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Migrant Files


ACRE Projects, 1913 W 17th Street

Feb. 8 – March 2, 2015


Artists: Austen Broun, Billy McGuinness, Jaxon Pallas

Curator: Ruslana Lichtzier



The show brings together three independent cases of politically conscious art practices that bounce off modernistic material sensibilities, or rather, work with them as a disguise. This material echo not only beguiles the viewer to appreciate the full scale of the exhibited gestures, but also maneuvers and forces a recognition of a generally ignored, acute social problem. The exhibited works display the forced mobility to which the lower classes of both the American and the global society are predestined.

Austen Broun focuses on migratory labor movements and their relation to the extraction practices of natural resources in the oil fields of North Dakota. His project, titled “Roustabout,” highlights the cycle of commerce and labor, where, at the same time as oil and the profit it carries are being transported out of the land, the laborers responsible for the extraction are transported into the land. As the story usually goes, the generated profits are not shared with the laborers themselves, who are, in fact, confronted with short-term contracts that prevent them from moving upwards. Trapped on discarded land, in mobile homes, they retain the class level they had hoped to leave behind.

Billy McGuinness presents three monochromatic canvases, in them, earthy tones play into elegant, abstract compositions. The works, which seem to behave like paintings, orient the viewer to read them through high-modernistic lenses, only to be unfolded as the complete opposite. The canvases exhibited in Migrant Files were "produced" on the floors of a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter and an “interlock” at the Cook County Jail. The earthy tones are marks of footsteps, and other impromptu traces of unseen, or rather, overlooked human traffic. Unintentional, and yet specific, they document links in the tight circuit of hunger, poverty and incarceration.

Jaxon Pallas covers the gallery’s windows with the July 4, 1976 Detroit News that features the bicentennial celebration of American independence; a two-fold site-specific intervention. Simulating the aesthetics of abandonment, or rather, putting the gallery out of business, Pallas attempts to kill off the inherent separation of the art space from everyday life, a second layer being activated by the specificity of the 1976 Detroit News, which pits the celebration of the all- mighty America against stories that document the day-to-day struggle of the average

American. Analogous to today’s situation, these two perspectives, can ideologically exist only parallel to each other, but yet are presented on one continuous platform. Continuing this discussion, Pallas exhibits several print-works that manifest this history of American exceptionalism.



What appears at first, in this show, as three monolithic male statements, unfolds instead as politically engaged practices which hold an affinity to social practices and, that, in a side effect, redefine the modernistic standard and guidelines of male artists.



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