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'Becoming Imperceptible' comes to MOCA in a post-election world

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (1958), 2016

 Adam Pendleton, My Education: A Portrait of David Hilliard, 2011-2014

Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton, Yes But, 2008, acrylic paint on wall, dimensions variable

Lisa Oppenheim, Elizabeth Rudensky. Right dorsal curve.

Lisa Oppenheim, Tie-Dyed Fragment, c. 700-1100 A.D., 2016

Lisa Oppenheim

Lisa Oppenhein, Correct posture for 4663. Need for advice of examining physician.,2016

Last summer, MOCA Cleveland's fourth floor Mueller Family and Rosalie + Morton Cohen Family Galleries featured the works of Mark Mothersbaugh in a multi-media explosion of color and playful commentary with everything from a mutated Scion to the Booji Boy mask of DEVO fame.
 
Last Friday, Adam Pendleton's Becoming Imperceptible took over the space. Like the Mothersbaugh show, it's an immersive experience full up with sound and visuals that reflect the man behind it all. Unlike last summer's offering, the current multi-media exhibition is void of color. The ceramic floor sculptures, framed Mylar prints, collage, silkscreens printed on mirror and two film installations are all depicted in black, white and gray.
 
While the two shows have commonalities, the narrative arc in time, politics and culture that separates them could not be more stark. When Mothersbaugh's Myopia debuted, the city was on the verge of the gentle summer months and giddy with the prospect of the Republican National Convention. Cleveland was, essentially, preparing for its close up.

Adam Pendleton, Black Lives Matter #3 (wall work), 2015
 
Now a scant eight months later, division and uncertainty cloud the days. The city is covered in snow after an extended and eerie January thaw. Protests have filled Public Square with women and encroached on Cleveland Hopkins. More such events are scheduled.
 
Such is the current backdrop for Becoming Imperceptible. Different incarnations of the collection previously appeared in New Orleans and Denver, but both of those events closed prior to November 8, 2016. Hence, like the America it reflects, the exhibition woke to a new day when it debuted last week.
 
"I do think some of the things these images, these words, this language, signifies and represents will hit people differently now that we're post election," said Pendleton during an interview last Thursday, Jan. 26.
 
"We were sort of wondering what was coming and I think we're still sort of wondering what is coming, and I think one of the things we're all doing—as citizens, as artists, as Americans, as immigrants—we're trying to find the language to grapple with what's going on in relationship to democratic ideals.

"We're testing the health of our democracy and that's a very tenuous place to be. And I think art and the ways in which it can dwell and deal with abstraction is actually a very productive place to be when you don't know where you are."
 
He continues: "There's something about becoming—sort of perpetually becoming—that becomes urgent. Not to be fixed or stagnant, but to understand and accept that things change and you have to be a part of that change."
 
Looking forward, however, is often facilitated by a look back. Case in point: the video installation My Education: A Portrait of David Hilliard features David Hilliard, founding member and chief of staff of the Black Panther party, as he recounts an April 6, 1968 encounter with Oakland, CA, police:
 
" … and I said 'oh fuck' because the police are coming and they're not looking around and there's other police and all of a sudden all this shooting. All these cars, people are scrambling. There had to been about 12 cars. They're running all over the place."
 
The three screens feature Hilliard speaking along with scenes from the surrounding Oakland neighborhood that capture the mundane and make it anything but: "That wire fence was not there. It was a very low fence like that. The lady that owns this house was my son's godmother so I jumped that fence. I don't remember that being there," says Hilliard of the scene.
 
"And then shooting this way and then they're shooting out from this direction And there's helicopters and the place is blocked off and just hundreds of police everywhere. Then Bobby Hutton came out with just his shirt off and the lady, Mrs. Jackson, I hear her screaming, 'oh my god, oh my god, they just killed the little one,' but I have no idea if that's little Bobby because I haven't seen him since we all broke up and was running  … "

So it goes, with Pendleton removing one layer after another. Call it being there, with a film about events that transpired nearly 50 years ago becoming ever more relevant as the nine minutes of My Education tick by.

While the film plays out behind a closed door, Hilliard's voice will not be contained. Hence, he continually narrates each viewer's experience as they take in the rest of Becoming Imperceptible.
 
Pendleton noted the irony of the show's historic perspective amid today's cultural landscape. "It seems we've completely forgotten any kind of historical reference or framework and we're just sort of hurtling towards a known political and social space—meaning a kind of unproductive violent chaos," he said. "We've witnessed the outcome of intolerance, of xenophobia, of homophobia."

Lisa Oppenheim, Landscape Portraits (Some North American Trees), 2014
 
"The perception was that we had moved away from these things. And we're kind of suddenly forgetting our past and kind of reliving it," he said. "There's a kind of violent déjà vu, if you will, and I think that's difficult to grapple with."
 
Yet another video offering, Just Back from Los Angeles: A portrait of Yvonne Rainer, subtly conveys that insidious transfer of violence. The 14-minute film chronicles a conversation between Pendleton and the famous dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer.
 
She is a woman; he is a man. She is white; he is black. She is in her eighties; he is in his thirties. They are both alive, supping at an unremarkable New York diner as she reads a work that details the following killings: Eric Garner, July 17, 2014, Staten Island, New York City; Ezell Ford, Aug. 11, 2014, Los Angeles; John Crawford III, Aug. 5, 2014, Beavercreek, Ohio; Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice; Nov. 13, 2015 and Nov. 22, 2014, respectively, Cleveland.
 
As 1968 and the bullets recalled by Hilliard suddenly feel very, very close, Just Back from Los Angeles concludes with clips from Rainer's most famous effort, the 1966 Trio A.
 
My Education and Just Back from Los Angeles are cogent centerpieces in Becoming Imperceptible. They reside amid Pendleton's other stark historical reference images, daunting all-cap text assertions and black-on-black paintings, each of which speaks for itself as singular statement and as a voice in the orchestrated chorus of the exhibit as a whole.
 
Becoming Imperceptible is on display through May 14, 2017. It is joined by Lisa Oppenheim's Spine in the Toby Devan Lewis Gallery; Transport Empty from Zarouhie Abdalian and Joseph Rosenzweig in Stair A; and Jeremy Dellar's Video Works in Gund Commons.
 
For those on a budget, admission is free at MOCA for all visitors on the first Saturday of the month, courtesy of PNC Bank. Gund Commons and MOCA Store are always open to the public during regular museum hours.
 
MOCA is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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