Tuesday, February 23, 2010
TWICE TOLD TALES: ADAM BROOKS
Adam Brooks is a rabbit puncher. His text-based works encircle his meaning and invariably surprise you from behind, like a De Maupassant short story or a festive rum drink. Scanning his art-making coordinate system his often witty, frequently grim, always satirical works are a radius, firmly planted at the origin of the x axis (flowers and clowns), and the y axis (sex and death), fiercely swinging through each quadrant. His current exhibition at Tropo Mfg is another eye-rolling romp through a time of wisdom and foolishness—namely, today. Bringing to mind Alexis de Tocqueville’s one hundred seventy five year old observation, “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America”, Adam Brooks’s new installation, Viva Socialism, takes aim at the current political climate in the United States and the absence of civility and introspection in our democratic discourse.
His long career of artistic social agitation has recently been augmented by his teaming with a fellow British expatriate to form Industry of the Ordinary, a duo that produces objects and actions that pan for the meaning in the everyday, finding a secret agenda in the most mundane of occurrences and entities, but it is his individual work that possesses the greater intellectual heft and moral gravitas. From his Freedom Wall (1994), a popular survey and ranking of heroes and idols printed on a graphically bold list that covers a significant portion of an eight storey building, to his opulent mosaic-laid quotations in the Chicago subway (2005), that, in their dignity and uplift, collectively read like a checklist from the Ministry of Truth. Brooks’s works have frequently assumed the position of gentle admonishment, like that of an indulgent parent (which he is), despairing his own failure to take a more strident and possibly more effective stand. He is far too gentle for that. His messages are really in the category of “note to self” lessons that he, in his persistent humanism, sets as goals, hoping there are others who feel similarly––the power of a single vote to turn the tide, though outside of storybooks this seldom happens. He is in love with the world so he is not angry, just very disappointed; a prophet with lazy and willfully forgetful adherents, he fears they will invariably live up to his grimmest expectations.
Purchasing a variety of message-emblazoned T-shirts, all white, from numerous thrift stores, Brooks has had the shirts’ content redirected by silk-screening the slogan, Viva Socialism, on the reverse side. Such garments, in their simple, used state, often make their way across the seas via missionaries or other non-governmental organizations, each with its own agenda, into the hands and onto the backs of our poorer brethren resulting in the too-common-to-remain-tragic-irony photographs of a child soldier wearing an “Ohio State Homecoming Dance” or a “Bob’s Big Boy” T-shirt. Yet it is also the inability of us, as citizens, to delay gratification and sacrifice for the common good. The ideological polarizations of our current public discussions have stripped words of their meaning, turning formerly unexceptional phrases into fighting words. For a text-based artist this is both a horror and a delight, allowing him to employ, without embellishment, the bizarre, self-negating utterances and illogical formulations that currently pass for measured debate. All of this on a simple white T-shirt––of course; who would ever trust a message from a black T-shirt?
Max King Cap