Joyce Kozloff’s most recent body of work, “Social Studies,” at CB1 Gallery, takes as its basis a series of maps designed in the 1950s for elementary school students in France.
The works — large, digital prints of the maps with collaged and painted elements laid over — are vivid, colorful and enchantingly intricate, evoking all the pleasure of a child’s first grasp on cartographic comprehension, a vision of the world as a wide and wondrous thing.
Look closely, however, and anomalous, often unsettling details emerge. A tentacled creature with a monstrous human face stretches across the top of “L’Afrique,” representing “Mussolini strangling North Africa during WWII.” Three inset maps illustrate “rates of stunting in children,” “the European Colonial powers that controlled Africa in 1914” and “the multi-national corporations than operate there today.” “L’Amerique du Nord” delineates free and slave states across the U.S. and drug cartels in Mexico. “Algerie” and “Tunisie” feature images from the Arab Spring.
These additions — corrective measures of a sort, supplied by the artist — are scrupulously delineated in a collection of notes that is included with the exhibition’s checklist. The effect is less didactic, however, than kaleidoscopic: a splintering of one dimension into many. Kozloff, who’s been working with maps since the 1990s, uses the very tools of cartography to insist that the identity of a place is never so simple as the blocky outline of its borders.
This global perspective takes a more playful turn in the show’s other series of collage drawings, “China Is Near,” from 2010. Here, Kozloff lays traditional Chinese imagery over maps of other places named China — China Grove, North Carolina; China, Campeche, Mexico; China Kicha, Costa Rica — and alongside images of storefronts taken in New York’s Chinatown.
As in the map works, Kozloff’s formal facility — the bright colors, delightful imagery, energetic compositions — balances nimbly against a sound geopolitical conscience.
CB1 Gallery, 207 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, (213) 806-7889, through Feb. 17. www.cb1gallery.com