I’m Sorry, 2011
Third Strike: Performances for the Hole, SOMArts, SF.
The World Series, 2011
The World Series (2011) was inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s iconic The Migration Series (1941), which portrays the twentieth century black migration from the American South to Northern cities. DeSouza’s photographs invoke history to track contemporary pathways through the signage of metaphorical, transcultural, political and psychogeographic encounters. The paths taken may refer to deSouza’s own history––and we can indeed read elements of deSouza’s known biography; or these encounters suggest a fictional protagonist who moves through them, much like in a novel, storyboard or film; or the encounters are themselves protagonists, and are largely understood through narratives suggested both within each photograph and through their accumulation and sequencing. Whether the tales of a tourist, a migrant, exile, returnee or one who inhabits many locations and psyches, it is precisely through combining fictional strategies with the truth-telling claims of photography that we are led to multivalent, counter-readings of history.
Dr. Moi Tsien
Berlin, Germany, Jan 2012
Third Eye, 2011
In the Third Eye series (2011), deSouza replays his own encounter with Western art history through a series of self-portraits by canonical artists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Andy Warhol. At first sight, the works might appear as color abstractions, but closer viewing reveals their figurative and art historical sources. The dominant color in each work is selected from the mid-forehead of each painted self-portrait, the site of the proverbial “third eye.”
The Redactions series, 2010
55” x 40”, C-prints.
The Redactions series consists of erased, or redacted reproductions of paintings by Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau. The two artists were chosen for their fantasies of colonial escapes, with Gauguin constantly on the move, and Rousseau never having left France. The color of each redaction is selected from the “furthest” point in the painting, usually near the horizon if it is an exterior view, or a back wall if it is an interior. The redactions are carried out digitally, in a process that falls somewhere between the accumulation of a rubbing––where the textures and contours of a surface beneath are “rubbed” onto a surface above; and a rubbing out, or an erasure.
DisCourses of Empire, 2010
The major part of this site-specific installation is formed by the artist’s entire collection of personal and family photographs arranged on the gallery floor in the form of the map of New Orleans and its surroundings. Viewers enter the space from the direction of the Gulf and walk over the photographs/map, damaging and erasing them––in the manner of the Katrina floods––in order to view the photographs hung on the walls.
The wall photographs include The Lost Ones (2010), portrait details from deSouza’s own The Lost Pictures series (1962-65/2004-5). These began as 35 mm slides taken by his father between 1962 and 1965 in Nairobi, Kenya. The images, some taken during Kenya’s 1963 Independence Day celebrations, record a pivotal historical period of decolonization. The Lost Ones zoom in on the barely discernable portraits of the young deSouza and his siblings. Recording the present while erasing the past, the images mimic the multiple and overlapping ways in which memory dis/functions.
DisCourses of Empire additionally includes Colony, 2010, a set of photographs of cityscapes. The installation as a whole, and these cityscapes in particular, reference Thomas Cole’s 1833-36 similarly titled painting series. They also borrow their color palette and initial arrangements from Giorgio Morandi’s mid-20th century Natura Morta paintings. Cole’s series depicts one imagined location over an extended era, and follows the birth and demise of a city civilization. Morandi stages civilization as almost compulsive, life-long depictions of a limited set of rearranged objects. In deSouza’s hybrid restaging, the scene of a table-top “city”––resembling a power station or a conglomerate of oil platforms––is revisited as it forms and collapses upon itself.
Set of four images, 22” x 22” ea., digital c-prints.
Cluster is derived from the idea of phosphenes, also known as “the prisoners’ cinema,”
whereby images are produced through the absence of light, for example when blindfolded
or during sensory deprivation. Each image within Cluster consists of a melding of the
same four images downloaded from the internet: the sun; the earth; a bomb explosion; the
retina––from the macro and external towards the micro and internal. While the image of
the explosion in some ways mimics synaptic firings, it also emphasizes the violence
inherent in visual deprivation. In my personal case, such deprivation was experienced
during a retinal detachment.
Meetings with X.Man (an interlocutor), 2009
With the Obamas as the First Couple, seemingly vanquished racist stereotypes––Barack as a “witch-doctor;” Michelle as an ape–– once again crawl out of the mud to be revealed as not only having been merely dormant, but a constant ghosting awaiting visibility and materialization.
X.Man’s work proceeds from the view that such stereotypes had never disappeared but continue as an always-available arsenal of strategically employed propaganda. He makes the distinction that images are not in themselves racist and are therefore not in themselves to be censored, but it is their forms and purposes of deployment that require intervention. X.Man proceeds from a position of being already implicated by the racist caricatures he collages from pre-existing and infinitely adaptable imaginaries. By bringing them into visibility he parodies the defense of free speech made by both liberals and conservatives, but seeks to defy expectations by producing an image that is troubling to both. Is it possible to parody a racist image without perpetuating its racism? Or even to produce an anti-racist one through parody?
His use of postcard or vernacular aphorisms source the works from within popular culture as images associated with contemporary tourism and other zones of historical encounter or transgressive behavior (transgression in its sense of trespass and infringement even though these may be economically sanctioned and even encouraged).
In X’s photo-collages––what he calls “drawls,”–– he uses an ongoing character as an alter-ego, a “monkee” (sic.; its spelling referencing the ubiquitous pop band from the 60s and 70s). The monkee is named Why and sports a t-shirt bearing the word “curious,” possibly from the children’s character, Curious George. The depiction of Why and the spaces he occupies verge on racist caricature. Why gleefully enacts stereotypes of the foreigner, the simpleton, the buffoon, the deviant and the lunatic, all of which X is keenly aware are how people already see him.
How does one address or oppose a stereotype? Not from a deployment of “positive images.” These fail to address the power of negative ones, or even of how stereotypes function, instead attempting to rebut them with an equal or greater force but producing another spectrum of “positive” stereotypes. approach is from the standpoint of being already implicated by the stereotype and also in its production.
He makes meticulous copies of book-covers, deliberately misspelling or altering key title words to produce new meanings. His text works (“lists,” he calls them), like his street signs, often consist of wordplay, puns and paradoxes.
He cuts and pastes language and culture, seems to misquote it, mistranslate it, or simply to misunderstand it. In other text works, he displays the ostentatious erudition of the art critic, the film reviewer, the wordsmith, the colonized venting and avenging through his command of the colonizer’s language.
Yet, this is not the work of an “outsider” in the way that this term is mythologized within the art world as someone who is disengaged from everyday, shared reality, or who is unconcerned with the implications of their work. X’s work is about the culture around him, about race, about history, about language, about the everyday politics of living; it’s less about what it means to be poor in a wealthy city, and more about the social psychology that polices the boundaries of what it means to belong.
He spends days each week in the public library, reading art, science, literature, history, geography. He reads newspapers and popular magazines about fashion, finance, restaurants, about the latest movies, about electronic gadgets, fully aware that such magazines are lures to desires that he has neither the means nor the wish to pursue. His art pursues absurdity in the face of numbing reasonableness, attempts reason against overwhelming absurdity. That question again: what is it that we want? And amended with: Why is it that we want it?
Dr. Moi Tsien, September 2009
To read a transcript of an artist talk with X.Man, click here
The Bed Inn, 2018
Collaboration with Yong Soon Min.
An Installation for the 3RD Guangzhou Triennale, 2008, Guangdong Museum, China.
(click here for pdf)
To see video, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lRjgwUxPj8&feature=related
The best way to get rid of an enemy is to take him as a friend, in bed.
A warm smile is testimony of a generous nature in bed.
If you want the rainbow you must put up with the rain in bed.
The world may be your oyster, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get its pearl in bed.
He who laughs last is laughing at you in bed.
He who throws dirt is losing ground in bed.
Delay is the antidote for anger in bed.
Keep in close touch with what your competition is doing in bed.
Your skill will accomplish what the force of many cannot in bed.
A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject in bed.
Do not mistake temptation for opportunity in bed.
A cynic is only a frustrated optimist in bed.
A woman who seeks to be equal with men lacks ambition in bed.
A scholar’s ink lasts longer than a martyr’s blood in bed.
It is much wiser to take advice than to give it in bed.
All your hard work will soon pay off in bed.
Ideas are like children; there are none so wonderful as your own in bed.
Love is like wildflowers; it is often found in the most unlikely places in bed.
In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, in bed.
The trouble with resisting temptation is that it may never come again in bed.
Society prepares the crime: the criminal commits the crime in bed.
Only love lets us see normal things in an extraordinary way in bed.
– Anon Embeds
In 1969, when John and Yoko announced their bed-ins, the media expected to be titillated by them having sex for public viewing. Imagine the media disappointment when all it got was a couple sitting in bed—”like Angels” (in John’s words)—and a lot of banter about peace. Nevertheless, the bed-in became iconic for that period of world-wide optimistic political foment, popular resistance and radical politics that has since come to represent a lost time of possibilities.
In this new variant, the Bed-Inn, a soundtrack of soothing voices invites viewers to participate by predicting their “fortunes in bed.” Based on a postprandial fortune cookie joke (to a pro-forma prediction that, for example, “you will find a hidden treasure,” one adds, “in bed”), this joke further distorts the already-orientalized cultural signifier of the fortune cookie, and perhaps this export from California to China––from its actual to its fictive site of origin––adds a trans-cultural twist to expectations of authenticity.
One exploration of both the promise and the failure of utopian change, and marking the end of its ‘60s idealism, is Michael Antonioni’s 1970 film, Zabriskie Point. The film opens with a student discussion of revolutionary action, from which the film’s anti-hero exits, declaring his boredom. Escaping to the desert in Death Valley––that archetypal landscape of a self-inventing America––we witness a sexual rebirth, but one that ultimately fails and disintegrates back into the earth. The film ends with yet another possible solution, but one weighted by its own futility: a desire to blow it all up and walk away. The Bed-Inn presents these scenes of gleeful destruction, replete with aphorisms of the day, as a curtained first option before allowing the viewer to part them and enter into the inner chamber.
Inside, the Bed–Inn is haunted by projections of bodies engaged in a variety of sex acts, appropriated from a mix of footage––from Zabriskie Point, to 1960’s “underground” films to contemporary internet porn. One manifestation of the “sexual revolution,” pornography was seen by its advocates as a utopian civil right, alongside free love and free speech. As a marker of the counter-culture, sex––like drugs and rock-n-roll––became an infiltrating liberator of the “uptight” bourgeoisie. Make Love, Not War, as the slogan declared. Here, in the Bed-Inn, a space of virtual activity awaits the insertion of the actual bodies of audience members. Like “reality” TV shows that parody “real life,” these new ‘bed-inners’ can momentarily experience a cultural memory of sexual representation, armchair-, or rather bed revolution audio-massaged with Confucian-cum-Oprahesque platitudes. For those suffering from revolutionary fatigue, sexual fatigue, art fatigue, or a deeper malaise, what could be more therapeutic?
Viva la revoluçion…in bed!
Click here to read an open letter Concerning Censorship at the 3RD Guangzhou Triennale
UFO series, 2008
In the UFO series (2007-8), each panel is composed of photographs taken during commercial flights while the plane is taxiing along the runway either before take-off or after landing. It is the act of taking these photographs that induces most reaction in fellow passengers, partly because there doesn’t appear anything to photograph, except as possible reconnaissance. The montaged images deliberately suggest missiles, invoking some of the underlying anxieties associated with current plane travel.
Divine series, 2008
The Divine series (2007-8) consists of land-, water- and sky-scapes photographed during commercial flights. Each photograph is mirrored so that, with its reflection, the doubled images suggest divine-like manifestations, whether human-made shrines, mythological figures, aliens and other figments of the social imagination.
Scratch series, 2017
24” x 18”, c-prints.
The five images in the Scratch series consist of photographs of the disembodied tresses of various blonde icons (each identified by first name), that have epitomized white femininity (and whiteness itself), and whose haloed coifs have provoked inspiration and imitation, lust and envy, myth and mirth.
Here, the “dos,” like the backstage remnants following a drag show or a divine apparition visited upon a taco shell, are more abject than their public display might suggest. The “wigs” are constructed from the artist’s fingernails and toenails against backdrops of his beard shavings.
Jesus Loves Me, Still, 2007
Various dimensions, fishing rods, fishing line, fish hooks, lead weights, plexi, tissue paper, semen.
Jesus Love Me, Still continues an ongoing series of animals and human figures made of tissues and semen. The installation recalls a story about Jesus telling Peter the fisherman to follow Him and to become instead a fisher of men. What faith-based musings do these figures prompt as they dangle helplessly from divine hooks cast by the Big Fisherman above, and what existential crises do they suggest about masculine creativity since their individual seas also look suspiciously like artist palettes?
We may be adrift amongst a sea of men––apostates, atheists, heretics and sinners all––but Jesus apparently loves us. Still.
All for Freedom, 2006
8’ x 24’, billboard.
All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
The billboard image is a photograph of a model constructed from discarded computer and other electronic parts to evoke a military/industrial city. As traffic drives past, the intention is that drivers are unsure whether the text says Take Over or Take Cover. Of course, both may apply. The title is from the lyrics of the Tears for Fears song, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
even the dead, 2006
3 diptyches, 40” x 70” ea.(1 diptych incl. frames, 48” x 156”/ 4’ x 13’), c-prints of the artist’s blood on paper.
The title is derived from Theses on the Philosophy of History, by Walter Benjamin:
Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the
past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the
Los Extranjeros, 2006
Triptych, 55″ x 22″ ea., digital C-prints.
Looking through the muralist David Alfaro Siqueros’ photo archive (which has recently been made public), I became interested in a series of portraits, mostly of Siqueros himself and of his brother Jesus, that were used as studies for murals. It was their particular combination of the heroic and the sacrificial, the marxist and the catholic that I found most intriguing.
Invoking L’Etranger, Albert Camus’ novel of colonial alienation, Los Extranjeros depicts a different kind of “Mexican muralist,” one that is all-too-familiar to Los Angelenos. Seen here from the inside and depicted deliberately as heroic and sacrificial––whether gardening or painting houses, these workers are visibly “outsiders” as they maintain, or perhaps transubstantiate the corporeal facades of Angeleno homes.
NOT AT HOME, 2005
Triptych, 53” x 40” ea., inkjet prints.
The photographers, Bernd and Hilla Becher, armed with a formalist grid, go on a Kenyan safari to look for authentic Africans in their native habitats. They find the habitats, but not the natives, who are either absent or hiding behind closed and unwelcoming gates. They also find that authenticity is performed specifically for the camera. No one’s home, neither the native nor the tourist.
The Return of the Hunted (after P.B., 1565), 2005
20” x 50”, c-print.
During a residency in Maine, looking out of my studio to a landscape blanketed in snow, I was reminded of once reading that Maine is demographically the whitest state. The view out of my studio also felt strangely familiar. I eventually tracked this deja vu to a 1565 painting by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, entitled The Hunters in the Snow.
I photographed the scene outside my studio as a one hundred and eighty degree panorama. Instead of Bruegel’s hunters, I digitally inserted my own image, photographed in different positions and carrying brooms rather than spears. A return from cleaning up, rather than from a kill? Or arriving to clean up?
The Lost Pictures, 1962-65/2004-5
40” x 60” ea., digital C-prints.
The original images were 35 mm slides taken by my father between 1962 and 1965 in Nairobi, Kenya. With Kenyan Independence in 1963, the images record a pivotal historical moment with some of the images being taken during the Independence Day celebrations. These were then made into 8” x 10” color prints and were placed around my apartment for up to six months in areas of strategic use, such as in the shower, kitchen, basin, etc. Some accumulated the detritus of everyday life while others were worn away by everyday contact, recording the present while erasing the past. The prints were then scanned and outputted to their finished size.
I served drinks from a tray during a gallery opening of an exhibition (XEN, by Yong Soon Min) about migrant workers in Korea. Later, during the opening, I collected empty glasses or with remaining drink and poured the liquid into a white bowl on a white pedestal in the middle of the gallery. With a bar of white soap and a white razor, I proceeded to shave my head and face. I then collected the dirtied water into the glasses and continued serving them.