Beautiful Photos Meet Humorless Concept in Chains on the Brain

Chains on the Brain by David Goff largely consists of images of chains wrapped around people's skulls -- as in,"Get these motherfucking chains off my motherfucking brain." The work is as straightforward as the movie Snakes on a Plane, and maintains the same vague hokeyness amidst some truly decent photography.

The exhibition's opening reception was Friday at Janette Kennedy Gallery in South Side on Lamar. In the artist's statement, Goff explains that the photographs are meant to represent "mental limitation" or "mental restrictions." As the work progressed, Goff writes, he saw the project evolve. And while the chains imposed restriction, they also became a "symbol of strength." In some cases, Goff states, the chains were reinterpreted by the subject as a source of comfort or worn with pride as jewelry.

While some of the images of chains as bodily adornment are interesting and well-composed, they expunge a layer of seriousness. Many of the subjects' harsh darting gazes, smirks and forced gestures make you, as a viewer, feel as though you're in on a joke with them, sharing a giggle about the giant chain hanging dramatically over their body. They look as though they're on the verge of laughing at themselves, which creates a fissure between the project's mission and its execution.

A naked woman standing straight and looking directly into the lens with chained hands folded in front of her chest is among the strongest photos in the exhibit. Her dark skin and dark hair are outlined by a light background. Her shiny red lips pop in the absence of other color. It's more beautiful than thought-provoking, but her stature, far less harsh than the others, makes the image far more effective.

For an exhibit titled Chains on the Brain, where you might expect the emphasis to center on the head, there's a whole lot of bodily nudity. Goff captures his subjects harshest poses in a way that highlights and draws attention to muscular structure and strength. The movements are harsh, the contrast is high, and the effect is as bold as an advertising image for sporting gear. If the image of the glossy black man with washboard abs and sculpted bulging biceps were on a Gatorade bottle, it would garner showers of compliments as a great shot. Here, though beautiful, it feels lost.

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