Joy and Humor Pierce a Vague Dystopia at Exchange Rates

by Catherine Kirkpatrick

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Beards (Judy) by Sadie Hennessy; all photos by Catherine Kirkpatrick

As part of Exchange Rates, Bushwick’s Fuchs Projects partnered with the Queens Park Railway Club of Glasgow, UK. Run by artists Patrick Jameson and Ellis Luxemburg, the gallery is located on the platform of an active train station. With an outreach to the local community, the gallery offers exhibitions and residencies throughout the year.

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Archigraph by Patrick Jameson

There was a vaguely dystopian feel to the show: The most upbeat piece was Archigraph by Patrick Jameson, a work inspired by Archigram, the collective of young British architects that flourished from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Galvanized by advances in metals and plastics, and by the visionary work of Buckminster Fuller and Yona Friedman, their designs proposed lightweight, modular, even mobile architecture that embraced a utopian dream of futuristic living. Though almost none of their proposals were built, the legacies of both Fuller and Friedman live on in the work of Norman Foster and Richard Rodgers. Reframing and repurposing on shards of discarded Plexiglas, however, Jameson’s small colorful paintings borrow from their utopian plans.


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Ellis Luxemburg of the Queens Park Railway Club

A much darker future is suggested by The Terminal Node, John Butler’s short film about an Amazon-like fulfillment center whose goal is to create “a culture of contentment.” Manned by a lonely mechanized half-human (“I’m glad to be part of something bigger…there is less of me now”), it speaks to the impersonalization of corporate culture. In Ellis Luxemburg’s Conventions a pair of hands, increasingly agitated, light match after match as a calm voice recites instructions for building a bomb as if it were a recipe for chicken pot pie.

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Leland Gorlin in front of his work

Leland Gorlin represented Bushwick with a cluster of small, pure still-life compositions of overlooked and discarded items. Isolated against a white background, rusted blades, shards of mirrored glass, and tiny moths forced the viewer to take a second look at things normally swatted or thrown away, provoking a sense of repurpose and discovery.

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Gallery owner Rafael Fuchs opened his archive to Luxemburg, who chose work in keeping with the unofficial theme of dystopia: a voyeuristic nude with a laptop in a hotel room, a screenshot of images on Fuchs’ computer desktop that suggested the steady creep of technology into art and modern life. A joyous image of his parents dancing heightened the unease of a night pool scene where a body floats, a dumpster overflows, and a card is abandoned and overrun with weeds.

 

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Rafael Fuchs watches his parents dance

At the end of the gallery in “The Feminist Back Room,” UK artists Julia Riddiough and Sadie Hennessy took a playful look at gender roles. To understand contemporary masculinity, Riddiough did a residency in a barbershop. There, she observed, photographed, and recorded the thoughts of actual customers, seeing them as they tried not to see themselves—as vulnerable human beings. In the beautiful limited-edition book Barber Shop, she captures their longings and insecurities: hair tonics and dyes priced for all budgets as well as clippings of gray locks mixed with the darker ones of younger men on the floor. Also included were poignant quotes from customers about their lives and take on gender roles.
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Images from Clip Cut Gel by Julia Riddlough

In Clip Cut Gel, a riff on beauty-product infomercials, Riddiough presents three types: Toy Boy, Rough Trade, and Play Boy who also appear on condom wrappers. The show’s title Something for the Weekend, Sir? is a reference to the UK custom of barbers handing out condoms to customers as they pay. By removing male grooming images and rituals from their usual context, Riddiough allows us, with a wink, to question constraints of traditional gender roles.
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Are We Not Men? by Sadie Hennessy

The idea of grooming was also present in Sadie Hennessy’s collages where male and female adornments crash across gender lines. Iconic statesmen wear garlands of flowers; female stars such as Nicole Kidman and Liza Minnelli sport bushy beards. In the middle, The Male Fop sports big Regency hair and glittering Marky Mark briefs. Witty and fun, these pieces quote glamor and news photographs as well as propagandist and pop art.

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Exchange Rates was “an international exposition of artworks and art galleries in and around Bushwick, Brooklyn” that paired more than 16 Bushwick galleries and spaces with an extended list of galleries from the USA and abroad. The event was produced by Sluice__, a London-based art initiative, which joined with Bushwick locals Theodore:Art and Centrotto to bring the concept to life. The four-day event featured Beat Nite, the semi-annual late-night gallery event produced by Norte Maar, along with panel discussions, parties, and a performance art night.

Profile photo of Catherine Kirkpatrick

Author: Catherine Kirkpatrick

Writer and photographer. Wrote intros for Meryl Meisler's two books. Had solo show at NYC's FRONT Art Space last fall. Creating an oral history called Voices and Visions: Making Photographs in the Digital Age.