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Raw War


22 February to 31 March, 2018
Raw War
Bruce Eves
Reception: Thursday 22 February to 31 March

“Bruce/Eves/Raw/War” at the Robert Kananaj Gallery (February 22-March 31) taps into a zeitgeist fraught with peril. This exhibition is made up of new and never before seen works in which seriality, numerical sequences, and art historical references allow for an ambiguity of meanings while at the same time encouraging a multiplicity of readings. The austere intellectualism of this exhibition uses the seminal 1977 punk rock recording “Raw/War” as its jumping off point. That recording is now considered by many as one of the rarest and most prized artifacts to emerge from that period, and has found its way into the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Nouvel Library collection at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and the library collection of the University of Bologna. (It’s not without bemused irony that a copy of the recording is not in the artist’s own collection.) 

The anger and hilarity of this early work is shadowed by the terror and illness tackled in the more recent works. This darkness is leavened (slightly) by seemingly cold-hearted data collection and off-handed macho sight-gags. The connecting thread has the works written in language forms that only cardiologists and spies would love. The artist is, however, not afraid to throw down a gauntlet and expect viewers to assume their responsibility to do the heavy lifting and decode for themselves images that appear, at first glance, to be indecipherable gibberish. The exhibition includes . . .

“Work # 1001: Three Decades Two Countries One Man” (2018) is a line-up of reproductions taken from three anti-readymades – official portraits taken over the course of three decades by government photographers from two countries with a knack for making everyone they focus on look like criminals. The source material was Eves’ U.S. Green Card, Canadian Passport and Ontario Health Card.

“Work # 735: Der KZ Projekt No. 3” acts as an update of the Rosetta stone (an object now housed in the British Museum engraved with a text repeated three times in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Greek, and Latin allowing the up-till-then indecipherable Egyptian writing system to finally be translated). The work presented here offers alongside the cipher its translation in German and English. The unique challenge when confronting collective gay history is that we are, somewhat uniquely, faceless individuals. It speaks volumes that the only known portrait of Leopold Obermayer is his police mug shot. In this regard Andreas Rosen is owed deepest gratitude both for providing a photo of Leopold and translating the text into German and spearheading the campaign to memorialize the life. With effort, and depending on the quality of your German, the text is translatable, but perhaps the horror of the events is best evoked by the sheer incomprehensibility of the text.

Hidden among the bombings, accidents, uprisings, and on-going mayhem and carnage detailed in a collection of newspaper headlines gathered over the course of a year and archived in “Work # 951: 1-100” (2016) is an incident so hilarious it makes life almost bearable.

After being diagnosed with a heart condition that required a surgically-implanted stent Eves began a series of works about his physical health and well-being. Again, it’s not without a sense of irony that the author of these self-portraits fails to appear in any recognizable form. It’s curious that at every annual meeting with the cardiologist there’s never any mention of his person – the evaluations have always been based entirely on numbers. “Work # 901: Seven Days in February (Monitoring My Heart Rate Hourly during Waking Hours for One Week) Old/Sick #02” (2014) is the documentary residue of a 125-hour data-collecting marathon -- a self-portrait as raw data – allowing grudging acknowledgment of being granted a visa to enter the Republic of Oldmanland.

As a sight-gag about an ironically appropriated and particularly hyper-masculine trope popular among certain gay men, “Work # 929: Fifteen Horizontal Lines, Centered (Cigars)” (2015) is a send-up of both minimalist rigour and obsessive/compulsive neuroses. The photos were gathered from friends and colleagues plus public-domain online sources.

Eves’ design for living begins with the truisms that envelopes are meant for pushing, chips belong on shoulders, noses were designed to be put out of joint, but ends with wondering why so many refuse to stick their necks out; after all, that’s what a neck is there for . . . isn’t it?