Nostalgia is often described as the sweetness of remembering, or a wistful sense of yearning tied to memory, predicated upon a specific period of time that has since passed. What is it then, to examine a period of time and experience all the ways in which it brings you up short – to feel how things, places and events you have never taken part in catch in your throat – and trace eerily parallel lines to an endless barrage of tweets, atrocities and everyday calamities taking place apace with your own existence? It is this sense of disconnected, haunting and historic wonder that informs “20th Century”, a new body of work and exhibit by Curtis A. Guy, on view now at Sugar City Art Gallery.
Guy’s work is culled from found items, including images excerpted from books examining the twentieth century, with a navel-gazing lack of distance highlighting celebrity, warfare, sports and popular culture writ large. These images, supplemented with the artist’s own free-wheeling waves produced by Muji .38mm pens, are then sliced and excerpted from their source material and re-appropriated into flat, white visual fields. Certain images and leitmotifs stand within the frame on the force of their own iconographic weight; the explosion of the Hindenburg, Audrey Hepburn, the V-J Day kiss from Time’s Square in New York, while other images are collaged and juxtaposed (i.e., the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima against a phalanx of troops marching through the streets of Paris) to speak to wider themes of death, disaster, decay and dispossession.
What is not immediately evident upon examining the body of work within “20th Century” is how the artist has truly constructed everything that is present. Not only are the images appropriated and deployed within undulating Muji-penned waves, but even the matting, framing and glass which comprise each piece are appropriated and reconstituted materials. This speaks to the painstaking work undertaken by Guy to not only highlight themes of the twentieth century, but to illustrate how our visual history is self-built, and constructed from our consistent parts. Agreed upon and hammered together, they form a visual harmony, while uneven, is still whole.
Time – be it a flat circle, a long curve, or an arc which bends toward justice – invariably repeats. The exhibit places this heretofore agreed upon lexicography of the past under the microscope of the present and teases out often unnerving parallels. By questioning the index of our past, and holding them up to the flashpoints of the early twenty-first century, the viewer is forced to question how fixed these images and spots within history really are if they are only bound to repeat.
Sugar City Art Gallery is located at 1239 Niagara Street, Buffalo, New York. “20th Century” is on view now through January 27th, 2018, with Gallery Hours every Friday from 5:30-7:30, or open by appointment and during events.