On April 23, 2009, an unexplained occurrence happened at The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at Cal State San Bernardino, in San Bernardino, California. While installing a show of their permanent collection of Egyptian art, a Roman Egyptian death mask dating back to about the 2nd Century AD moved on its own without any force or assistance. The whole incident was caught on video surveillance. So what do you do when a mysterious and unexplained phenomenon occurs in a museum? You call artists to explore what happened. That is what curator and current MFA candidate Andrew K. Thompson did when learning of this event. The result is a provocative exploration of the mysterious forces that may have contributed or caused the mask to move on its own. Mario Vasquez (MV): Briefly, what happened on April 23, 2009? and what attracted you to this particular event as a curator? Andrew K. Thompson (AT): In short, a Roman-Egyptian burial mask from the second A.D. mysteriously slid across it's pedestal, rolled over and fell face first to the floor. The vitrine that normally encases the mask was removed that day for cleaning and changing the exhibition. The mask itself is quite heavy so the idea of a gust of wind blowing it over was ruled out quickly. In the security footage taken during the time of the event, it is clear that no person is near the mask so it wasn't human error. The museum researched the seismic activity during the date and time of the event, which was inconclusive. To this day, there has been no satisfactory explanation for the mask's movement.
What interested me the most about the story was the inconclusive evidence and that each logical hypothesis led to illogical answers. As an artist and curator, I have been very interested in the idea of intellectual blind-spots and the unknowable. I believe that the attempt to define or express these unknowable blind-spots is at the heart of an artists' practice. I believe that artists often draw from the illogical, the ineffable, and the unknown as inspiration. MV: When thinking about the mysterious event of April 23, 2009, how did you approach the selection of the artists that were part of this exhibition?
AT: I had created a list of visual artists, curators and writers that I admired and wanted to work with. I prepared an Invitation for Participation letter which included pictures of the mask, the security footage of the event and the collected provenance of the mask. I sent it to them and asked for their "reactions" to the information and evidence provided. Their creative reactions were on display along with the mask. MV: So the artists that responded to your invitation were Sophia Allison, Matthew Blair, Sapira Cheuk, Kio Griffith, Paul Evans, Micol and Siobhan Hebron, Jorge Mujica, A.E. Van Fleet and HK Zamani.
The artists whose work dealt directly with the April 23, 2009 event were Paul Evans, Micol and Siobhan Hebron, Sapira Cheuk, and A.E. Van Fleet. Tell me about some of the work that these artists produced for the exhibition. How did these artist address the idea of the unknowable, and particularly the inconclusiveness of the what happened on April 23, 2009?
AT: I believe that all the artist's dealt with the event directly just each in their own manner. I was excited to see how each artist manifested a reaction to the supplied information. I agree that the grouping you have chosen do, more clearly, relate to the mask. Paul Evans created two painted mixed media panels titled Sunder/Pinkand Sunder/Bluewith each identical sized panels depicting a mask-like visage. Even though the panels are the same size and each image appears to be the same, there are actually minute details that vary between the two resulting in a rewarding visual experience. A.E. Van Fleet reference to the mask isn't particularly literal but with his sculptural assemblage titled The Queen of Heavenhe speaks to the ritual function of spiritual iconography. Sapira Cheuk and the Hebron sisters deal with the mask and the event the most directly of all the artists. Micol and Siobhan Hebron created a video titled Two Fates that includes clips of the security footage originally sent to them. They recorded themselves as if they were two spirits stuck between one life and another. Each sister partakes in a dialog questioning were the are, how long they've been there and if they can move with each eventually rolling off a ledge. In Sapira Cheuk's video The Mysterious Burial Mask, she places herself in the position of the anonymous woman the mask was created for as she writhes and moans within an enclosed tomb. The audio interplay between the two videos was eerie and helped heighten the suspense within the exhibition space.
MV: The last four artists Matthew Blair, Kio Griffith, Jorge Mujica and Sophia Allison, approached the phenomenal even of April 23, 2009 differently. How do you think the different approaches helped illuminate what is blind spot or something that is unknowable?
AT: You are correct to compare these four, and I would had HK Zamani to this list. These five artists approached the topic in idiosyncratic ways. Sophia Allison created a sculpture titled Night Landscape out of acrylic on watercolor paper and wood sculpture. The small sculpture represents an abstract topography that Allison imagined the woman's spirit passed through upon her death. HK Zamani wasn't exactly forthcoming with the specific meaning for his piece but he provide clues. For EL, is a personal and poetic installation that included a small painting, a short haiku and a small cherub that had been broken but reassembled with gold foil. Jorge Mujica displayed three free-standing laser cut acrylic sculptures arranged in sand titled Saturday Morning Regret, Cruising Wilshire Blvd, and Party-man in Silverlake. Two of the sculptures stood erect while the third was laying horizontally as if had fallen over and broke. Matthew Blair's video Touching Ancient Egyptian Art depicted himself foundling Egyptian artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In front of bewildered tourists and onlookers, Blair would grab the nose of a sphinx or caress the backside of a statue to some awkwardly hilarious reactions. Theory in 20 movements by Kio Griffith provided the most abstractly challenging response to the event. Griffith installed twenty variously sized cardboard boxes on the floor with inventory labels attached. The audience was invited to scan the QR code incorporated in the labels to hear unique sound collages. Griffith was interested in casting the audience in the detective's role searching for forensic evidence.
I don't believe that any of the artist particularly illuminated a blind spot. It is more that each artist pulled from their blindspot to create their reactions. This blindspot that I refer to isn't necessarily something that can be described or defined. It is essentially defined by it's contours, it is defined by what it's not, like Unconscious thought is to Conscious thought.
I will quote Georges Bataille's 1929 essay L’informe” (“Formless”):
A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.
☛ “Formless” by Georges Bataille, Documents 1, Paris, 1929, p. 382 (translated by Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie Jr., Georges Bataille. Vision of Excess. Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press “Formless”, p. 31)
MV: When it comes to exploring unexplained phenomena, what role do you think the artists can play in exploring what science cannot?
AT: I think each discipline approaches the topic from different angles, along with different vocabularies and context. While I don't believe artists act as ghost busting detectives, I believe that there is a certain acceptance of the impossible that artists have, in general. What makes any artist believe that their work has value and meaning when faced with monumental indifference from the general population and the sheer improbability of 'making it in the art world'? I think artists have, what I will call 'the impossible mind' while scientists would have what I will call "the factual mind". What I mean by these titles is this; scientists work with repeatable, predictable facts and base their conclusions on what has been proven to happen if X went into Y. An artist, on the other hand, relies on intuition, interpretation and speculation. Of course, these comparisons are broad generalizations and there will be countless exceptions but I think, roughly, that's how they differ. The role of the artist when exploring unexplained phenomena then becomes a counter-weight to scientific thought.
MV: Finally, what do you think happened to the ancient mask on April 23, 2009?
AT: I have can not say anything for sure (which is part of the inspiration for the show). Throughout the planning, preparation, and presentation phases I referred to the exhibition as "The Ghost Mask Show" which connotes I believe in some possibility of supernatural powers. I believe I have "felt a presence" in a room with me before, not at the site of the mask's event, but in other places I have lived. It is true? Did I live with ghosts for a time being? Or was I tripping on a 24 hour sugar high? I can not say for sure. I can not prove the existence or the non-existence of spirits and any formal stance I take runs the risks of me changing my mind. It can be argued that I am ducking this question by not committing a, "yes the ghost pushed it" or a "Ghost! Who are you kidding?!" answer. But I don't believe I am because the video footage makes it clear that something happened and that's enough for me to keep an open mind to all possibilities.
The Mysterious Burial Mask: Information and Evidence was on display October 8, 2014 - October 25, 2014 in RAFFMA’s The Dutton Family Gallery.
About RAFFMA The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art is a nationally recognized museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization whose members must meet the highest standards in securing accreditation. It is the only accredited art museum in San Bernardino. Over its 18-year history, RAFFMA has accumulated a permanent collection of nearly 1,200 objects focusing on Egyptian antiquities, ceramics and contemporary art. The museum houses the largest permanent and public display of Egyptian art in Southern California.
General admission to the museum is free. Suggested donation is $5. Parking at Cal State San Bernardino is $5 per vehicle.
The museum is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and is closed Friday and Sunday. For more information, call (909) 537-7373 or visit the RAFFMA website at http://raffma.csusb.edu/
Curator Andrew K. Thompson lives in Riverside and is completing his MFA degree at California State University, San Bernardino. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States. He has been included in exhibitions at the Parish Museum of Art, Alan Klotz Gallery, Shosana Wayne Gallery, Torrance Art Museum, Pomona Packing Plant and National Orange Show Art Gallery. Musings on his work have appeared on Saturday Night Live, Huffington Post, Norwegian television show The Golden Goal, Fox 5 News, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Maxim Radio, L.A. Weekly, and Inland Empire Weekly. His images have been published in Elle Magazine, Urban Italia, Rhythm Magazine, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, and Artvoices. He has written for Artvoices and Dotphotozine. Other curatorial projects include The Fun Art Show at Sputnik in Brooklyn, NY, We Got Next at Untitled Art Projects in Los Angeles, CA and The Highland House Sound Exhibition in Upland, CA. He has received the Taewoong and Soonja Oh Kim Scholarship, the Maloof Scholarship, the Community Foundation Scholarship, and the President’s Outstanding Team Award from California State University, San Bernardino.
Sophia Allison (MFA, University of Wisconsin-Madison; BFA, East Carolina University) works in a variety of media including sculpture, sewing and installation. Her work has been shown in exhibitions within the U.S and abroad including Kitsch Catch, France, American Artists and Their Tour of Korea, Seoul, The Craft and Folk Art Museum (Los Angeles), d.e.n. contemporary art, AndrewShire Gallery, Kristi Engle Gallery, and the Torrance Art Museum. She lives and works in Los Angeles. Information about Sophia’s art can be found at www.sophiaallison.com.
Matthew Blair earned his MFA from Brooklyn College in 2014. His writing has appeared most recently in the New York Times, and his artwork has been exhibited at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Deitch Projects. He also curates Internet @notMatthewBlair.
Sapira Cheuk was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Hawaii at the age of 10. Her work investigates tensions between Eastern and Western influences and attitudes as they as surface in the experience of contemporary Hong Kong. She incorporates traditional Chinese Sumi Ink painting techniques and aesthetics, and painterly digital manipulation to portray the sensual yet grotesque aspects of female sexual experience. Blending multiple practices and aesthetics, her current work investigates the experience of postcolonial Hong Kongers by drawing on visual metaphors of masochism. She is currently a MFA student at CSUSB.
Paul W. Evans earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts (New York, NY). Recent exhibitions in Los Angeles include Weekend Space, Fifth Floor Gallery, the Institute of Cultural Inquiry and the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. He has shown extensively in the US and abroad, including Clementine Gallery, Lump Gallery, Eyewash Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Recent curatorial projects include the video group show Leg Room co-curated with Jonathon Hornedo, Cries and Whispers at Sam Lee Gallery and Doing Pennants at Fifth Floor Gallery. Paul will be the artist-in-residence at Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, in the fall of 2014. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
Kio Griffith is a Los Angeles-based visual and sound artist, independent curator, graphic designer and producer. He has exhibited work in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Turkey, Belgium and the U.S. His work includes drawing, painting, sound, video, performance, electronics, language, sculpture and installation. He has shown work as a solo artist, in a collaboration, or group locally and internationally at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Soundwalk (Long Beach CA), REDCAT, Track 16 Gallery, New Image Art Gallery, Rocket Gallery (Japan), Gallery Lara (Japan), Mathilde Hatzenberger Gallery (Belgium), Moon Gallery (Hong Kong), Busan Film Festival (Korea) ADC Contemporary Art, Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, ResBox, Jaus Gallery , RAID Projects, Giant Robot (GR2) Gallery, Highways Performance Space and was the guest composer for the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He has performed visually or musically with Vinny Golia, Ulrich Krieger, Alex Cline, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Dwight Trible, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Dan Morris, Emily Hay, Oguri, Hans Fjellestad, Brad Dutz, Daren Burns, Motoko Honda, Johannes Bergmark, Carmina Escobar, Alan Nakagawa, Heyward Bracey,Joseph Hammer, Therese Wong, Jie Ma, Brad Dutz, Joe Berardi, William Roper, Famoudou Don Moye, Anna Homler, Mitchell Brown, Daniel Rosenboom and others. Griffith has also been recognized by AIGA for design excellence and also garnered recognition from Print’s Design Annual and the Society of Illustrators for his work. Griffith's work is based in his research into the visual and sonic possibilities of the mysteries, myths, and materials embedded within modern life. His compositional process mimics the writing of music and is inspired by the sources of everyday matters of consciousness. In this process, interrelated references of time and space are coordinated into the periphery of mass culture. Generating references from hypermedia and their resonating signals, Griffith's "scores" comprise visual and auditory transcriptions.
Micol Hebron is an interdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles and is an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at Chapman University in Orange, CA. She has been engaged in individual and collaborative projects in Los Angeles since 1992. Her work frequently explores the artist’s relationship to art-making, art history and modernism in particular. Her current projects are focused on re-examining essentialist feminism in the context of the contemporary art world. Her latest solo exhibition, Reverse Engineering, at Jancar Gallery in March 2013, examined the confluence of the personal, political, and historical aspects of feminism and emotion in the role of the artist/author. Hebron has served on the editorial board of X-Tra Magazine since 2004 (as an Editor until 2012, and now as a Contributing Editor), and writes for several international art magazines (Art Forum, Arte Contexto, and Art Pulse). She is a founding member of the LA Art Girls, a 30-member collective of women artists in Los Angeles (since 2004). Curatorial projects include: Transmediation, a Survey of Graduate Student Video Art from 10 east coast colleges, at CAA and Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, New York; Doublespeak: Codes and Entendres by Contemporary Women Artists, at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and Forward Thinking: A Curatorial Exchange at the College Art Association 2012 Annual conference in Los Angeles. Recent writing projects include Judy Chicago: Experienced, a catalog essay for her recent exhibition at Jancar Gallery; and Soft Science; or, How Cute Can Save the World, a forward to the Complete Characters of Mr. Winkle, by Lara Jo Regan. Hebron is represented by Jancar Gallery in Los Angeles. Micol lives and works in Los Angeles.
Born 1982 Mexico City, Mexico. Jorge Mujica grew up in Los Angeles. Received a Bachelors of Art in Political Science and Art from California State University, Bakersfield 2008, Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Masters of Fine Arts from Yale University. He has shown in Bakersfield CA, Chicago IL, New Haven CT, and Los Angeles CA. His practice considers paintings’ need for a wall circumvents its need by realized freestanding paintings via engineered shapes generated from line drawings. The paintings reference personal memories or people who have left an impression on the artist.
A.E. Van Fleet was born in Palm Springs, California in 1984 and currently is an artist and graphic designer residing in San Bernardino, California. Originally from the small town of Blythe, Calif., Van Fleet moved from the desert city to the Inland Empire in pursuit of a degree in art at Cal State San Bernardino. In 2007 he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design and is currently a Master’s of Fine Art student at the university. Van Fleet describes his artwork as an expression of his modern mythology through the consumption of sacred histories and junk subculture. Though the nature of myth is founded in factual untruths, it speaks of truths about our relationships to society, culture, each other, the surrounding universe, and ourselves. Van Fleet’s shrine-like assemblage sculptures are inspired by anime, manga, video games as well as mythology and mysticism. Each assemblage juxtaposes a variety of repurposed objects to venerate his pantheon of beloved action figures. Van Fleet’s ritual for selecting materials involves searching eBay for used actions figures, sifting through piles of junk at thrift stores, as well as searching for flowers and lapidary rock sources online and in retail stores. Van Fleet’s re-contextualization of these elements of popular culture form new cultural manifestations that more accurately represent the complex system of values and beliefs at the level of the individual. This practice complicates the traditional categorizations of high and low art by attempting to demystify the veil that separates the experiential and the transcendent.
Iranian-born artist HK Zamani (Habib Kheradyar Zamani) lives and works in Los Angeles. His work is guided by extreme influences ranging from ascetic Islam to psychedelia. He has exhibited in many cosmopolitan cities, among them New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Berlin, London, Vienna, Prague, Seoul and Saigon. His work is in the permanent collections of LA County Museum and Berkeley Museum of Art. He has received the C.O.L.A. and the California Foundation Getty Grants. Zamani is the founder and director of PØST (1995-present), a subversive venue for contemporary art, where over four hundred exhibitions have been presented.
In Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 film, "Boogie Nights," Anderson tells the story of the rise and fall of fictional porn actor Dirk Diggler. Diggler is portrayed as both the active participant and ultimate victim; an innocent lured by the eroticism and money of the porn industry.
Max Maslansky, in his current exhibition paintings introduces the viewer to Dennis Posa, aka Dennis Parker, aka Wade Nichols (1946 – 1985), an actor and singer from Freeport, New York who started his career in pornographic films. His first feature film role was probably in the 1975 gay adult film Boynapped! He subsequently appeared mostly in straight porn films shot in New York and Los Angeles.
In 1979, under the name of Dennis Parker, he recorded a solo disco album on Casablanca Records entitled "Like an Eagle", produced by Village People creator/producer Jacques Morali. Buoyed by his singing career, Posa (still as Dennis Parker) joined the cast of the mainstream television soap opera "The Edge of Night" in 1979 as Police Chief Derek Mallory. All the while, he continued to appear in pornographic films as Wade Nichols.
Having contracted the AIDS virus and seriously ill by October 1984, Posa died in March of 1985.
Maslansky in his work uses the color palette of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Fauves, the Nabis, and Symbolism, to create a narrative that is reminiscent of the film "Boogie Nights." The paintings show the eroticism that is captivating and provocative. Maslansky uses color and composition as a lure to the viewer, almost abstract in the rendering of the figures, and yet keeps the viewer at a distance. Maslansky both celebrates and laments this time when sexual decadence was prevalent and free of care.
However, initially one does not get the sense of both tragedy and loss when the viewer looks at these paintings. Maslansky focuses on the height of his career and sexual experiences. The paintings act as, a contemporary vanitas. The vanitas is a work of art (mainly still life) that reflects on the transience of life, and the fleeting love of pleasure, luxury and wealth. The vanitas basically informs the viewer that all luxury and material possessions are left on this Earth at death. In the case of Posa, and as portrayed in Maslansky's paintings, we are witnesses to both the fame, and the decadence that will eventually cost Posa his life. The pleasure is a fleeting experience that is left when we are gone.
Max Maslansky's previous solo exhibitions were held at Emma Gray HQ, Los Angeles in 2011 and Cherry and Martin in 2007. He was recently included in "Made in L.A. 2014" at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; further group exhibitions include those held at Night Gallery, Los Angeles, Gavin Brown's Enterprise New York, and The Woodmill GP, London in 2014. He will be having solo exhibitions at Galerie Sebastien Bertrand, Geneva, Switzerland and Honor Fraser, Los Angeles in 2015. Max Maslansky lives and works in Los Angeles.
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