more assemble, the moon sings the French socialist anthem “The Internationale.” That anthem is also the source of Fanon’s classic book on the violence inherent in decolonization struggles, The Wretched of the Earth.
The show’s title comes from a large-scale installation of copper-plated steel arrows the length of a Zen archer’s arrow (said to know its target before it’s even released from its bow). All of the piece’s more than 100 suspended arrows converge to point at a shared (invisible) target. “A Shout Within a Storm” is titled after an essay written by Mexico’s Subcomandante Marcos, the pen name of Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente of the Chiapas-based Zapatista National Liberation Army.
Kaino uses the ostensible invisible target as a larger metaphor for the ways in which ideas on revolution can gather volume when all are headed toward the same goal.
Glenn Kaino’s A Shout Within a Storm is at the Contemporary Arts Center through April 22. More information: contemporaryartscenter.org.