From Stella Rosa McDonald…
Justin Balmain’s 2014 video Close was an ironic reimagining of the limits of contemporary intimacy. In it two emoticons—acting as stand-ins for the quarreling lovers in Mike Nichols’ film Closer—break up with each other in halting, automaton voices. In The symbol for silence is called zero, a narrator-driven video installation now showing at Firstdraft, the conditions of our relationships with each other are yet again the subject, this time through an inquiry into language. Balmain begins by asking the question, “Why do we speak?” The script touches upon the implausible—yet common—practice of trademarking common words and phrases which then reenter the vernacular anew: face, book and even entities like the sky. The shaky legitimacy of language, the foundations of its power and influence and the history of its reason play out on the screen. As a scripted work about our scripted lives the video encounters itself at every stage; subject and object, medium and message are knotted together. This visual essay invites re-reading as it examines the semantics of contemporary relationships to conclude that there cannot be meaning without silence.
New works by Henry Jock Walker and Sam Songalio fill the downstairs galleries at Firstdraft. In the upstairs gallery pink fluorescent light casts a seedy hue over the room in Natalya Hughes’ installation Girls Girls Girls, which exalts sleaze and lowers high art. Hughes’ abstract geometric paintings fill the walls, a flesh-like cast of a plaster cornice lies limply under the window, a stage with a floppy fabric pole takes up a corner of the room. The identity of the gallery-cum-strip club is obfuscated by the presence of the art, demonstrating the political dimension of decoration. Does Hughes see a parallel between the artist and the stripper, the gallery and the stage? Is The Artist’s work akin to dancing for money? In Girls Girls Girls the abject takes center stage.
Until June 26th
Pic: Justin Balmain, “The symbol for silence is called zero” installation view, 2015. HD Video with audio. Courtesy the artist and Firstdraft. Photo: Zan Wimberley.