From July 27th to August 31st, the Michael Jon Gallery presented GATTACA, a group exhibition in its Downtown Miami space just blocks away from the Pérez Art Museum Miami (opening its doors this December). Shana Beth Mason visited the show during its final days to review what director Michael Radziewicz and curator Hunter Braithwaite had in store.
I don’t know how to thank you.
No, no, no. I got the better end of the deal. I only lent you my body,
you lent me your dream.
This final exchange between the characters of Vincent Freeman and Jerome Eugene Morrow (played, respectively, by Ethan Hawke and Jude Law in Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film Gattaca) is a poignant, but rather unironic farewell between two men mutually bound by their miseries. One is trapped in a sub-par body, considered ‘invalid’ in a new phase of human evolution built on passive discrimination and liberal eugenics. The other is similarly trapped in a body (once considered a prize amongst his peers), whose debilitating state was self-inflicted by a sub-par conscience and self-image.
Eradicating or disguising traces of the objectionable body is the key to self-preservation, but what happens when those traces congeal? They begin to form a new, sustainable landscape populated by microscopic elements which parallel the seemingly ‘perfect’, desirable molecules employed to build the ‘perfect’, dull being. Four artists contend with the possibilities of this creative modality in a very contained space: Ethan Greenbaum, Hayal Pozanti, Will Rockel and Cole Sayer deliver hard-hitting results under the practical direction of Michael Radziewicz (principal of the Michael Jon Gallery in Downtown Miami) and the technical execution of curator Hunter Braithwaite in GATTACA.
Greenbaum’s Weep Space (2013) commands the center of the gallery as two panels of brightly-speckled glass encased in an eight-foot-tall folding aluminum frame. The glass, itself, is not hand-colored or stained but sheets of substrate: a type of material commonly used to line the floors of aquaria and vivarium. This medium helps sustain and regulate the functions of living things in a controlled space, while acting as a natural filter for animal waste. Greenbaum addresses these functions in a visual mode: microscopic elements are photographed, enlarged and carefully overlaid onto a pre-photographed surface. This towering collection of ‘unwanted’ strata is an undeniable statement, a reaffirmation of existence without compromise. The flickering of vibrant colors permits its acceptance to a wider range of viewers, disguising its abject state. All of these concepts align perfectly with Vincent Freeman’s role in the film; a man who is denied critical acceptance by the structure of his DNA but welcomed into the elite thanks to trickery and a secret stash of genetic masks.
Another highly crafted work is Cole Sayer’s set of acrylic and plaster panels It’s hard to know what to do to oppose everything 1 and 2 (2012). They rise off the wall like lunar canyons reflecting crags, valleys, craters and hills in gradients of pink, purple, blue and grey. There’s an erotic charge diffused through these objects, with colors reminiscent of heated flesh and organs aroused. More importantly, the works deal with the physicality of surface and texture; how territory built is simultaneously territory destroyed. The traces of the artist are so distant, it’s as if the landscape originated via spontaneous generation. Sayer addresses a paradox first instituted in modern art history through Manet: the surface exists with or without the artist, but the artist reveals its presence through the filter of light. Just as the elite workforce of Gattaca operated in broad daylight, the passionate resistance to that body was forged in shadow.
The two remaining artists, Pozanti and Rockel, engage notions of iconography, traditional minimalism and conceptual photography through their respective works. Pozanti’s paintings recall the harsh modernism of Adrian Morris or the fascist architectural examples throughout post-war Europe. These resonate with the production values and design of the film, a dystopian colony designed to initiate political and cultural sterility. Rockel’s photographs are almost tongue-in-cheek, featuring an androgynous teenager casually smoking a cigarette postured like a hermetic icon. The other, a working-class collared shirt with a red, white and blue tie laid over; spattered over them is a clear liquid whose constitution or innuendo is vague, at best.
On the whole, Braithwaite makes sound, compact choices to discuss the variants of the film’s failed übermensch (embodied by Vincent’s genetically superior, police officer brother, Anton), the crippled antihero (Jerome) and the reluctant crusader (Vincent). Regarding critical theory and general aesthetics, Braithwaite’s direction is quite high-minded, on the verge of alienating a pedestrian audience, but redeems itself through fluid exercises of color, surface, medium and content. All of these elements supply just about every viewer with the same question…where and what do you come from? Your body remains an active organ…before and after shedding its tiniest parts.