A SOLO EXHIBITION BY MELVIN “GRAVE” GUZMAN
Known for his irreverent mixed media works, Guzman’s object-based artistic practice aptly connects with this avant-garde tradition. Working exclusively with found materials like torn magazine ads, shopping bags, posters, and ticket stubs once discarded by consumer culture, the artist creates sculptures and sprawling collaged tapestries, which satirize the psychological intensity of our image-driven world while highlighting the fluid relationship between environment and identity today.
Popularized in the 1960’s by Guy Debord and the Situationistes Intérnationales, the term “détournement,” (roughly translated meaning: derailment, or overturning) is a form of “cultural jamming,” an elastic category of artistic practices taken up in subsequent decades by anti- consumerist social movements aimed at disrupting media culture to expose political and corporate manipulation. However, in contrast to the finger-pointing characteristic of the Situationists and their more militant creative descendants, with “Détourned,” Guzman presents a collection of work that asks us to examine the reflexive effects of contemporary media on our own value systems while bringing awareness to the manufactured state of human desire in the Digital Age.
The exhibition includes paper-maché piñatas, simulated pinball machines, hand-painted flags, and doll- sized houses. Star-spangled in luxury logos, these objects invoke our sentimentality and brand-lust simultaneously in a combination of artistic gestures, which confound contemporary American conceptions of value. By resurrecting the refuse of consumer culture as his source material, Guzman juxtaposes the state of the planet to our obsession with luxury and celebrity, relating our conflicted relationship with the physical world to our illogical reverence of commercialism. Transforming the branded debris of capitalist society into fabrications of youthful, vintage pastimes, the artist subversively implies that our desires have long been artificially shaped by American media.
Looking on, the viewer soon realizes that each rebelliously droll plaything in Détourned engages in a world of retro representation – arcade games, piñatas, flags – all symbols, stand ins for the religious, fantastical, and civic worlds they respectively represent. Like the internet, these objects invite human interaction in a language that requires we subscribe to their symbolic significance. In this context, Guzman’s whimsically absurd constructions convey the vulnerability of blind faith, in imagined realms, in an empire of signs. Their preposterousness parodies the irrational fantasies contemporary media culture effects on our own ideas of beauty, value, truth and relevance.
In his seminal work, “The Society of the Spectacle,” (1968) Debord argued that in pursuit of accumulated wealth, capitalist society aims to alienate us from ourselves and our desires, and that “the spectacle” (mass entertainment, news, and advertising) had replaced the commodity as society’s mechanism to do so. The philosopher predicted that eventually, media would become so pervasive, we would not be able to distinguish between real life and its representation. Amidst a misinformation crisis, a time when we are judged less for the content of our character than of our Instagram feeds, when virtual social networks compromise the integrity of real elections, the works in this exhibition ask us to look again at what we might throw away and shine the neon glow of nostalgia on the past, before the commodity had been replaced by the spectacle, the object by its representation, reality by its virtual equivalent.
In re-appropriated pastiche, Guzman creates resounding layers of meaning within each work in “Detourned.” An ode to organized chaos, this hypnotic artistic language often obscures the viewer’s sense of time and place. The transporting works in this exhibition sentimentally suggest the importance what Debord called “lived time” retrieving our attention from the domain of the spectacle and returning to the world of human interaction. They serve as an omen for contemporary naivete surrounding the future psychological, political, and social consequences of media in the Digital Age. And like a fun house mirror, reflect the distorted image of our own false appetites in real time. In an effort to provoke the audience out of their complacency, with this exhibition, Guzman artistically transcends space and time to bring us something holy: an entirely recycled environment, where each work endeavors to reclaim the realization of dreams and the possibilities of a transformed life from the spiritual vacuum of contemporary capitalist media.
Grave Guzman (b. 1989) is a Harlem based artist working in photography, video, collage, and mixed-media. While Guzman pursues a range of distinct technical practices, his artwork consistently explores the oscillating relationship between city and self, environment and identity. Whether he’s sneakily snapping a photograph or carefully assembling found materials into a sprawling tapestry, the artist creates abstract portraits and landscapes, which convey the experience of city life today. To encounter his work is to feel the familiar jolt of the subway heaving to a start and the landscape beginning to rush by, quickly blurring through dirty windows as the train begins to pick up speed. Guzman’s photos, videos, collages, and mixed media works are reflections not just of urban spaces, but our interactions with those spaces, distilled by the passing of time.