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TuckUnder's 'doubleplusgood' Takes Aim at Language and Privilege

Mike Cloud, <i>Collages on Shelf</i>

Mike Cloud, Collages on Shelf

The stench of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9 still reeks. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American male, by a police officer proved to be yet another horrible reminder that we live in a country where the experience of white Americans and the experience of people of color are profoundly different. In "doubleplusgood," a new show at south Minneapolis's TuckUnder Projects, a group of African American artists address the issues of white privilege and the disparities that perpetuate inequality in our society in a series of works that focus on language and symbols as an entry point for discussion. 

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The works in the show are far from aggressive political statements. Rather, these are subtle pieces layered with meaning, requiring you to do some work as a viewer to understand where the artists is heading. The title references George Orwell's 1984, where a special language was developed in the fictional authoritarian state to limit how citizens could speak and communicate. The artists here investigate how language has been used as a tool for oppression, particularly in our school systems. 

Nate Young's Untitled is made to look like a 1970s stereo cabinet. However, on further inspection, things are not quite what they seem. What looks a bit like speakers are actually made out of paper. There are books in the cabinet, but even those are façades. The leather-bound copies of the Republic of Plato and the Autobiography of Malcolm X are actually filled with blank pages. Pairing these two books -- one a foundation of the Western cannon, and the other a seminal work from the Civil Rights movement with a history of being banned from schools -- critiques the practice that continues today of privileging dead white male authors over all others. The fact that both books are blank in a sense equalizes the two works. 

There's also a copy of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the founders of semiotics. The inclusion of Saussure in Young's piece gives a clue to the thrust of the whole exhibit, as each of the artists probe the signs, symbols and language that perpetuate racism and inequality in America. 

Semiotics presents itself particularly in Mike Cloud's Collages on Shelf, a collection of junk-food bags. The Doritos and Lays are laid out forward and backward, with nutritional information posted on the back in various languages. On top of that, Cloud has cut out symbols on the bags, and used paint in some places. The symbols, backwards letters of inscrutable acronyms and line drawings of prickly figures engaged in indiscernible narratives, don't have readily understandable meanings. Rather, Cloud employs a deliberately untranslatable language. In a way, it's an act of defacement on foods that add to the unhealthy diet of Americans. Perhaps it's embracing them as well. 

Similar to Young's work, Caroline Kent also plays with the idea of the cannon, offering a printed text of a scene between two characters, named Constantine and Mali. They chat, as if two students at school, about dress and how clothes affect one's perception of a person.

Kent's work, in its use of a Roman Emperor and an African country as character names, is deconstructing how history and our understanding of history is shaped by what is taught in schools. The banter about style of dress references the phenomena still prevalent in schools of punishing African American and other students of color for their choice of clothes or styles. 

The exhibition also includes a piece by Nyeema Morgan, called Those Extraordinary Twins, which refers to the original title of Mark Twain's deeply problematic novel Pudd'nhead Wilson. The work is made of a large piece of paper printed with the title of Twain's original novel, followed by the text "Authoritative Texts," "Textual Introduction and Table of Variants," and "Criticism." Seen as an overblown title page examining the piece of literature that tells the story of a white and black man who were switched at birth Morgan, like other artists in the show, questions the lauded writers and their works, which are taught to our children in schools. 

Besides the artists featured in "doubleplusgood," John Sebastian Vitale's Leaky Sink exhibition, "Are You In, Or Are You Out?," consists of a single work, titled Face Tat Vs. Knuck Tats. It's a rectangular piece of black leather with the title printed on it. The piece addresses the impulse to put forth one's individual expression, and the consequences that decision might take, particularly for people of color who choose to express themselves visibly with tattoos (though the impulse could apply to clothing styles as well). 

IF YOU GO:

"doubleplusgood" and "Are You in, Or Are You Out?"

On view at TuckUnder through October 12

Also at TuckUnder, check out Amy Toscani's wonderful outdoor UFO sculpture, made of plastic lawn furniture, and Melissa Borman's mesmerizing outdoor print, What to do When Lost in the Woods

The space has unstructured hours Wednesday through Sunday, and by appointment.

For more info or to set up an appointment, visit their website.