By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Nashville and Little Rock have the Trail of Tears. Lower Manhattan has its African slave burial site. The North American Plains lay claim to the mass slaughter of that antediluvian woolly quadruped, the buffalo. And, in more recent time, Dallas calls its own the brain-shattering assassination of one very young and charismatic president, JFK. Conspiracy, pulp fiction or lurid home truth. Call it what you will, but leave it to Dallas to recast one of the country's most tragic events into an industry of self-promotion. From the edifying Sixth Floor Museum in the West End to the heppest of the with-it at Lee Harvey's, a super-funky bar in The Cedars of South Dallas, the city profits from the surreal essence of one horrific midday in November 1963. It's not so much that the denizens of creative business take pride in yester-generation's traumatizing September 11, but rather that they are the midwives of a necessary probing, dissection and analysis of Dallas' wart-like attribute. Industry, yes, but of what exactly? Just as easy as you can make a million off of shellacked turds in this country, you can market paranoid catharsis and turn a buck or two.
For the artists of Oh6: Conspiracy Theory showing at the Continental Loft Gallery, lunatic confession is the fast track to laughter and debauchery. Though the works in the lobby of the loft space are installed for a run of two weeks, the show in its full form is more performance than anything else. On opening night, November 19, many of the installations were interactive. With patches of plastic turf underfoot to suggest the Grassy Knoll, a dummy-corpse of Lee Harvey Oswald flaccid on the floor and an ersatz Sixth Floor shooting gallery, the space felt more like a carnival than a hallowed exhibition. Action won out over rumination for one night. After opening night, the turf and dummy-corpse were removed because they posed safety hazards, and the shooting gallery was left unmanned. And so departed some of the show's immediacy and zing.
The aim, however, of Kirsten Macy's "The Notorious B.I.G. vs. Tupac" is to perpetuate the madness. Macy makes controlled mayhem with her white-box refrigeration of cheese and ants. Inside of a Plexiglas box sits a mountain of cubic orange cheddar cheese jabbed with miniature effigies of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac and sprinkled with live ants nibbling away at both cadmium-colored fat and one another. In Macy, Dallas has one-upped London and its artist of sliced cows and sharks floating in formaldehyde, Damien Hirst. Now that Hirst has turned to painting (and bad painting at that), Macy has taken over the responsibility of ant-farm-cum-flea-circus artistry. With a wink and nudge to the media maven Marshall McLuhan, Macy suggests that we are what we watch. Cheesiness begets cheese.
The artists take aim not only at the local bloody lore of presidential murder but also the greater discourse of art. In the giant red targets painted directly on the walls, they pay homage to Jasper Johns. The hanging spiderweb of yellow tape that looms overhead brings to mind Marcel Duchamp's "Sixteen Miles of String" from the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in 1942 at Whitelaw Reid on Madison Avenue in New York. Inspiration for the political satirist and sculptor Greg Metz comes from an earlier source, the northern Renaissance artist Matthias Gruenwald. Metz's "Origins of the Compassionate Conservative" is bas-relief lampoon in wood, polyurethane and acrylic with a crane-necked, slack-jawed citizen-Christ surrounded by Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich.
Though Polly Perez's mosaic of Mr. Goodbar candy bars and peanuts is arranged something like Dan Flavin's "Tatlin" pieces, it is meant to be pure phallus. An upright rectangular swatch of yellow Mr. Goodbars flanked by two short vertical bands of peanuts creates a confectionary member with a political slant. A plastic banderole inscribed with the phrases "You stop asking questions" and "You're either with us or with them" projects from the wall surrounding the piece.
The tableau installations, "The Sixth Floor Shootout" by Shelby Cunningham, Kate Nelsonand Tim Stokes and "Six Degrees of Assassination" by Shelby Cunningham and Tim Stokes, are reminiscent of the theatrical-setting work of Edward Kienholz and George Segal. The subject matter nevertheless makes them wholly Dallas and, for that matter, quintessential Oh6 shenanigans.
"The Sixth Floor Shootout" restages the infamous event, letting the viewer become Lee Harvey in the 21st century. In an instance of equal-opportunity mockery, viewers shoot a laser gun at photocopied images of W., Clinton, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and then walk away with souvenirs doubling as art: the blown-out monochromatic head shots of a politician or celebrity of choice and a plastic ammo shell in a Ziploc baggie. "Six Degrees of Assassination" replicates a detective's office, with a metal desk, filing cabinet and a wall of doctored photographic evidence linking Kevin Bacon to the fateful crime. Both installations have their arty if not compositional moments. With the shoot-out piece, it's the urban space in small scale created from the makeshift School Book Depository, the window frame, the foreshortened roadway inscribed with tape on the floor and the painterly image of a bull's eye, an illustrated bust of JFK and splatters of red paint layered and mounted on the wall. The detective's office makes its formal presence by way of an aesthetic of bureaucracy with the desk transformed into a prop for an exhibit of digitally altered images of Bacon.
The show's abridged run of two weeks makes it feel ad hoc and revolutionary, as though it will be mounted, demounted and fast on the move, something like the agit-prop train moving across the Soviet landscape in the early years of the 20th century. The problem is that we are in Dallas in 2005 and not the newly formed Soviet Union of 1917. The show's short run makes it seem unprofessional. Then again, orthodox business is not the mainstay of the Oh6 art collective and Pigeon-Stone Project, the do-it-yourself gallery consortium that sponsors the show. Though neither group is interested in doing things as usual, they are both committed to action within underserved domains. Oh6 is an increasingly choosy group of young artists doing world-class art in a city perpetually timid about its world-class status. The young curators of Pigeon-Stone Project take advantage of marketplace leftovers, curating often provocative exhibitions in the nooks and crannies of Dallas' cultural scene, from the bar space at the Magnolia to the lobby corridor at Continental Lofts. Ultimately their shared gift is excess. When their cup runneth over, it does so in fashions unforeseen. Please give us more: more ants and provocative mayhem.