Former Thami Mnyele artist in resident Odili Donald Odita takes part in the exhibition Parallel Economies at Wertz | Contemporary (Atlanta). The goal of the exhibition is to present an alternative line of thinking, whereby objects are located in the world without falling back onto literal, and reductionist processes. Through the use of very specific and carefully chosen forms and materials, the artists in this exhibition place their work within the socio-economic space from which it stems, giving it a critical dimension. A catalogue on CD will be available with essays by Franklin Sirmans, Gean Moreno and Odili Donald Odita.
This exhibition took shape through a series of conversations between most of the artists involved on the ways in which artworks can negotiate a way to point to the social without falling into literalist political proposals. For decades aesthetic discourse has relied heavily, on the one hand, on formal readings and, on the other, on very straightforward, content-bound interpretation. The interest here is to explore ways in which cultural objects can be located in the world through complex negotiations between material, pattern, encoding and form. One way found by these artists to place an object in a broad social, cultural, and geopolitical context has been to employ disobedient structures and forms that refuse the limitations of formal readings, and yet do not present the bulk of their meaning at the representational/content level. Flea market stalls and shanties are, for instance, disobedient structures in relation to the geometries of Modern architecture. And disobedient not only in their physical geometry, for these makeshift structures violate all sorts of conceptual organizational principles as well as convey disregard for the form-function divide; they also register as socio-economic by their very nature, which makes allowance for these structures to exist beyond a rigid and encapsulating conceptual critique.
The works gathered in this exhibition are disobedient structures in various ways. Physically, in that they bend and stretch their respective mediums (e.g., Radcliffe Bailey's combine paintings, Danilo Duenas assembled "paintings"). Conceptually, in that they usually draw from multiple fields of references (i.e., Odili Odita's stripe paintings draw from modernist painting, African textiles, landscape and digital efforts, while also point to his identity and work out a bit of an institutional critique). Formally, in that they refuse the "purity" of form that underscores so much formalist thinking, and instead encode social situations in the structures and materials employed (e.g., Sol Sax's linguistic sculptures, Carl Pope's vernacular posters). There is also a particular disobedience in the way materials are used. While a lot of this work employs refuse and cheap trinkets, the thrust here seems to be less a quest for a poetics of the mundane and the raggedy (arte povera) than a bite of commentary of economic disparities.