A Group Exhibition with Senalka Mcdonald, Alex Wang, Carolina Caycedo, John Leaños, Rafael Suarez, Martin Sammy Gardea, Mark Benson, Neil Rivas & Lana Dandan, Casie Thornton, and Colleo.
If no one expects a discourse about tragedy to be tragic, don’t expect a discourse about humor to be funny. Humor and irony can be explored beyond the scope of comedy, but as ways of processing, challenging, and reassessing knowledge, agreements, social rules, and even the law. In pointing to the contradictions and misunderstandings of daily life in our mediated world, humor and irony are both anarchic and subversive. Wielded by an individual or through a collective voice, humor has the ability to function as a catalyst in establishing new cognitive relations; to make us think, question, and understand quotidian life through a fresh lens.
“If Elvis Presley was the King, who was James Brown?” * explores the ways in which contemporary artists use humor and irony as strategies to articulate critical and political reflections. The artists who participate in this group exhibition reveal how humor and irony are used to highlight discrimination, war, nationalism, class, power relations, or government policies. Their artworks interpret the world in unconventional ways, offering us new forms of knowledge, experience, and action.
John Leanos’s video piece promotes healthy foods over the processed foodstuffs prevalent in lower economic communities, pointing to issues of class, race and privilege in accessing a healthy diet; Martin Sammmy Gardea pens personal notes to financial institutions who offer him credit card services, patiently awaiting a friendly correspondence with these corporate profiteers; Mark Benson’s installation reflects on the nature of private and public space, from the privileged entrance to the nuances of how to be “In”; Neil Rivas and Lana Dandan present the U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes (ICE DISH), the largest investigative agency in the U.S. dedicated to the apprehension and removal of illegal superheroes. Colleo’s small maquettes reflects local concerns on displacement and gentrification; Cassie Thornton demonstrates how mass media and higher education are integrated to create the perfect consumer; Rafael Suarez creates a tension between socio-productive endeavors and the spiritual qualities of life; Carolina Caycedo’s flags gesture at establishing political relations between historically conflicting countries and cultures by posing the possibility for collaboration and dialogue; Senalka Mcdonald’s portraits take on issues of whiteness and forced assimilation into dominant cultures; Alex Wang plays with the function of certain laws that exist in current San Francisco legislation in an exploration of structural discrimination.
The omnipotence of mass media products and advertisements demonstrates that there’s a thin line between humor/irony and cynicism. Cynicism is the fog by which to cover and ignore, while jokes are too facile to capture what’s going on. “If Elvis Presley was the King, who was James Brown?” is not a funny show, nor a cynical one. The artists who participate in this exhibition don’t cover and ignore; they precisely act and function as catalysts to expose, challenge, and affect negotiations of power within society, daily life, and art. This exhibition aims to continue an ongoing conversation where precisely humor and irony play as antidotes against forget and dismiss, consent and agreement. The artworks displayed here show how some art practices can function as effective tools in questioning and engaging our daily lives. While we would like you to enjoy the artwork, we hope a smile is not the only thing you take from this exhibition.
Fred Alvarado & David de Rozas
* Based in “If Elvis Presley is the King, who is James Brown, God?”
-Amiri Baraka, In the Funk World