Occupational hazards

Geof Oppenheimer's politically charged new show at Ratio 3 juxtaposes polyphony with cacophany

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Detail of still from "Anthems" (2011), video work by Geof Oppenheimer
COURTESY OF RATIO 3 GALLERY

HAIRY EYEBALL  Weds/2 marks the first citywide general strike in our country since 1946. Spearheaded by Occupy Oakland in the wake of the Oakland Police's grossly excessive use of force against protestors last week, the strike is further proof that the only definitive thing one can say about the Occupy movement is that it is growing at a remarkable pace.

Whether this growth will result in greater political traction, rather than merely prompt further sympathy or ridicule from politicians and the media alike, remains to be seen. Then again, one metric of political traction for the Occupy movement is simply endurance, measured by present bodies. As Lili Loofbourow recently wrote in an on-the-ground report on Occupy Oakland for website The Awl, "technology tilts the political machine so that only that which is public matters." And despite the Occupy movement's necessary imperfections, there is no more direct and immediate way of being public than showing up and speaking out.

What gets broadcast and what gets heard beyond the encampments is another matter. Even with the tools of social media at the Occupiers' disposal, can the movement's horizontal, leaderless structure effectively amplifying the voices of "the 99%" without resulting in an echo chamber? And if that is what's being perceived, both on the ground and in the national conversation, is that necessarily a sign of the movement's failure or merely a testament to its vibrancy?

A variation on these questions of mediums and messages is at the heart of Geof Oppenheimer's intellectually bracing and formally daring show at Ratio 3, Inside Us All There Is A Part That Would Like to Burn Down Our Own House, which although not explicitly about current events, uncannily resonates with them. The work in Inside Us formally traces the fluctuating state of the body politic by zeroing in on moments of stress in which civic faith breaks down or flares up, whether due to admissions of failure on the part if its appointed leaders or from internal combustion.

The latter isn't just a figure of speech. The ballistic-grade Plexiglass cubes on plinths that snake down the center of Ratio 3's main room, collectively titled Modern Ensembles, each contain the multicolored residue of an explosion set off within. Oppenheimer worked with a pyro-technician (a former employee of the Disney Corporation, no less) to create custom-made charges of various explosive chemicals that were then detonated inside the cubes, resulting in gorgeous, nebula-like washes of color that completely cover each cube's interior face.

That the beauty of the Modern Ensembles comes from such violent origins is less interesting to me (that's an old story in Art History, particularly in regards to action painting, a tradition which these sculptures extend as much as they do classic Minimalism' proverbial cube), than how they embody a tension between explosive force and containment. The Oakland occupiers also hit a wall — a phalanx of police armed with riot gear and tear gas. It's hard not to think of that moment, that so many experienced remotely via Facebook posts and Flickr feeds, when viewing these chemically colored cubes that, although transparent, you can't actually see through.

Communication breakdown is also taken up in Social Failure and Black Signs, a suite of five pigment prints that surround the enigmatic vitrines like a gaggle of lost protestors. Each black and white image consists of a similarly-positioned arm holding aloft a sign printed with phrases concerning governance or economics but clearly removed, media res, from their original context. "Tolerated, as unfortunate excess," reads one. Another states, "everything, but it is not enough."

Comments

that only the dopes in Oakland are striking. But the effect of a strike by unemployed people is likely nil.

Posted by Chromefields on Nov. 02, 2011 @ 9:56 am

For instance, city workers don't show up all the time. In fact they are furloughed several days a month anyway. Does anyone notice.

Oh, and then the students are on strike. LOL. If they want to not graduate, then fine, it only hurts themselves.

Meanwhile, there's not much private business left in Oakland and most of those are working anyway.

Strike? Oakland? Wow, two jokes in the same sentence. Who cares, really? They can close down the whole city permanently if they want - they're heading for bankruptcy either way.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 02, 2011 @ 10:09 am

care a lot.

Posted by marke on Nov. 02, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

Occupy Oakland: Thousands gather for general strike‎
Los Angeles Times - 1 hour ago
Thousands of peaceful protesters gathered in downtown Oakland Wednesday morning to kick off a planned "general strike" to draw attention to the Occupy ...
Local: Thousands of demonstrators gather in Downtown Oakland for general ...‎ Daily Californian
In-Depth: Thousands March In Oakland, Gearing Up For Strike‎ NPR
Oakland port prepares for thousands of 'Occupy" general strike ...‎ News10.net
The Guardian - San Francisco Chronicle
all 2669 news articles »

Jokes on you, conservatives!

Posted by matlock on Nov. 02, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

A few thousand losers looking for a day of their crappy jobs doesn't amount ot a hill of beans.

They'll all be back at work tomorrow.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 02, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

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