IF YOU BUILD IT WE WILL BURN IT
Through Sept. 26
The first impression one receives upon entering Jerstin Crosby's new show at Lump Gallery is that a maze has been constructed in the gallery space, a labyrinth of black, painted two by fours, a bare infrastructure dividing the space. It's a conflicting image of barriers and empty space, a paradox in the form of a social experiment: Which of the gallery's visitors will choose to pass through the empty spaces between the bars, and which will move only through the space that has been delineated by door frames and walkways?
Small industrial lights illuminate two separate areas, highlighting those spots as focal points, as if they were zones to be memorialized like the makeshift altars that appear in locations where people have died. Indeed, the title of this, one of two Crosby installations on view here, is "La Jolla Crossroads."
At the far end of the installation, the words "IF YOU BUILD IT WE WILL BURN IT" are spray painted in hot pink on the gallery wall. The phrase is a conflation of punk anarchy and dialogue appropriated from the 1989 film Field of Dreams. I learned after seeing the show that it's also a slogan from a banner left by an extremist environmentalist group called the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) in 2003 when it burned down a condo complex in San Diego.
Crosby cites recent installations by Michael Asher and William Cordova as influences for this work. He lists a multiplicity of references in the gallery notes, including vegetarianism, '80s sitcoms, TV commercials, local news shows, subversive counter cultures and medieval Flemish tapestries. He also lists "environmental extremism," and points out that this installation references "a one-bedroom apartment that was burned to the ground," but nowhere does he mention the ELF. This is a notable omission. Crosby's two installations on view at Lump are described in the notes as being interrelated, and armed with the overt, even literal associations to the ELF, the works are easily parsed. Crosby's decision to limit the viewer's access to key source material is both puzzling and intriguing.
Lump's back room houses Crosby's second installation, "Visual Representation of Invisible Processes." The space has been configured as a kind of semi-public lounge, such as one you might find in a college dormitory, the centerpiece of which is a small television that plays an endless loop of short homemade videos. The videos include a "telepathic newscast," a hallucinatory send-up of an Alf episode and a stoner's fantasy Tofutti commercial. A strip of tie-dyed cloth and a pillow are flopped in front of the TV, giving off a misleading air of casual ambience. In fact, the installation is a highly controlled idea-sculpture filled with objects that obsessively reinforce a set of interrelated messages. Rather than coming across as being of deep personal importance to Crosby, these messages scan as having been curated by the artist, chosen much the way a painter might choose colors. Again, once the ELF concept is added to the equation, Crosby's thematic palette, which includes animal rights (particularly those of cats), veganism, marijuana, cult groups, anarchy, elves, television, aliens and the '80s TV show Alf, can be filed neatly under the auspices of the ELF.
"Visual Representation of Invisible Processes" contains several discrete works. "Community News and Events #2" is a utilitarian bulletin board behind glass that contains handmade flyers and advertisements hawking such things as a contest to create an antidrug poster (third prize is "$5 worth of pot"), a house for rent (no windows), a "Pork Outlet Mall," and a "real awesome looking survival knife" that's been lost. A graphic symbol, that of a raised paw and fist, is repeated on various sheets, including one with blank take-away tabs, several of which have been removed. "Kinetic Power" is a loose macramé; hanging from it is a medley of empty vegan food containers overlaid with collaged images of violence and aggression. "Untitled (Spiral Jetty with Trail Mix)" is an outsized Xerox of Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" adorned with glued-on ceramic nuts and raisins. Crosby's objects cast the artist as a filtering entity who processes an overload of personal, social, political and cultural data and produces composite objects whose meanings are the inevitable residue of that filtering system.
Paradoxes appear, even in apparently off-handed gestures, throughout Crosby's work. A "No Trespassing" sign is stashed behind the TV set. This is a complex statement. To include (but not post) a "No Trespassing" sign is not precisely the same as saying people are invited to trespass, nor does it suggest that they are welcome. Crosby has taken a symbol of ownership and authority and placed it outside the sphere of public purview and egress. The inherent authority of the sign has been undermined in the act of putting it aside. What's on display is a destabilization of power. This impulse, of co-opting and reconfiguring images and constructs of power, is at the core of both installations. Appropriating and reworking pieces by other artists (Asher, Cordova, Smithson, Calder), simulating an enclosed community bulletin board and its controlled dissemination of information, rebuilding television in the artist's own image—these are ways in which to dismantle existing power structures. Crosby's displacement of the "No Trespassing" sign parallels his displacement of the ELF, allowing these components of the work to be both there and not there at the same time.
At the entryway to Crosby's second installation is a ledge that holds a PEZ dispenser with an elf's head next to a cigarette lighter. A hemp string attached to the elf's head curls around to meet the tip of the lighter, transforming these two banal found objects into a hilarious fiction—an incendiary device jerry-rigged by some kind of candy-ass terrorist. It's smart to have placed this piece at the entry to the installation. This diminutive sculptural gesture embodies the entirety of Crosby's project, one that initially gives off a laid-back, "whatever" vibe but beneath its surface is ready to explode with thematic density.