NEW YORK, NY.-
"Fight this Generation" is a track on the indie rock band Pavement's album Wowee Zowee, released in 1995. It gives its title to Luca Dellaverson's second solo show at Tilton Gallery
Cultural and literary frames of reference are disappearing and new ones are being born today at a centrifugally accelerated rate. "The collective vocabulary and common points of reference," writer John McPhee recently observed, "are not only dwindling now but have been for centuries. The dwindling may have become speedier, but it is an old and continuous condition."[i] On a recent transatlantic return flight to New York, I found myself brimming with wistfulness and an acute awareness of what I assume to be a common condition afflicting my generation: disenchantment. I happened to be sitting next to a boy of 11 or 12 years old and his father, undoubtedly upper middle class and impeccably equipped for the long flight: two iPads and two iPhones, one for each; a digital camera; a small external hard disk; several cables and chargers; and a laptop computer. Having watched a few recent animated blockbusters on his iPad and gotten somewhat restless, the boy looked at his dad for suggestions. Browsing the available movies under "Classics" in what is called the in-flight entertainment system, the dad suggested: "How about this movie? Jurassic Park." The boy stared blankly; he had no idea what Jurassic Park was. "Oh, you might like it," continued the dad, "it's about dinosaurs." My heart skipped a beat as I remembered my 10-year old self in 1993 with sweaty palms sitting in the theater marveling at what turned out to be not only the biggest box-office hit in history to that date, but also the film that launched cascades of innovation in digital filmmaking.[ii]
Those of us who grew up in the 1990s, and who in fact saw Jurassic Park in the theater, including Luca Dellaverson, have so far lived lives that have coincided with a period of technological and cultural transformation at an unprecedented rate and of singular historical significance and impact-the very junction from the analog to the digital era, from the pre-internet to the post-internet mode of existence. A consistent engagement in Dellaverson's work has been with the simultaneous death and birth of frames of reference and representation, our changing attitudes toward our distance from the object-be it the actual physical object or the cultural products of an era-at a time of all-encompassing change under the guise of progress. For his new body of work on view here, the artist has thought about how we process a recent history, specifically the 1990s, which our generation did not live through as adults but rather as children and adolescents, a decade which nonetheless unfailingly and irreversibly imprinted itself on our psyche and imagination.
Fight this Generation , eponymously titled as the show, confronts the viewer as the first work in the gallery space. It is an ordinary plastic bucket, one of many that the artist has used to prepare the epoxy resin that goes into making his paintings. As one approaches the bucket, one realizes that in it there is an iPod frozen in clear epoxy. This nearly obsolete and tritest of everyday technological devices gets the treatment it deserves, and becomes a memento mori for a past moment when that version of the device was the latest-mid-2000s? Invented in 1988, the CD-ROM became a ubiquitous household item in the early 1990s, replacing the cassette tape and the Walkman, in turn supplanted in the later half of the 1990s by the MP3 file and player, which in 2001 reached its apotheosis with Apple's release of the first iPod. The iPod has in turn lost its popularity to the iPhone. Fight this Generation is in a way a totemic fuck-you to the update obsession brought upon us by corporate marketing, advertising, and mass media-update to the latest operating system, update to the latest version of the applications on one's smartphone, update to the latest version of the iPhone, the status update, the relentless update to the self through its representation on social media, and so on.
Following the encounter with the solitary bucket on the floor in the first room of the gallery, we enter into a dark room of loud cacophonous sound. It is an installation of five screens leaning against the walls displaying what at first appear to be segments of abstract digital animation, which upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be actual moving images blurred by the epoxy resin sleeves each LCD screen is encased in. Each of the sleeves is in turn cast from a stretched and gessoed canvas. The result is reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's most deliberately out-of-focus photo paintings had they morphed into videos. On continuous loop and with sound on, on each of the five screens is playing a pirated digital file version of five movies emblematic of the 1990s Hollywood. Each work is titled simply after the movie: Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Scream, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and 10 Things I Hate About You. Most gallery goers will have seen these movies or will at least remember the time these movies were out. Yet, like the boy sitting next to me on the plane, those born in the later half of the '90s or the 2000s won't. The gradual disappearance of frames of reference and representation finds its physical counterpart in the opaque layer of plastic the artist has obscured the screens with. No two moments of the experience of this installation will be the same in a way similar to the Heraclitean reveling in the passage of time invoked by Félix Gonzáles-Torres's Perfect Lovers (1991), two clocks that start out displaying the same exact time but eventually fall out of sync with each other. All five movies will have started at the same time but due to their different lengths and the fact that the gallery staff will turn them off at the end of each day and back on each morning, not from the start but wherever each had left off the previous night on its own continuous loop, the experience of being in this room will change throughout the course of the exhibition as the movies fall more and more out of sync with each other.
A lot indeed happened in the 1990s; and it was the last decade in which ideas of cultural progress and personal optimism were conceivable. In the absence of reality TV and YouTube, our early formative years were spent experiencing directly and indirectly the germination of the cultural and political constellations and discourses that have begun to manifest their apotheoses in the new millennium. This decade was marked by the Clinton presidency and the rise of neoliberal rhetoric accompanied by the propelling of the American economy out of its earlier recession-struck state into an impressive growth arc in the aftermath of the Cold War. In this decade, we experienced the launch of the World Wide Web; the appearance of the first blog; the return of Steve Jobs to Apple; the rise of identity politics and multiculturalism; the rise of creative activism in response to the AIDS crisis; the beginnings of the commodification of subcultures; the rise of cable TV; MTV's launch of the genre of the music video into mass public consumption; Nirvana's release of "Nevermind;" the mass-market breakthrough of hip-hop; the emergence in fashion of grunge on one side and Calvin Klein minimalism on the other; Kate Moss and the advent of heroin-chic; the emergence of indie rock bands such as Pavement and Velocity Girl, and riot grrrl bands such as Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear; the merging of art, fashion and celebrity culture; the emergence of Relational Aesthetics in the US and that of the Young British Artists in the UK; the literary reign of David Foster Wallace; the premiere and blowing up of Seinfeld and The Simpsons; the emergence of directors such as the Coen Brothers, Todd Solondz, Gus van Sant, Todd Haynes, and Quentin Tarantino; the launch of digital video by Sony, JVC, Panasonic and other video-camera manufacturers, which became a de facto standard for home video production, independent filmmaking and citizen journalism; and so on. The 1990s also saw the increased appearance in galleries and museums of film and video work that appropriated tropes and stereotypes from television and mass media.[iii] Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Scream, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and 10 Things I Hate About You are all blockbusters but each different in mood and content, each premised on various sets of cultural and political ideals and stereotypes. Having them play simultaneously, superimposing their sounds while obscuring their images, dialectically positions the embedded critical power of simulacral composites of decipherable cultural references against the fact that each is in the end a Hollywood blockbuster.
Yes, things were changing in the 1990s, but we were far from our current condition of disenchantment. In The Sociology of Religion, published in 1920, Max Weber used the term disenchantment, which had been coined by Friedrich Schiller, to describe the devaluation of mysticism and the privileging of rational systems in modernized, bureaucratic, secularized Western society, as opposed to traditional society where "the world remains a great enchanted garden."[iv] Fight this Generation could be the slogan of those of us that yearn to return, at least once in a while, to an enchanted world when experience was pre-programmed to a lesser extent than it is in the post-Internet age. In the 1990s, as Kurt Andersen recently wrote in The New York Times, "it was just the right amount of technology. By the end of the decade we all had cellphones, but not smartphones; we were not overconnected or tyrannized by our devices. Social media had not yet made social life both manically nonstop and attenuated. The digital revolution hadn't brutally "disrupted" whole economic sectors and made their work forces permanently insecure. Recorded music sales nearly doubled during the decade. Newspapers and magazines were thriving."[v]
On the second floor of the gallery are examples of the artist's further exploration of an existing body of work, wall sculptures that are stand-ins or negative substitutes for paintings. Composed of a layer of epoxy resin-cast from a stretched and gessoed canvas, which is traditionally the space of representation-and a layer of glass whose reflective nature and thus representational potential have been impeded by being covered by the epoxy, these painting avatars hang menacingly directly in front of the windows of the gallery, letting light in only through their cracks. Inhabiting the space of paintings on the wall, and having the shape and texture of paintings, while differing from paintings in every other way, these works explore our attitudes toward our current distance from traditional methods of representation, and provide sites of contestation-not abstraction as withdrawal from visual representation, but rather physical monuments of resistance to the reign of the pre-programmed.
The very last room of the exhibition presents another new body of work: more painting avatars, this time featuring an additional layer of signifiers in the form of stenciled comic book style speech bubbles containing mid-century Russian prison tattoos of violent and sexual acts and declarations. Similar to the effect of having the moving images on the screens obscured, unless you read Cyrillic script, the representational potential of the object is diminished and a certain distance from the object is forced upon the viewer. Through this method of distancing, the mood invoked by the speech bubbles is pop and upbeat, despite the hidden menacing content of the text. Our attitude towards our command, or lack thereof, over frames of reference is in question. One such work is propped on two crushed Budweiser cans, in a way reminiscent of Cady Noland's use of the Bud can in her sculptural work of the late 1980s, as an American symbol as potent and ubiquitous as the flag, both being red, white, and blue, and as a means of examining the masculine underpinnings of the American dream, embodied in men's beer consumption. Another work in this series is mischievously titled David Hammons. It features overlapping speech bubbles containing prison tattoos painted with the Pan African colors of red, green and black, which Hammons used in 1990 in his African American Flag. In this way, the work not only enacts a direct formal reference to the work of Hammons, an artist admired to a great extent particularly by our generation, but also through this same formal device the work self-reflexively points to the very context in which it is exhibited-the long-standing collaborative relationship between the gallery and David Hammons, where the artist has not only exhibited his own work but also curated the work of fellow artists. Perhaps the postscript to the show is another self-reflexive, tongue-in-cheek work titled Good-Bye to All That, which borrows its title from the autobiography of the English writer Robert Graves, in which Graves meditates on not only life in the trenches but also his memories of the enchanted world of his own childhood and adolescence in England prior to the First World War, as well as the supersession of that old world order and its values such as patriotism, by the rise of atheism, feminism, socialism, and pacifism following the cataclysm of the War. Good-Bye to All That contains in one speech bubble pages from Dellaverson's monograph, published by the gallery last year, showing examples of earlier painting avatars, juxtaposed with another bubble containing the Samsung user manual for the LCD screens the artist used in his most recent body of work. The dialectics of nostalgia for the past and the embrace of the present, resistance and surrender, enchantment and disenchantement are all here. What better conclusion to a show titled Fight This Generation?
Luca Dellaverson was born in New York in 1987. He studied film and painting at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. His first solo show took place at Tilton Gallery in September 2013. Selected solo and group shows include American Graffiti, Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery, Luxembourg; NOW-ism: Abstraction Today, Pizutti Collection, Columbus, OH; and From Pre-History to Post-Everything, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York. The artist lives and works in New York.
[i] John McPhee, "Frame of Reference - to Illuminate or to Irritate?" in The New Yorker, March 9, 2015.
[ii] See David Bordwell, "Our Prehistoric Future," in Artforum, 50th Anniversary Special Issue: Art's New Media, September 2012, Vol. 51, No. 1, for an account of how Steven Spielberg and George Lucas pioneered with Jurassic Park the many ways in which digital video could replace traditional physical devices and special effects, and paved the way for younger filmmakers.
[iii] The 1993 Whitney Biennial being a case in point with its inclusion of such innovative video works as Sadie Benning's It Wasn't Love (1992), which was a narrative collage that pieced together footage of herself and her girlfriend shot with a toy camcorder, with footage from old Hollywood movies.
[iv] Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, Boston: Beacon Press, 1991, p. 270.
[v] Kurt Andersen, "The Best Decade Ever? The 1990s, Obviously," in The New York Times, February 6, 2015.