Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid

Edgar Arceneaux

Exhibition: Mar 8 – May 7, 2006

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.

-Kate Green

Assistant Curator


Edgar Arceneaux

Los Angeles, California, USA

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).

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Douglas Fogle

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Prior to joining the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2005, Douglas Fogle served for ten years as curator at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. While at the Walker, Fogle initiated an emerging artist series and a number of group exhibitions such as Stills: Emerging Photography in the 1990s (1997). His most recent exhibitions include Painting at the Edge of the World (2001), solo exhibitions with Catherine Opie and Julie Mehretu, and a historical survey of the conceptual uses of photography entitled The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography 1960-1982, which opened at the Walker Art Center in October 2003 and traveled to the UCLA Hammer in Los Angeles before continuing on to Europe. He regularly contributes to journals such as Artforum, Frieze, Flash Art, and Parkett.

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