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