In his work “Human, All Too Human,” Nietzsche shows that poets have the power to ease life. With this gift in mind, Christopher Rivera put together the group show “Alleviators,” currently up at Charles Moffett. Exploring the fluidity of gender and identity, “Alleviators” is a multimedia show rooted in a humor that can only be the product of self-reflection.
Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is met with a jarring digital print by Uruguayan artist Emilio Bianchic. The piece, entitled “Uh La Lá LA la lA” (2016), features the lower portion of a leg thickly covered in dark hair that, rather than end in a foot, merges into a hand decked out with long, perfectly painted red nails. The ankle, or perhaps wrist, is circled by diamonds. The hand is slipped into a strappy black heel shoe. The print hangs from clips like a photograph hung up to dry. At the bottom, the paper curves a bit out onto the floor. A transformation is taking place and the resulting figure is dressed up, showing off a little leg, and ready to walk the floor.
Bianchic is a member of a small collective called Basica TV, which also has a video in the show that provides humorous, up-close-and-personal encounters with the human posterior and its orifice. Rivera met Basica TV at NADA New York and quickly became a fan. He explained, “I like the spontaneity of [their] videos a lot because they use … whatever they have on hand to record and produce these low-quality films [that are] so good and so original and … speak to a larger audience … how we see ourselves.” Rivera also pointed out that the asshole is, of course, something that connects us all.
“Untitled” (2018) features a reclining nude of sorts — a naked, bearded man in shades leisurely stretched across a bed. His only company is a lone bottle of Corona that stands on the bedside table. The scene is framed by the edges of an iPhone, rendering the painting a photograph, which rests on a small, wooden shelf, propped up against a brick wall of the gallery.
The piece is a self-portrait by Rivera’s long-time friend Radames “Juni” Figueroa, a San Juan-based artist whom Rivera met back in Puerto Rico. Known best for his large-scale installations that often meld natural elements of the tropics with man-made objects and urban life, “Untitled” is somewhat of a departure from Figueroa’s usual work. However, it served as a study for an installation currently up at SITE Santa Fe’s 2018 biennial, where Figueroa has transformed the space of NuMu, a project invited to take part in the biennial, into a Puerto Rico motel. As Rivera explained, motels in Puerto Rico are not known for hosting travelers, but rather casual sexual encounters. One can easily guess what the figure in “Untitled” is there for.
The figures in Japanese-born artist Akira Ikezoe’s “Coconut Heads in the Boxes I” (2018) and “Coconut Heads in the Boxes II” (2018) feel even more displaced. People and objects sprout from cardboard boxes as if they had been packed and shipped from one place and opened in another. In “Coconut Heads in the Boxes I,” a multi-bulb light pole wrapped with a vine rises from its box, creating the illusion of a sports stadium. From the two boxes to the right emerge naked figures with coconuts for heads posed and accessorized to signify a baseball game in progress. The images evoke packaged figurines a child might use for fantasy play or trading cards, while perhaps highlighting an activity that spans both Ikezoe’s native Japanese and adopted American cultures.
From the boxes in “Coconut Heads in the Boxes II” sprout a camera atop a tripod, a coconut headed figure holding up two fingers, and what appears to be a castle. In an interview with The Reading Lists, Ikezoe was asked to name “a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.” His somewhat ironic reply: “The Castle” by Franz Kafka. “Coconut Heads in the Boxes II” makes use of similar imagery and conveys a similar sense of alienation and inaccessibility, depicting the proverbial tourist picture in front of the majestic site that is ultimately unobtainable. The peace sign formed by the figure’s fingers serves as both a comical and political element to the piece.
The subject of “The Long Haul” by Maggie Ellis is situated in a quintessentially American moving vessel. The overweight, perhaps androgynous figure, sits in the driver’s seat of a car, her short blond hair blown back by a rolled down window as a cigarette hangs from her lips. Her hands cup the flame of a lighter. With merciless strokes, akin to those of Lucian Freud, Ellis paints this woman — which Rivera revealed to be Ellis’ mother — in bright red and yellow hues, seemingly turning her entirety into one big burning flame. The work feels both critical of and undeniably inspired by its subject.
While “Alleviators” is purposefully imbued with humor. It is a self-referential humor that is tinged with isolation. Rivera explained that he only realized later that all the works feature just one or two figures. While the simultaneous presence of humor and isolation may feel somewhat paradoxical, it is quite in keeping with the work that inspired the show’s title. In the section of “Human, All Too Human” entitled “Man Alone with Himself,” Nietzsche writes, “He who directs his passion to things (the sciences, the national good, cultural interests, the arts) takes much of the fire out of his passion for people (even when they represent those things, as statesmen, philosophers, and artists represent their creations).” The artist laughs with himself.
Participating Artists: Basica TV, Emilio Bianchic, Maggie Ellis, Radames Juni Figueroa, Dalton Gata, Akira Ikezoe, Rachel Ellis Neyra, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez and Vanessa Gully Santiago.
Curated by Christopher Rivera
July 17 – August 17, 2018
265 Canal St., 3rd Fl
New York, NY 10013