Walking into the Blanton’s Workspace, the slanted wall Lean To commands attention as the slab of construction contains a rainbow of colored windows. Although dwarfed in the space, the sculpture is larger than life. The pinnacle reaches about 7 or 8 feet while the wall’s length is probably twice that. Each corner of the wall is held up by a different object. A ship’s mast, a quill shaped column atop the base of a tree stump (with roots), a cinder block and a sculpture of a fist. Hidden on the wall behind the Lean To, a photo is placed just beyond a comfortable viewing distance. It is difficult to make out the image.
On the same wall in a more accessible section hangs a wool jacket and skirt next to a blurry enlargement of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ salute during the ’68 Olympics awards ceremony. Hanging not too far on the next wall is a monitor playing a number of apocalyptic/ post-apocalyptic videos. A character recurring in more than one of the videos wears the same outfit that hangs in the gallery. On the final wall a collection of images depicting a landscape of American historical calamity. Each one including the same fist that holds up a corner of Lean To and referencing the Olympics’ photo. Footnotes are provided after the approximately three dozens photos and manifesto?, identifying the locations as sites of massacres and racial injustice, some government sanctioned.
On my third and final trip, I force my eyes to look, ears to listen and brain to think. Lean To, again as the focal point in the gallery, causes a faint whisper to recall Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. It is such a passing thought, I investigate the plaque underneath the fist instead. It read, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” I hold on to history as a theme as I study the photo and outfit. Black leather glove and wool felt suit. No correlation is apparent, but the videos do feature someone wearing the wool suit.
One video presents a naturalist (presumably the artist in his woolly costume) hiking alongside a highway. At the same time, a young guy (the same actor) is speeding in his truck and throws out a plastic bottle out the window after drinking its electrolyte replenishing goodness. Like the “Crying Indian” commercials of yesteryear, the litter lands at the hiker’s feet, but here something catastrophic occurs. WHITEOUT! In the next videos, the actor walks through to a forest edge chanting and reading from a bible, then he sings while shoulder deep in a volcanic wasteland. This segment becomes a regular interstitial as his face increasingly becomes ashen flakes with each return. Towards the end of the videos, a lonely modern-style house in the middle of the woods becomes the meeting place for zombie slackers. They limp into their congregation moaning and grunting, but as soon as they hug an greet each other they droop into “can I bum a cig” conversations. Didn’t they just survive a nuclear apocalypse? Shouldn’t they be more concerned with survival? They start walking around the house like they are on vacation! Albeit, burned and scabby creatures, but they conduct themselves as if nothing is irregular. Oh well.
Fist in landscapes. Without recognizing the locations, I turn to the stoic salute. Something heavy must have transpired here (and here and here…). Remembering the plaque and thinking ’bout the photo, I assume something racially charged happened. Reading the accompanying text confirms it. Each photo marks either a military action against Native Americans, lynching, a stop along the Underground Railroad, etc. Significant events that have not been memorialized until the placement of the fist.
I am content with understanding this work as a cautionary tale. After the shit hits the fan, ya gotta remember why it happened in the first place or else you’ll end up with another shower of poop. What I am not comfortable with though, is having to read the provided info on the artist. Reading that, I was forced to consider his personal history and reconsider the works. That just made me feel like a dumbass. The mast on Lean To is actually from his childhood home? Okay, I do see Brancusi on the quill shape, Eleanor Roosevelt in the wool suit and video, the music I didn’t recognize, but I guess I should have. I need to read up on my history.