barriers, expanded: videos and multiples by Type A
April 29 - August 21, 2011
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University
The barrier, as border or impasse, marks the spaces into which one is disallowed to cross; and, in Type A’s work, the physical and figurative barrier is explored as an alienating condition to dissect American fear and futility.
With Barrier (2009), the editioned small-scale replica of the artists’ larger sculptural installations, the pervasive and banal structure of the Jersey barrier is compacted into a representation of stagnation, impermeability, and authority, commenting on the climate of fear and anxiety that grew out of 9/11. Its rough and industrial form rhymes with that of the Fear multiple (2008), a tongue-in-cheek reinterpretation of Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures (1970), that turns the playful Pop imagery of Indiana’s pieces into a cracked concrete block, a heavy and haunting piece that literally outlines the commentaries of Barrier. Where Barrier speaks to controlling the flow of public movement and behavior, Fear speaks to its outcomes—the pieces reflect a brutal criticism of times marked by security theater (security measures designed to falsely and superficially create an illusion of safety so as to ease public anxiety; often a criticism of airport security measures), threat levels, and public complacency.
In the videos 4 Urban Contests (1998) and 5 Urban Rescues (1998), the artists helplessly inhabit Brutalist urban spaces; they act and perform within these sites, and the absurdity of their actions, paired with the imposing permanence and massiveness of the surrounding architecture, addresses postmodern issues of urban alienation that predate 9/11 but speak to it just the same. The city itself becomes an obstacle to be overcome, a third participant with which the two men compete and against which they struggle. Marked by dominance and danger, this urban stage mediates the two men’s interactions and becomes a barrier that simply gets in their way. The literal pissing contest that settles the four contests and the eventual death that ends the rescues mark the futility of the men’s actions within these spaces—a comment on the inconsequential nature of individual action within the present.
The Insertions series (2007) marries the visual and thematic programs of the multiples and the videos, codifying the barrier as a symbol of an urban condition that inflicts itself upon the human subject. The photographs position the two artists as disembodied parts that are defeated by the logic of the city—in one of the pieces, an arm lies crushed by a Jersey barrier. The crouching, hidden, and prostrate figures of the men, however, subvert the authority of the urban form through the insertion of a subtle human presence, territorializing and claiming the space for their own. These pieces can be dually read in terms of subjugation and emancipation, the barrier as both defeating and being defeated by Type A.
Type A’s barriers demand the critical attention of the audience, urging it to reassess the present systems of institutionalized fear and power at play.