about the exhibition
New Works 06.1
Los Angeles, CA
March 08–May 07, 2006about the artist
Drawing from his own background as well as the histories of art, science, philosophy, and literature, Edgar Arceneaux’s projects create webs of meaning from disparate people and things. Fueled by efforts to extract meaning from links between the seemingly unrelated, Arceneaux’s works resist easy categorization and one-to-one logic.
Giving visual expression to wordplay, Arceneaux’s Borrowed Sun (Critical Juxtaposition Test) (2004) places a pencil-drawn portrait of jazz musician Sun Ra on par with sketched representations of Sol LeWitt and Galileo, three legendary creators linked by cosmic connotations. Driven by metonymic relations, Arceneaux’s projects subvert the linear thinking that ordinarily structures pre-processed information, creating new networks for configuring fact, fiction, and memory.
Born in Los Angeles, CA in 1972, Edgar Arceneaux continues to live and work there. He received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA in 2001. Solo exhibitions include The Kitchen, New York, NY (2005); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2003); and Studio Museum, Harlem, NY (2002). Group exhibitions include Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2005); and Quicksand, De Appel, Amsterdam, Holland (2004); and Lateral Thinking, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA (2002).
about the project
Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid combines film, performance, photos, and print to extract connections between the medieval practice of alchemy and contemporary comedy. Analogous to the transmutations of alchemy, jokes are inventions in which two elements collide mutually exclusive elements—the narrative and
its counterpart, the punch line. Like alchemy, jokes ultimately rest on chance: the timing and context of delivery.
The project centers on a multi-channel film projected life-size on the gallery walls. Directed by Arceneaux, it features comedian David Alan Grier experimenting with the same routine in three locations. Like a scientist might consider the four basic elements of air, water, fire, and earth, the production mixes proportions of colors, music, audience, and wordplay. Harsh tones and lighting cyclically appear, local bands play in each venue, audience is variously collapsed with performer, and delivery changes each night. The jokes focus on the darker side of life: potential scares with cancer, Grier’s strained relationship with his father, and his dad’s wheelchair-bound experience.
Objects in the gallery expand on the idea of tragedy, an inherent notion of comedy and alchemy, which was applied to prolong life and cure disease. On the wall, a ten-foot photo transfer of a wheelchair is depicted with burning embers in its seat. Fire and death point back to alchemy, but also to Grier and his comedic “father,” Richard Pryor, who famously burned himself, spent time in a wheelchair, and died of a heart attack in 2005.
Pryor is again referenced in a series of twelve photographs of flames. Collectively titled Do you remember that joke? When you hold up a match and you go like this and say, “What’s this?” “Richard Pryor running down the street.”, the work references a once-popular joke that involved waving a lit match.
Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid demonstrates that shared qualities can cross disciplines and destabilize familiar notions of both comedy and alchemy. Ultimately, it proposes the expansive coherence of nonlinear logic and that, at the center of the comedic universe, lies a black sun.