Posts Tagged ‘spike lee’

Culture Vulture: Jacolby Satterwhite and David Byrne

October 31, 2020

I’m pretty sure the first time I laid eyes on Jacolby Satterwhite’s work was when it appeared in the 2014 Whitney Biennial in the form of “Reifying Desire 6,” an eye-popping animated video (above) densely populated by writhing black male figures, words, phrases, and a kaleidoscopic meteor shower of images and objects. It was sexy, psychedelic, groovy, and unforgettable.. I couldn’t wait to see more. Happily, he’s super-prolific so there’s been lots to follow. I knew he had a show this fall (his Instagram kept reminding me), and by chance I wandered onto his website just in time to realize it was closing the next day. So I hopped on my bike and in less than half an hour I was at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in Chelsea walking through “We Are In Hell When We Hurt Each Other,” a luscious visual, aural, trippy, intellectual bombardment.

It comes at you from so many angles. One launching point for the show was the album of dance tracks the artist put together (with collaborator Nick Weiss) based on original songs his beloved mother Patricia (who lived with schizophrenia and died in 2016) sang a cappella into a cassette recorder. The songs serve as soundtrack to an 18-minute virtual-reality film that one viewer at a time could watch at the gallery; I came too late to get a crack at the headset, but selected scenes were projected onto the gallery: a tribe of CGI fembots (modeled on the artist’s own body but decked out as Grace Jones-like warriors) inhabit a video-game landscape of menacing orbs and other intruders whom the figures easily vanquish. (The artist has said he got into the video game Final Fantasy while being treated for cancer as a kid.)

Present as a sort of goddess-matriarch figure in many iterations is the legendary fashion model Bethann Hardison, still looking magnificently regal at 78 (above); the ritualistic battles she oversees resolve into the final image of a floral shrine to Breonna Taylor.

Then there’s a multimedia sculpture called Room for Doubt – four larger-than-life nude male figures (again modeled on the artist’s body) in the midst of some kind of cryptic healing ritual involving golden ropes tied around their heads.

As Patty Gone wrote in her review for the online magazine Hyperallergic, Room for Doubt reimagines Caravaggio’s 1603 painting, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” in which the famous non-believer dips a finger into Christ’s wound. In Satterwhite’s version, four life-size nudes mimic the poses of Jesus and company, their torsos containing small screens showing a performance in which Satterwhite grimaces as he drags his body across a floor. There’s no messiah or disciple here, only shared sacrifice. Stillness creates room to behold another’s pain.” On the floor in the shape of animal hides are papyrus-like scrolls with rough drawings and notes (not unlike the note-to-self scribblings Jean-Michel Basquiat would include in his rich collage-landscapes).  

A version across the room, called simply Doubt, is one of several works in neon, including a kind of hilarious, witty neon version of Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe, Picasso’s rendition of which formed a key moment in the emergence of Cubism as a modern way of seeing and making art.

Besides drinking in these heady, color-saturated works, the high point of my visit was meeting the artist, whom I instinctively knew would be there. (Where else would an artist want to hang out?) He turned out to be friendly, handsome, and chatty, the kind of artist whose temperament lends itself to effortlessly discoursing about his work, where it comes from, what dots he’s connecting, etc.

You could happily entertain yourself for some time disappearing down the rabbit hole of his videos and interviews, enumerated on this page.

He told me I could watch the video in extra high-def on YouTube at home, and I scanned the QR code but couldn’t find the video later. Instead, Andy and I wound down from the crazy week by watching Spike Lee’s film version of David Byrne’s American Utopia on HBO Max. It was great revisiting the show, which we saw and loved on Broadway for the design, the lighting, and the exuberant performances. Spike Lee clearly had fun capturing Annie-B Parson’s fluidly inventive choreography from all angles, including backstage and Busby Berkeley-like aerial shots.

%d bloggers like this: