Certainly tribal warrior culture has no place in the confines of a modern metropolis. But deep down in the soul of every man lurks the last vestiges of this latent genetic instinct. This noble path may not exist as boldly as in antiquity, but we know it’s presence is real. Masculine identity is still entrenched in this competitive world of violence and aggression. Indeed it would seem the essence of masculinity is more bluster and bravado, acts of warrior like braggadocio more resemble beautiful displays of plumage than the actual skull crushing of enemies. Of course this display of courage is now seen played out in professional sports, the capitalist marketplace, or simply in a bout of heavy drinking with friends.
In Jacob Williams’ new show at The Orchard Windows gallery is something of a tableau vivant after the actors have left the stage or the manequins removed. On display in this curious re-imagining of the world; it’s as if tribal culture were still somehow left intact in the modern world. Recently visiting the American Museum of Natural History and seeing how primitive cultures were brought to life in window dressing fashion, Williams said, ” The exhibit on Japanese civilization was somehow so intriguing in that it mentions how Japanese culture managed to maintain many aspects of their earlier culture despite being among the most industrialized countries on earth. This made me imagine, what would American culture look like today if Native Americans had not been stripped of their cultural legacy, what if they had managed to repel the foreign European invaders?”
This alternate future idea is woven into the seemingly sprawling installation of what appears to be a bad acid trip on an Indian reservation. The rambling quixotic nature of the work is accented by the floor littered with cans of Four Loko, bottles of booze, and the harsh glow of fluorescent lights. Imagine if a tribe of warriors spent a night drinking in a brightly lit 7-11, or if a Dogon tribe had evolved on a spaceship where the vending machines only dispensed liquor. This Mad Max crack den is nothing if not incredibly fascinating. If this alternate timeline is anything it is dystopian. Were these simply refigured pieces of folk art by a New York city artist, this show would lack it’s bite. Instead we are offered a version of the future however idealistic, and yet which is still utterly flawed.
On view from August 20th to the 26th is a small selection of what Williams affectionately calls his ‘ugly sticks’. These shamanic looking staffs are leaning against the wall in a helter skelter array. Imposing in their mystery and yet familiar in their modern setting. Forever on a quest to discover what magical quality it is which imbues an artwork with physical integrity and historical lasting power, Williams recent foray into the world of fetish art should come as no surprise. Mining the depths of his identity, and asking the hard questions of what it means to be an American artist in the 21st century, he may not come up with the right answers but the questions are simply too captivating to miss.
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The Madness of Art — Season 1, Episode 1: Tony
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