The Front opened “Grown Ass Kids” Saturday night as one of four shows premiering on the 12th and running through May 3rd. The exhibit takes a hard look at childish pastimes and how they survive into adulthood. Among the targeted hobbies are vintage sci-fi, astrological gazing, shoe hoarding, manga obsession, the obligatory video game collecting, and an inability to resist falling down rabbit-holes of the interwebs.
The group show features work by Jason Childers, John Isiah Walton, Ashley Tague and Ron Bennett.
In celebration of nostalgia, each artist’s statement was bound lovingly together with a Mead-style composition book cover. A staple of school daze, the Composition Book tugs at anyone’s heart strings who has ever revisited a journal later in life, or worse, lost a few volumes of precious teenage musings in a roommate split. It has a bit of mid-century panache about it, if you really look. A little Jackson-Pollock-on-the-cover-of-Life-Magazine styling is happening in that black and white noise of the background, giving the empty book a bit of AbEx savoir faire. A proudly brandished UPC code on the bottom right corner smacks of antiquated pride at scanner technology.
Ron Bennett’s “1983“ is a slick and splashy hanging sculpture with a storm trooper helmet in the center and ink blot shaped splotches layered in bright comic frames. The wood assemblage imparts a scacchiato dimensionality and the layers of shiny acrylic coating make it gleam and glint under the gallery lights. Two stiff, clunky Atari joysticks stand at attention flanking the helmet, arguably the only elements actually anchoring the piece to the past. Still hungering for this memento from the Dark Side, Bennett held on to the dream and saw what appears to have been a childhood dream come to fruition.
Ashley Tague’s “30 Death Wishes” is a work that speaks about a certain lack of progress in the artist’s eyes. The work is comprised of puffy stars of clay and origami, relating to childhood superstition and its drive to solidify wishes through ritualistic behavior. Tague’s work deals with the specter of death to the child’s mind, a position she laments feeling no closer to finding a solution for. Tague offers a recording of her recitations, including hopes of dying in her sleep, instantly and non-violently. She ends these thirty petitions to an afterlife she can’t quite accept with a wish to “stop thinking about death so much.” The humor and tenderness in Tague’s work complement the chubby, innocuous star constructs. She has dealt with the materials inventively yet simply, posting each of the thirty paper stars on the wall on thin brads so that they cast storybook shadows onto the wall behind them. Tague’s work reaches out and holds your hand, appealing emotionally to a universal fear.
John Isiah Walton’s four pieces in the show are probably the most vulnerable, placing Walton’s financial shortcomings on display. A bankruptcy document, a less than enviable bank statement, and an extended overdraft notice are unfortunately tell-tale signs that Walton may be focusing on the wrong challenges in life. Mounted on Manga pages and Madden football game covers, he seems to be balling only in the digital world. Cleverly titled “On to the Next Chapter,” referring not only to his Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings but presumably to the Manga he reads voraciously, venturing into further chapters in avoidance of his mounting debts. Walton seems to be indicting his own behavior, evidenced by a bold display of his personal banking history.
The largest, smartest and most complex piece in the show is Jason Childers’ installation, “Virtual Consciousness: Re-Search 2014” and its partner work “Comment Box.” The work stands at the end of the room housed in a laminate computer station the artist built himself. It is 80’s space age, white and pristine and autonomous. It stands on a patch of beige, soothing carpet which muffles sound and gives even more of a “2001: A Space Odyssey” feel to the work than the clinical white computer podium imparts. On one side of the station, Childers has made his search habits accessible, focusing on differing areas of research in completion of his second Master’s degree. Amidst these top-level inquiries, viewers can click into tempting diversions like cat-bounce.com, where users can harmlessly toss cute, system-hogging kitties into the virtual air, passively watch them float across the screen, or “make it rain” to release multiple fluffy little tiger kittens into the rainbow-fade of the background.
“Comment Box” allows show attendees to weigh in on the work, drop a ‘hi’ or a ‘thanks,’ but isn’t as simple as it looks. Another form of distraction, the discussion board is another insidious time-sucker. Subtle in its come-on, it feels like topic-related activism until an hour into an argument with another user. The great fun in Childers’ work is that we feel his struggle from our own experience. If we aren’t out blowing every spare cent on video games, tennis shoes, or Manga like Washington struggles against, we can at least relate to wandering into virtual parts unknown despite our noblest efforts to accomplish something.
Nostalgia plays some part in “Grown Ass Kids” as one would expect, like the Composition Book as a tie to a collective past. But the problem bearing the capital “P” seems to be a penchant for distraction that we share these days. Avoiding facing mortality, our finances, growing up or putting nose to the grindstone represents a nice smattering across social and economic situations. The show promises no solutions, but raises especially relatable questions and we can ask no more of it than this.
Society makes many wildly varying demands on art, stipulating that it “act as a hammer” or “disturb the comfortable” or match the sofa, according to different paradigms and philosophies. To be considered in art’s to-do list is courageous vulnerability on the part of the artist. In assessing just what is worthwhile about contemporary art, this reviewer must suggest that it is the ability to communicate by using one’s own fears and insecurities as a conduit to the audience’s understanding. “Grown Ass Kids” steps up to this double-dog dare with a childlike sense of daring.
Correction: The article originally listed John Isiah Washington as one of the artists featured in the show. The artist's name is John Isiah Walton, and the article was corrected on April 15 at 12:30 p.m..