A Generation in Motion: The Ungovernables

A Generation in Motion: The Ungovernables

“The Ungovernables” does its best to define the intentions of a generation (X) that, for all intents and purposes, grew up in the shadow of its baby-booming parents. That this new showcase comes while Gen X is in the midst of paying for the baby-boomers’ missteps is no small irony, and the mood here captures the sentiment well: The whole giant heap of mismatched work on display can be seen as an effort to blow-up that looming shadow. The results are fun to watch in a oh-my-god-did-you-see-that-crash! kind of way, but would you expect anything less from a group that brought you Nirvana, the Macarena, and Cher’s first number one hit in 24 years? Me neither.

Being the doomed/undervalued generation they are, the works on display largely box around the concept of decay (most notably Adrián Villar Rojas’ sculpting work, which takes up nearly an entire floor), with a calculated optimism―one that doesn’t seem quite ready to take itself seriously―splashed on top for good measure. The only common thread here is a shared sense of confusion, and “The Ungovernables” has plenty of identity crises to latch onto. Danh Võ’s “We The People” strips the Statue of Liberty of its history and its symbolism, focusing instead on recreating the copper panels that gave it shape. Jonathas de Andrade’s “Ressaca Tropical” (Tropical Hangover) uses a found diary to paint a strangely intimate picture of a conflicted youth, so much so that you fail to notice the voyeuristic overtones that run through the work.

But it’s Brian Bress’ “Status Report”, a short film that finds the artist struggling to do everyday tasks while dressed in absurd outfits that beg for attention, that best sums up the current universal sigh: “Because it’s the depression.” His film is a brilliant piece of black comedy, an obvious highlight (the curators must of known: It nearly takes up the entire basement), but he’s not certainly alone in his disassociation with the world around him. In this day and age you’d have to be deaf and dumb not to relate.

Cinthia Marcelle’s “O Sécula” (The Century) features trash―tires, fluorescent bulbs, barrels―being methodically thrown on the street for five minutes. Anyone who lives in New York knows this is a significant part of one’s daily routine. Hassan Khan’s “Jewel” was one of the few things that had an actual pulse, mixing paranoid Cairene music against a backdrop of flashing black-and-white images. You could hear the frantic drumming from deep in the stairwell; by the time you got to the room you could barely control your own body. I got stuck in there against my own better judgment for 20 minutes, until one of my friends came in and slapped me back to my senses. “The exhibit’s closing in fifteen minutes,” he told me. “We have to leave.” I shook my head in agreement, though more confused than ever―a fitting epitaph for our generations’ ramshackle statement of intent.

A Generation in Motion: “The Ungovernables” at New Museum, through April 22nd

Lane Koivu – Images courtesy of Benoit Pailley