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Visualizing resistance: Ecstatic Resistance at Grand Arts

Yael Bartana, "Mary Kozmary," one channel super 16mm film transfered to video, 2007.
Yael Bartana, "Mary Kozmary," one channel super 16mm film transfered to video, 2007.
Yael Bartana

Ecstatic Resistance is a project, practice, partial philosophy and set of strategies…to think about all that is unthinkable and unspeakable in the Eurocentric, phallocentric world order(2).  As quoted, the latest exhibition at the Grand Arts gallery (1819 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri) is ambitious even if its ultimate result proves less than ecstatic and rarely approaching the unspeakable. As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, ecstasy is “a state of intense joy or delight; an emotion so intense that one is carried beyond rational thought or self control.”(2)   As such, the exhibition succeeds best by offering up its own peculiar methods of resistance even if it falls a bit short of the heights of ecstasy.

In A.L. Steiner’s Positive Reinforcement, the viewer is confronted with a wall of nude and semi-nude (mostly) female bodies in photographs which are immediate and jarring with their use of color and manufactured composition, recalling the (brighter) works of Nan Goldin. Breasts and vaginas stand in for narrative as decidedly un-glamorous women pose among trees, detritus, and other settings both casually and posed. In one particular detail, a row of women (or to be more specific, their genitalia) is lined up along a wall juxtaposed against an image of hog heads stacked up in a boxcar: here the artist is being confrontational as well as making a statement about the commoditization of the female body in place of the waning male phallus. The photographs all seem to (with their minimization or entire absence of the male) call into question male agency and female identification through gender. It is in Steiner’s work that the exhibition comes closest to its stated strategies of resistance while the images themselves, if not ecstatic are nonetheless evocative.

Another evocative piece in the show is Adrian Piper’s My Calling, a couple of plain business cards which substitute the typical contact info with statements about identity and agency. His works speak indirectly and subtly to manufactured (business?) identity and within the context of the ongoing 2009 recession, subtly commenting on the political and/or economic dissatisfaction of the present day. Additionally, Sharon Hayes’ documentaries, a series of people reading off of paper in various public settings (a Chicago museum, a Turkish shopping district, a London park) about love, sexuality, or silence, speak to a public indifference (Turkey) or a feigned curiosity (Chicago) at best in a world too busy shopping or staring to take action and affect change. Like Piper’s work, Hayes’ is a part of the more political pieces of the show.

Overall the exhibition presents artists grappling with the idea of identity resistance and assimilation and simulation in a Baudrillardian sense(3). While the exhibition can be faulted for not being extreme enough, too easy, and a bit insular, it continues the tradition of Grand Arts of bringing engaging and thought-provoking works to the Kansas City area. On display through January 16, 2010.

1. Emily Roysdon, Ecstatic Resistance Exhibition Curator’s Statement, Grand Arts, 2009.
2. American Heritage Dictionary (Second Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982.
3. See Baudrillard’s essays on Simulacra and Simulation.


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