In his latest exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter, Edgar Arceneaux takes on the hefty legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and filters it through the lens of pop culture and the urban decay of Detroit.
It's a lot to digest, and the array of sculptures, wall pieces and video succeed to varying degrees.
Most powerful are works based on a pair of documents. The first is a threatening, anonymous letter sent by the FBI to King, parts of which have been redacted. In four different pieces, Arceneaux takes the blacked-out sections, abstracts them and superimposes them on a recent account of King's children fighting over ownership of the reverend's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.
He uses mirrors, transparencies and light boxes to turn the blacked-out portions into reflections or voids. The transposition of presence and absence collapses time in an almost visceral way, charting how King has gone from a threat to a commodity.
Another centerpiece is an hour-long video with a captivating setting — Detroit's ruined St. Agnes church — variously populated by a caveman, a DJ and a King-like orator. Scored with techno music and King's speech on Vietnam, it succeeds in linking violence and poverty (and resonates with recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere) but is less successful in connecting these ideas with Stanley Kubrick's film "2001," from which the caveman is clearly drawn, and the history of Detroit techno.
The layering of time provides fascinating echoes, but we could use a few more clues to decipher them.