The art collective In Cooperation With Muscle Nation thought of a great idea: Combine the identities of each individual member to create a single work of art.
Their approach was to gather 20 objects from each member, photograph each of those objects individually, then cover Oak Cliff's Davis Foundry Gallery with the photos. There is no notation as to which photographed object belongs to which member; therefore, the space would become a self-portrait of the collective, rather than each member.
It's a portrait of the body, not the limbs. This is an excerpt from the press release for the exhibition, dubbed Pieces:
"Each Muscle Nation member chose 20 objects, and agreed not to reveal his or her choices to the group prior to the items being photographed. The resulting exhibition places each artist and their objects in conversation as an integrated whole, presenting a single collaborative piece which also articulates a surprising web of connections within the collective and its work."
I am skeptical of collaboration among equals. Any group larger than three will turn into Lord of the Flies eventually, and there can only be one Mick Jagger, so I see this as a particularly ambitious and risky idea.
I only know two members of this collective personally, and I met three more at this opening reception. I know the work of the group from when they have shown individual works by each member, so I can speak to their respective artistic styles but not so much about their personalities -- which brings me to the first problem.
Most of the photographs are four-by-four inches, with a few nine-by-nines tossed into the mix, but in the corner of the gallery is a full-sized quilt -- still part of the exhibition -- with the words "HOMELESS PLEASE ANYTHING WILL HELP GOD BLESS" handwritten across it. There are a few stacks of the four-by-fours placed around it.
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Muscle Nationeer Willie Baronet has a well-documented history of using homeless signs as the material of his art. The others don't. Why would one member in the collective display a solo work and no one else? Is it meant to have been made by the group? No idea, and it doesn't matter, since there's no divorcing the homeless sign thing from associations with Baronet. Its inclusion in this exhibition is a bewildering decision that disrupts the concept of the show as I understand it.
There's another problem in execution: The photos are screaming to be lifted and rearranged and fucked with. This show invites you to come over to play then smacks your outstretched hand and says, "Don't touch!" I have played concentration using cards and I've played it on a computer. Either format demands participation, but this version doesn't. We're allowed to look, but we're not allowed to play. The photos are neither starkly autobiographical nor compositionally interesting, so Pieces lacks the raw intimacy that might have given way to a universal truth or two.
There's a audio soundtrack to the exhibition. It's a recording of In Cooperation With Muscle Nation during the installation of these tiny photographs. That must have been a truly collaborative effort and it sounds like it was a lot of fun. They do seem to be defying my Lord of the Flies theory, and I hope that their next ambitious experiment will include us as well.
Pieces by In Cooperation With Muscle Nation runs through May 25th at Davis Foundry Gallery in Oak Cliff. In Cooperation With Muscle Nation is Andy Amato, Willie Baronet, Danielle Georgiou, Hillary Holsonback, Emily Loving, and Robin Myrick.