Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Middle is Missing: Cody Ledvina at galleryHOMELAND

Dean Liscum

I'll start by apologizing to Cody Ledvina because I'm going to project wwwwaaaaaaayyyyy too much of my personal and political shit into his work and then I'm going to try and pass it off as detached, apolitical,  objective, Kantian criticism.

I purposely did not talk to Cody about his installation at the opening of Dadtown is an HJ Hub at galleryHOMELAND because I wanted to concentrate on my reaction and not his intention.

The entire show is a single installation. It consists of a jumble of geometric forms: circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares. Ledvina excised the shapes from local political campaign signs for the November 2012 election.  An animated projection and a soundtrack of a seemingly random episode of the Howard Stern radio shows finish out the installation.

My first impression of the exhibit is one of noise: visual, sonic, and cinematic noise. The sign pieces overlap each other in an intentionally random jumble that echoes any polling place on election day.

The pieces are fragments of political visual and linguistic tropes vying for the viewer's attention. They are immediately recognizable as "political" and this recognition emphasizes the branding of political communication: signage and speech in particular. Ledvina's installation takes this branding, this stylistic visual and linguistic argot in which politicians say nothing, but with lots of feeling and strong, vibrant colors as its main target. Ledvina could make a game of completing the signs because it's communication that we've been saturated with. We can finish the phrases but we might not be able to define them because this kind of language has lost its meaning, or like the signs from which Ledvina cut these shapes, its substance.

Which brings me to the other "unspoken" part of this artwork. It is installed on the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy. These works lack attribution, but they bare an uncanny resemblance to Ledvina's handy work.

And they bear out Ledvina's message. The center will not (and in this case does not) hold.

The segment of Stern's radio show echoes this lack of substance. It sounds like communication, like dialog, like the exchange of information between two people but it's not. The participants take turns speaking AT each other. They don't actually say anything. They don't hear each other. No ideas are formulated or exchanged. Instead, they repeat or rather parrot various cultural tropes. Both basically shouting "Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?" while their responses seemingly say "Yes, but I don't care."

In Dadtown, Ledvina points out the obvious by literally cutting it out right in front of our faces (or at least in front of a popular cafe \ avant garde bookstore). The center of political discourse, the substance of our communal life, the middle is missing. In the national political climate with the right-wing's perennial Reagan romanticism, Dadtown ironically reminds me of the Robbie Conal's protest posters that admonished politicians to SPEAK at the Iran-Contra hearings. Since then, politicians and political operatives have learned to speak, they just don't say anything.

Robbie Conal, Speak

Amid the popular political art, I find this criticism / culture jamming (as Keisha Washington stated in Not That This) savvy and shrewed. Especially for an artist who once commented on criticism about his own artspace, Tha Joanna, using this pictogram:


Oh well. Sometimes, we may not understand the words (or pictograms) coming out of each others mouths (-butts), but in the end, I do think Ledvina cares. And in Dadtown, it shows.

...and if I'm wrong, fuck it. I already apologized at the beginning. 8===> (*)


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