We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far: Nowstalgia at Kaiser Gallery
At the center of the latest exhibition at Kaiser Gallery in Tremont is longing for a more fun, lighter, more innocent time, in this era of “post” COVID economic uncertainty and continued assaults on the bodies and rights people of color, females, and queers–particularly transgender citizens. Gallerist Tanya Kaiser writes in her curatorial statement: “[Nowstalgia] is everything and anything—combining retro-indulgent fantasy with today’s instant consumerism lifestyle, the…trend permits us to reimagine the past, creating a collage of nostalgic references.”
The artists in Nowstalgia are from across the US and around the globe, but the most compelling work is by Cleveland artist Patsy Coffey Kline, who made two video works using artificial intelligence to create a range of images and effects based on one original self-portrait. Coffey Kline’s extensive background as multimedia artist and avant garde gallerist for more than 25 years, coupled with her graphic design sense and cutting edge-meets-DIY use of AI applications, social media image filters, and InDesign software, make for a full sensory experience, which includes a 1980s-inspired soundtrack. The artist thinks deeply about intellectual property and copyright infringement. “AI actually allows me to start with an image that I own and modify from there,” she explains. “As the artist, I can keep track of the original image, my modifications. The AI-generated layers all lead back to one photograph.”
Coffey Kline’s work is reminiscent of nascent MTV music videos and the cable channel’s promotional graphics; she appropriates the jumpy animation, as well as the neon colors of her GenX youth, when the brightness and speed that lulled those coming of age at the time to the screen in much the same way Tiktok videos distract and delight those born in the 21st century.
Cale Ours’ trompe l’oeil Polaroids, originally taken in the mid-1990s and re-interpreted through AI, evoke the ethos of filmmaker Larry Clark’s iconic coming-of-age amid HIV-AIDS film, Kids, with banal backgrounds and close-up portraits, evoking today’s selfie image. Ours makes digitized prints of the 90s Polaroids, then prints one “as is,” dating those to “1996,” when they were first taken. They then release the scan of the original to AI, printing a new rendering of what was once a static, one-of-a-kind Polaroid print. The final work is a series of intricately cut prints with a Polaroid-shiny surface and the iconic white, thick-on-bottom border. The series is dated 1996: 2023, further tricking viewers’ interpretation of the final print-image. Ours and Coffey Kline’s pieces come closest to capturing what Kaiser was attempting to convey, with the Polaroid giving photographers instant gratification, the video montage of the former artist a post-modern post-mortem evoking the nascent years of “Video killing the radio star.”
Ghanaian-American artist Ewuresi Archer references the Polaroid as well, as she creates pointillist portraits of people from her home in Ghana doing ordinary things like cooking and getting haircuts. The vibrancy of the four-layer CMYK silkscreen ink palate is bright and fluorescent, echoing the hybridity of her cultural identities, as the colors remind her of Ghana. Yet the format of the people in Alluring Souls from The Past, is modern, reflecting back to the rise of Polaroid technology and its roots in 1950s and 60s in the pop cultural-interchange between African and European nations, particularly as 17 African nations, including Ghana, became independent from European colonial rule between 1945 and 1975. Like the people, places, foods, and routines of Ghana, which are out of her reach as a current resident of and student in the U.S., her title, Alluring Souls from The Past, also communicates that that part of her identity is often feels elusive.
Ukrainian artist Khrystyna Bodnaruk’s paintings are otherworldly, as they reference and replicate the filters and effects we use regularly through social media. The surfaces are slick, almost print-like, making for a deceiving first glance. Bodnaruk so meticulously renders portraits of human bodies and body parts that the work visually teeters between painting and print. The oil paint is so visually tactile, so skillfully applied to the surface that it feels not quite real. As we present ourselves virtually, we do so without flaws, flatly, as image; Bodnaruk paints so meticulously she is machine-like. As contemporary self-representation, they evoke Instagram-filtered portraits, yet they are executed using two of the most traditional mediums–oil paint and board.
Toby Griffiths’ digital print collage, House of Scorpio, is a playful panoply of traditional art tropes and symbols, art references and signifiers–the gold ornate frame, the classical nude, the contemporary white female nude, the French neoclassical fluffy cloud, and the “golden mean” of three-point perspective, in silver-shiny iridescence. Kaiser connects Griffiths’ print with the simplicity of Allison Walters’ archival pigment print, different people in the same pink suit, of 2017. The latter is a document from Walters’ conceptual photographs of dozens of human subjects wearing the same generic monosuit, which covers the entire body and head of the wearer. While the body shape of each person may change, the pink-white reference “colors” everyone’s body the same shade of pink-toes-white. The work communicates both the projection of whiteness as dominant, an identity that “colors” everyone, regardless of the model’s own race and/or amount of melanin present in their skin.
Colonization of the bodies and psyches of human beings in the Now, while not nostalgic, is a central theme to the exhibition. The images, signs, colors, sounds, and surfaces of the exhibition serve as visual records of an end–one hopes, of the dominance of European elite patriarchy and imperialism, and Western symbology. Similar to ways in which Generation X poked ironical fun at the heteronormativity and middle-class banality of our Silent and Boomer Generation parents, the artists in “Nowstalgia” reference and mourn the last decades of the 20th century’s technological innovations: personal computers, video games, music videos, and MTV’s quick-cut, multimedia music videos and iconic station identifiers like the ubiquitous astronaut planting an MTV flag on the surface of the moon.
Donald Halpern’s multicolored light work, made of reclaimed materials, mounted on the wall in vertical fashion, perhaps referencing Dan Flavin’s minimalist art works of the 1970s, cleverly punctuates the show. In a nod to irony and playfulness, the curator also plays with the “Nowstalgia” of her gallery as an event space with curated cocktails and Drag Bingo. Indeed, the neon martini glass that greets art lovers connects to Halpern’s work which is also functional, as he holds a strong belief that art should revive resources, not create a “need” for more newly manufactured resources and materials. The idea is that there’s already too many discarded materials in which one can make art from; the question is one we should all consider: “Do you really need that trip to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or the lumber store for that installation? Or can you spend your time and resources gathering what is already free and or cheaply and readily available?” As is the case with most successful art exhibitions, Nowstalgia is full of questions, propositions, and responses to life embodied and online in 2023.
MTV debuted August 1, 1981. The first video played is the Bugles’, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” originally written and recorded in 1979.
Ghana became independent of British Imperial rule in 1957.