Edgar Arceneaux has been acclaimed for his multidisciplinary practice ever since graduating from LA’s California Institute of the Arts, in 2001, with solo exhibitions at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and inclusion in both the California and Whitney biennials last year.
Taking in various media, from painting to sculpture and video, Arceneaux’s work examines cultural and personal memory, highlighting moments of alignment – and discord – between the two. For his ongoing series Drawings of Removal (1999–), which he first staged at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem in 2002, the artist anatomised a trip he took with his father to his father’s hometown, Beaumont, Texas. The town had naturally changed since his father had last seen it, 40 years earlier, but as Arcenaux discovered, so had his father’s memories of it. The graphite drawings that resulted from the trip imitated his father’s unstable recollections with faint, quasi-architectural renderings that Arceneaux proceeded to erase and redraw during the show.
The variability of memory – both private and public – is further explored in his new work Is This Change Meaningful? Benazir Bhutto in Negative and Positive Dilations I (2009), shown recently at London’s Albion gallery. For this, the artist took an image of Bhutto just before her assassination and reduced it until it was just a dot; he also blew up the image to the point where it became not only unrecognisable but also filled entire gallery walls. The attempt to get into the very stuff of the image, its component pixels and particles, and therefore meaning, ultimately yields nothing, no elucidation of the event – what we see bears no relation to Bhutto and rather resembles a giant Rorschach test. As with Drawings of Removal, this new work shows removal and incomprehensibility are the results of too closely examining a moment from the past. It remains murky, a fact further underlined by Arcenaux’s choice of materials for the work – graphite and dirt.
This article was first published in the March 2009 issue.