Kevin Todora/Jeff Zilm: Gaffes & Informations
Kevin Todora/Jeff Zilm: Gaffes & Informations at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts features recent work by Zilm and Todora as well as two new collaborations. A smart show with a strong conceptual bent, the exhibition addresses pop culture’s communication systems with underpinnings of violence, political activism and a little humor.
Anyone who’s gotten frustrated with a video game and gone online to find cheats will recognize the short and staccato linguistic style of Zilm’s text pieces. But Zilm’s works frustrate the nature of these online instructions meant to convey information quickly and clearly. They often imply a violent political agenda—“JOIN SHINING PATH. JOIN SDS./DISAPPEAR/REAPPEAR IN THE PLAZA./TALK TO A MAN./GO RIGHT TO FIND THE GOV./IF YOU FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH YOU CAN SURROUND THE GOV AND SLASH HIM UNTIL HE/ DISAPPEARS.”—but are obscure rather than straightforward, leaving viewers to ponder how to apply such directives. These texts on canvas and large-scale inkjet prints appear quite different from how they would on a computer screen alone at home. Directly addressing the gallery context and its expectations, Zilm’s works bridge the gap between the virtual world and the social gallery atmosphere.
Zilm’s Hostage (2008) is one of the show’s most intriguing works. Comprised of a film of the same name cut into lengths of 24 frames, or one second of film action, these strips sit directly on the floor in small stacks of varying height. There is an entertaining movie held on the now-destroyed film strips—just as there may be enlightening text in Untitled’s (2011) nearly foot-high stack of dot matrix printer paper—but the content is now inaccessible. The mediums supersede their contained messages, speaking to the obsolescence of film and continuous paper in the age of high-def video and laser printers.
Todora is a professional freelance photographer, but this exhibition mostly features found images he appropriated and manipulated from pop culture, such as movie posters of Rambo and Barbarella. Grass (2011) is a humorous but slightly disconcerting work that features close-up images of grass mounted on foam core. Hung low on the wall and reaching up seven feet, each triangular panel forms a stylized blade of grass whose sharp points defy the organic softness of the lawn represented.
Two collaborative works, both Untitled (2011), juxtapose Zilm’s familiar text with Todora’s altered images. One is the lush green landscape featured on Windows desktops and the other is the August 15, 2011, Newsweek cover of a crazy-eyed Michele Bachmann over which the artists poured liquid plastic (black on the landscape; red, white and blue over Bachmann). The spontaneous immediacy of the dripping plastic paint atop such ubiquitous imagery adds a materiality to what is increasingly accessed virtually. Framing the pictures and then defacing them simultaneously elevates and castigates their significance in pop culture, just as Zilm’s obfuscated text seems both politically engaged and utterly irrelevant.
Altering the text, cutting up the film, or dripping paint over the images subverts modern systems of communication, calling into question the means by which we receive information as well as the content. The artists’ destructive manipulations and references to contemporary political issues actualize the violence of overtly fictional video games and action movies. Though humorous, the detached style of the texts suggests numbness to the violence, and the use of stock photos like that in Grass demonstrates the ease of access to unoriginal information. Though the destruction of images and the violent language found in Zilm’s and Todora’s work imply an adolescent frustration with social norms, the erudite references to art history, linguistics, sociology, and theories of technological advancement firmly ground the show as critical and contemplative.