Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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

One of the most
horrible cases of child-murder it has been our lot to record occurred on Sunday, on what is known as Waterloo Ridge, in Wisconsin. A little girl, ELLIE FIELD, was set upon by LIZZIE SICKLE, aged 15 or 16, for some cause unknown as yet, and beaten in a most brutal manner. When the child became unconscious, and was apparently dying, she became alarmed at her brutality and called in a neighboring woman. She said that the child had fallen from a chair by accident and had hurt its head. But it required only a glance at the mutilated body to show the falsity of this story. The body was one mass of bruised and broken flesh. The skull was broken, the forehead having been smashed in evidently by stamping it with a heeled shoe. The case justly creates great excitement in the neighborhood.

The photographic works of sculptor and outdoorsman Jim Zimpel are homage, satire, and benefaction addressed to his north woods ancestral home; despite its surfeit of French names––Racine, La Crosse, and Eau Claire––Wisconsin is solidly Germanic. His affection for pop culture, oral history, and urban legend have led this peculiar artist (he will eat only meat that he has himself killed) on an illustrator’s mission, embellishing and inventing, casting himself as a contemporary Hogarth, a fuguist of the Wisconsin death trip.

In The Woodworker, 2009, above, Zimpel shows us a view best kept secret, the hidden basement lair of a one-eyed recluse. Through the unswept sawdust multiple electrical cords snake down the stairs though only one power tool is visible; where are, and more importantly, what are the others? The white-bearded man is caught in a shaft of revealing light, not surprised but perturbed, as if his important work can only be accomplished in darkness. On the drill press rests a wooden totem of a human heart.

In a state enamored of ice fishing and drunken driving (per capita, Wisconsin produces twice the alcohol-related fatalities of California) the Badgers have always swung from their polarities of frolic and gaiety; water shows and amateur pilot fly-ins, to melancholy, madness and murder; Gein, Dahmer, et al. It is the forest spirit that possesses them and Zimpel has captured that furtive manitou, and it is jealous.

The Getaway, 2009, above, demonstrates just such an instance of influence. In the intermittent illumination of a garage at night a third and final figure climbs into a pickup truck. The subject of this mysterious allegory, a youthful bearded man, sits in the bed of the truck, wearing a down-filled jacket and carrying an axe over his shoulder. He is as motionless as a Hummel figurine but the expression on the face of the woman in the cabin reveals a dire concern. These are Zim’s Fairytales, as fatalistic as their Teutonic model and the axe shown on the first page must be used on the last.

The last wild bear in Germany was hunted and killed in 1835. Like the forest the bear is a beloved symbol of Germany––it is on the seal of its capital city, Berlin. When, in 2006, another wild bear was found to be raiding hen houses in Bavaria he was shot dead. "This animal didn't just kill when he was hungry. He had a lust for killing," Anton Steixner, an official from South Tirol, said, "It's not that we don't welcome bears in Bavaria. It's just that this one wasn't behaving properly."

Max King Cap