CONTEMPORARY issue 78
LOS ANGELES: TELIC GALLERY
DAVIS & DAVIS
l6 April - 20 May 2005
In 1 Year Later (2005) husband-and-wife team Davis & Davis unravel the process by which cultural narratives are built, demonstrating the looseness and literalness of their spontaneous associations. Pulling together elements as willfully diverse as Robert Frank, the shortage of parking in Los Angeles, Johnny Cash and the possibility of alien life, Davis & Davis propose a parallel universe of uncanny coincidence and conspiracy theories only partially hinged to our own.
Taking the form of a large-scale multi-media installation, the premise for 1 Year Later begins with a familiar urban predicament: the shortage of parking. Conceived as a collapsible car designed to reserve a parking space, the piece works its way back to Robert Frank's photograph, Covered Car, Long Beach, CA (1956). Plunging into the milieu of the iconic image and ferreting out its possible associations - the covered Cadillac of the photograph leads to the mythic, Cadillac-driving alien investigators of Men in Black, and then onward to Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, who also famously drove a Cadillac - Davis & Davis have created a three-dimensional rendering of Frank's photograph. This compound of associations features a collapsible Cadillac sculpture driven by a trio of shadowy cut-out silhouettes chanting the Man in Black's 1957 song Cry, Cry, Cry.
1 Year Later is, in a sense, an exercise in the construction of conspiracy theory and the language of inexplicable connections. One of the pleasures of the installation is the rapid-fire brilliance of its offhand associations and the assured wit of its knowing absurdities. Intuitively tracing out the cultural narratives of the American mid-century, it rereads social research and documentation through the narrative of laterality and floating motif. Beyond that, its core lies in the deft communication of the anarchic playfulness that edges round paranoia, even as it simultaneously asserts the genuine viability of that paranoia, a duality memorably captured by Thomas Pynchon in his California-based novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1965).
Like Pynchon, Davis & Davis create a world of equal parts menace and humour, alienating and uncomfortably familiar. They also communicate the literalness of linguistic slippage, such as that between Men in Black and Man in Black. The motif of the collapsible car quickly grows into something like an overarching metaphor for the dubious tenability of all constructions of meaning (tellingly, another great American novel of conspiracy, Don DeLillo's White Noise (1985) is similarly wrapped up in the collapse of linguistic meaning).
Finally, the work emphasizes the manner in which both conspiracy and culture function: by the association of the disassociated, and the compulsive creation of narrative for its own sake. But it also underscores the rapidity with which that narrative can be dismantled, altered, moved and restored. It is, in a sense, a work about mobility. It thus seems crucial to note that the covered car of 1 Year Later initially addresses a problem very much rooted in the American present, before stretching backwards into the past - and that the final implications of the work may in fact be firmly lodged in the unfolding of our own contemporary state.Katie Kitamura