Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib (who I will refer to as “NHaMS”) use Bentham’s Panopticon as a rubric for a video installation this month at Locks. Their work, “1967”, refers to a year during which China’s “Cultural Revolution” was in full swing. During this time the “January Storm” occurred, along with many Shanghai politicians being removed from their posts in public sectors (in keeping with the Marxist/Leninist philosophy of the time), and Mao Zedong returned to full power after his failure with the first “Five-Year Plan”. Is this another take on the radical 60s? An additional global critique congruent to all the “May ’68 France” voices we’ve come to see so much of in the past two years? Kinda.
NHaMS fill Locks Gallery with a series of projections that seem to be enforcing an edict as well as subjecting themselves to a sense of overwhelming power, making the viewer question whether the creators are being influenced by the imagery or manipulating it for their own means. Action scenes of vintage propaganda films are made unfocused and in doing so mark the visual narrative as void, while embellishing the orgasmic theatre of color that provides sensual entertainment. Soldiers and celebrants stoically stand guard in one direction and images from the Chinese Zodiac are impressed upon the cover of Mao’s “Little Red Book” in the other. Rabbits are chewing grass and grooming themselves and, oh my, is that Hua Guofeng clapping ceremoniously behind me? I don’t know, but he looks like a Premiere. I won’t go too far in the direction of dissection of this work because my general knowledge of the history and culture of China is spotty at best.
Smaller video screens are running throughout the gallery, some speaking to the history of the image and image making, while others are more didactic, concerned with the use and visual conveyance of governmental and individual power structures. The entire exhibition is dealing with the persuasive element that text and moving images can carry to a mass populous. We are reminded that there is an infrastructure that must be in place for these images to construct themselves. One projection with models dancing on gigantic letters lets me ask if I’m invited to an EXPO or is this an exposition? What a strange and severe difference. There’s so much more to NHaMS’s show, from the sounds made available in headphones and speakers, to the feeling that one is being watched by and watching their surroundings. It can be creepy, but is also subtly seductive.
I could spend so much more time becoming involved in watching NHaMS’s videos at Locks Gallery, and will, when I go back next week to review Lilly Wei’s “True Stories” on the second floor. I think everyone should see this show though. It’s one of the most thought provoking and approachable takes on the intertwining of imagery and power that I’ve seen in a year. Also, a bonus I’ve forgot to mention: Cocks, like those in women’s dresses.