"The exhibit on Japanese civilization was somehow so intriguing in that it mentions how Japanese culture managed to maintain many aspects of their earlier culture despite being among the most industrialized countries on earth. This made me imagine, what would American culture look like today if Native Americans had not been stripped of their cultural legacy, what if they had managed to repel the foreign European invaders?" -- Jacob Williams
Against buttery cream colored walls, artist Jacob Williams's latest show "Ugly Sticks" -- intricate, minimalist tribal staffs -- contrasts sharply. This juxtaposition makes it all the more intriguing. Williams was influenced by a recent trip to the American Museum of History (see quote above), and that colors this fascinating study on identity, culture, masculinity. The staffs on display are primitive, beautiful and masculine. "Masculine identity is still entrenched in this competitive world of violence and aggression," says the program. "Indeed it would seem the essence of masculinity is more bluster and bravado, acts of warrior like braggadocio more resemble beautiful displays of plumage than the actual skull crushing of enemies."
And what plumage! In re-imagining what America might have looked like had the Native Americans prevailed, the staffs -- signatures of that symbolic culture -- are decorated with surprisingly delicate yet elaborately colored rooster feathers from Singapore as well as blades. Such are the contradictions of culture and masculinity.
The floor of the gallery -- literally a gritty, organic part of the whole experience -- is lit flourescently, and littered with empty bottles of booze and, as the evening progresses, soon-to-be-emptied bottles of the adult beverage FourLoco. "Imagine if a tribe of warriors spent a night drinking in a brightly lit 7-11, or if a Dogon tribe had evolved on a spaceship where the vending machines only dispensed liquor. This Mad Max crack den is nothing if not incredibly fascinating. If this alternate timeline is anything it is dystopian. Were these simply refigured pieces of folk art by a New York city artist, this show would lack it's bite. Instead we are offered a version of the future however idealistic, and yet which is still utterly flawed."
Ugly Sticks is on exhibit at Orchard Windows Gallery on 37 Orchard Street until August 26th. This blogger highly recommends you stop by and check it out if you see any show in New York before Labor Day.