Christopher Myers’ show at the Fort Gansevoort gallery in Los Angeles throws off a good many edifying sparks. One comes simply from learning the meaning of its title, “Drapetomania.” The mental disorder was concocted by an American physician in 1851 to account for the desire among enslaved Africans to escape bondage. By God-given nature, according to the quack, slaves ought to be submissive; to want freedom is not just an aberration but a disease.
Myers is a New York writer and visual artist who shifts with agility among his adopted media. He has worked in film, collaborated with puppet makers, stitched embroideries inspired by the lyrics of Lil Wayne and created hybrid brass and percussion instruments for funerary rituals. He’s recasting a set of abandoned ships as memorials to migration.
The Fort Gansevoort show consists mostly of large applique wall hangings, pictorial collages sewn of patterned and solid fabric that owe much in graphic immediacy to the most distilled of Jacob Lawrence paintings. A few feel trite, overly simplistic, but plenty use the combinations of cloth to conceive a kind of emblematic space, part proclamatory banner, part illusionistic window to the world. The most affecting works visualize some sort of existential reckoning, a claiming of place, voice, liberty.
“Monument to Shouting” features a single figure, head tilted back, holding forth into a conical bullhorn that branches and proliferates, filling the 7-foot-high surface with devices of amplification. In “Arms Wide as the City,” Myers again presses his subject dynamically to the edges, this time a solid brown and black figure whose oversized arms cradle a heap of architectural forms — what look like apartment buildings, a water tower, a minaret.
Myers favors everyday fabrics, tiny floral prints and solids with a domestic feel, their familiar skin repurposed to represent fictional and historical bodies and lives, hopes and travails.
Physical captivity factors in the show sparingly but with dramatic presence. In the sculpture “Shackle and Light,” a thick metal collar encircles the neck of a featureless, carved wooden head. The locked restraint signals a punishing immobility imposed from without, but rods extending from the shackle, supporting several dozen candles that the gallery periodically lights, suggest a counter-force of irrepressible radiance coming from within. The freedom of spirit prevails against the true disease of human subjugation.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Feb. 8
Info: (323) 928-2332, www.fortgansevoort.com
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