Kavi Gupta, 835 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607

Glenn Kaino: Sign

Kavi Gupta, Chicago

15 September - 28 October 2017

Throughout his practice, Kaino has rigorously investigated the expansive reach of colonialism and power to inspire new questions about the nature of humanity and the implications of our actions on our world and on others. Deconstructing historical events and probing the ambitions of man for future conquest, Kaino prompts a complex dialog about the potential for change in our time. With this new exhibition, Sign, Kaino directly challenges the signifiers of colonial action: objects which encode the terms of traversal, demarcate ownership, and crystallize territory into the social contract. Maps, flags, signs, and peace agreements all have one thing in common, they are symbolic markers of man’s assertion of his ownership of his world. In Kaino’s most recent provocation, things are not that simple; each of these identifiers are not as static as they would seem, rather they are living objects that themselves perform back to the viewer in response to their environment.

At the heart of the exhibition are two sculptures created from tables that are missing a pair of legs. These amputee desks are inert in their static state, unable to provide a level work surface for usage and are designed to be activated by a performer. Drawing from a rigorous process of collecting photographs and paintings of important historical treaties, Kaino began by creating a meticulous analysis of the aesthetics of document signing in times of compromise. Each desktop in this series of work is adorned in regalia signaling a different kind of document—a surrender, an armistice, a peace treaty, a covenant—and have been given the titles of theoretical contracts that propose hypothetical future scenarios in which the tables might be needed. They exist as absurd objects, a conceptual tool for use in an imagined future.

Kaino’s flag series began with pure white recreations of the American flag, that were tie-dye soaked with a Civil War-era tarring solution. Simply left alone, the fabric heats up as the oxidation of the chemicals creates an exothermic reaction. This spontaneous combustion appears as a symbolic representation of the volatile nature of this time of crisis. The resulting pattern is a beautifully poignant image of concentric circles, a target, alternating black, tan and white. Under the light of examination, the shadows that the flags cast represent the American flag as clear and pristine as a new flag might—a poetic reminder that even during our most unstable and explosive time, the ideals that exist within our concept of our country might still be preserved.

Viewers are simultaneously insiders and outsiders in the series of neon works depicting variations of texts commonly associated with property signs. Inspired by the urgent dialog about who owns the right to tell stories of marginality, these artworks suggest that the answers are not always the same, that context and expression matter. The signs are hung so the text reads backwards from the wall, positioning the viewer behind the sign and inside the territory that the sign is meant to defend ownership of—a traditional unfamiliar and uncomfortable position for an agent of postcolonial thought operating from the margins. This gesture of complicity is unshakable, there is no room or way to be back on the outside of the sign. However, should the viewer take a selfie, the text is magically reversed and the viewer seemingly is positioned externally in relationship to the text. The very action of a selfie—one’s desire to express a position in a social environment—reverses the polarity of the dialog and repositions the viewer to the outside for the public to see, while in the space of the lived experience, they are inside.

The final series of works in the exhibition are further explorations of border, mapping, and the epistemic control of colonialism. Beginning with a series of maps that express the territorial boundaries won in the combative struggle for colonial expansion, Kaino first calls attention to the violence hidden in the cartographic translation by distressing the graphical elements with a forceful transfer technique. Kaino’s thick and abstracted marks distort and obliterate the fine penmanship used to delicately present the results of violent collisions that took place in the actual physical space that the maps represent.

These ideas are further complicated by the shaping of new diagrams into circular forms presented on the backdrop of ink stained wood. The maps appear at viewing distance to be illustrations of planets, an indictment of our future interstellar colonial ambition, played out in our past. The frames of these works are made in unsealed copper, which further records the hands of the artist, handlers, patrons and any audience member who touches the work. The borders are themselves each a boundary for an idea that becomes an endless record of complicity and implication.

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