David Alekhuogie Them Boys

Aaron Horst studies the American artist’s model butts and photographs of low-hanging pants

By Aaron Horst

Them Boys, 2017 (installation view). Photo: Brica Wilcox. Courtesy the artist and Skibum MacArthur, Los Angeles

Skibum MacArthur, Los Angeles, 8 September – 21 October

David Alekhuogie’s show is full of butts – concrete butts to be exact, cast from mannequin hip busts used to model underwear (Altered States series, all works 2017). Alekhuogie reconfigures these forms first materially, from plastic to concrete, then usefully, as vases, casting copper pipes into each to hold water and the stems of various flora. A dutifully abstracted mannequin allows the projection of oneself into the garment modelled. In the case of underwear, we are meant to picture our own butts, clad in cotton and elastic. Alekhuogie’s butts, however, are ideal to the point of inspiring neurotic waves of inadequacy – on closer inspection, this oh-so-perfect butt appears to be flexed, slightly. In concrete, it is ensured a proud defiance of gravity for some time to come.

The question of why one might experience in a gallery that for which a department store will generally suffice goes unanswered. But Alekhuogie takes us further down the aisles in his Pull-Up series: close-cropped, highly detailed photographs of the low-slung, saggy-pants style of revealing layered jeans, gym shorts and underwear that has become one of the cyclical consternations in American culture. Recall President Obama’s famous remark, cited in the press release, that ‘brothers should pull up their pants’. That low-slung pants associate one with a certain swagger (further accentuated in the revelation of favoured brand labels) lacks the unremarkable associations of, say, a blouse. That is, rather than being an ordinary index of personal expression, the clothing choices of young men of colour quickly become cultural fodder for handwringing, often wildly misinformed discussions about violence, gang culture, hedonism and what-have-you.

Alekhuogie offsets these loaded associations with two Epson ink-tinted cyanotype series: Nikes and Athlete. The former serialises an image of drapery, the latter that of a cropped classical torso of a male athlete. The colour throughout is strikingly artificial, luminous in spots and dulled by absorption in others (all are printed on watercolour paper). The Pull-Up series zeroes in on the tactility of fabric. The pieces are cropped to the point of abstraction, with each swath of fabric crossing the picture plane in a catenary slump, nary a bodily contour in sight. The involuntary ruching of elastic-banded gym shorts works like an undulating wave across a trio of low-mounted prints, Pull-Up B/B/B, Pull-Up W/O/B/G and Pull-Up R/B/W. In two works, Pull-Up W/O/B and Pull-Up R/R, the sensuality of the absent body fills the frame by implication – time and movement implied in each work’s vaporous multiple exposures. Another brand logo, and, funnily enough, a belt, show through the haze of R/R.

The American cultural need to comment on, ‘correct’, or capitalise upon the clothing choices of young people of colour points in its own way to idealised masculinity as much as Ancient Greek statues – only, in contemporary times mannequins are repositories of the ideal rather than statuary: the serial mould occupying the space of the original. The appeal, and repulsion, of saggy pants in the American psyche rests on the presumption of young men of colour as dangerous in some essential way – a deep-seated racial caricature that first presumes, then glamorises the ‘exotic’. Alekhuogie’s work here demonstrates – particularly through the language of advertising – more than it contemplates the ever-finer line between disgust and allure.

From the December 2017 issue of ArtReview