Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime)
Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on lasercut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigslist, photographic prints, artificial plants, live plants, neutral calibrated gray paint. 10’ x 20’ x 8’
Part of a solo exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, June 4 - August 27, 2016.
San Francisco Chronicle review
In this installation, Syjuco’s contemporary “still life” takes as inspiration the subjects of photographic color calibration charts that have been long used to check for “correct” or “neutral” color. The array of images and objects in the works creates a visual friction, challenging the idea of cultural and political neutrality by presenting a coded narrative of empire and colonialism as told through art history, Modernism, ethnography, stock photos, and Google Image searches.
Taking its name from the exhibition title “Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime),” this centerpiece installation presents a large 20’ wide wooden platform reminiscent of a stage set or modern day vanitas, set atop a large photographic “neutral gray” seamless paper backdrop. Displaying laser cut wooden flats mounted with digitally printed images, readymade objects, and a selection of ashen, neutral gray painted props, this alternative “still life” collapses together historical imagery with contemporary concerns. The viewer is perceptually thrown off guard, presented with what appear to be 3-dimensional objects mixed in with artificial and flat-fronted representations. As a backdrop to the entire installation, a standard photographic color calibration chart has been enlarged to outsize proportions -- printed on poly silk, it hangs on the wall from its top corners, sagging in the middle as if bearing the weight of history and the burden of representative responsibility.
Included on the platform are depictions of Freud’s analyst couch covered in ethnic rugs (downloaded from the internet and blown up to an overly-pixelated state), ancient cultural figurines also harvested from online Google image searches for Freud’s Vienna study, French Modernist designer Charlotte Perriand reclining on a Le Corbusier classic lounger, Man Ray’s famous photograph of a white female model posed next to an African mask, and peppered with patterns and textures ranging from ethnic textiles to photographic color calibration charts, “Neutral Calibration Studies” presents to the viewer a channel-surfing vision of connections and pathways that is anything but neutral. Indeed, Freud’s development of psychoanalysis hinged on examining trauma and suppressed narratives, and his study room was heavily populated with ethnic and cultural artifacts meant to elicit projected stories from his subjects.
Hidden amongst the larger components are hints of a counterstory: images of members of the Tasaday tribe in the Philippines (a group exposed later to be a fictional construct), the Black Panthers’ militant Huey Newton famously posed on a traditional Filipino rattan “butterfly chair,” Filipino ikat weavings, copyrighted stock photo images of camouflage patterns, and Turkish rugs downloaded from ebay and blown up to “real size.” A selection of both real and artificial plants dot the installation, calling into question what we naturalize for the sake of the master narrative.
Upon walking behind the installation, the viewer notices that the entire backside is neutral gray, the wooden struts and fabric sandbag weights also grayed-out as if attempting to not be “seen.” The fact that the infrastructure itself is visually neutralized hints at the idea that the structure and apparatus of power that maintains historical narrative is itself a construct. “Neutral Calibration Studies” furthers Syjuco’s exploration into the structures of power and the alternative stories that are possible.
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