Until October 10th: Disfigurement in the Face of Illusion: The Detroit Riots, Michael Heizer and Drexciya

By BERLIN LOVES YOU . October 5, 2009


Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new work by Edgar Arceneaux in the Berlin gallery space. Based on an ongoing dialogue with author and historian Julian Myers, the exhibition is an investigation of subterranean Detroit. In a complex series of drawings, Arceneaux has developed a visual and linguistic constellation of contradictory yet interconnected historical events which orbit around Michael Heizer s seminal earthwork Dragged Mass Displacement, the buried basement at Clairmont and Rosa Parks Boulevard where the urban riots of Detroit in 1967 began, and Drexciya, a fictional underwater city in Lake Michigan imagined by two techno musicians and two artists in the early 1990s.

The name Drexciya refers to an imaginary subcontinent populated by water breathing mutants called Drexciyans. It is based on a mythology that links genetic mutation to recent breakthroughs in liquid oxygen technology and retracts both back to the Slave Trade. “…Pregnant America-bound African slaves were thrown overboard by the thousands during labor for being sick and disruptive cargo. Is it possible that they could have given birth at sea to babies that never needed air? Are Drexciyans water-breathing aquatically mutated descendents of those unfortunate victims of human greed? (Kodwo Eshun) The band Drexciya released their first LP in 1992. They composed their music using the TR-808 drum machine, an evolved instrument of pure sonic wave form that has no earthly equivalent. Drexciya refers to a place, to a mythological people, and to a sound that evolved by merging myth, nature and humanity into one technological self.

The Detroit Riots of 1967 were sparked by a police raid of a welcome home party for returning Vietnam war veterans where 82 people were arrested. Rumors of a riot were heard through the city for months before, as this was but one of seven major riots in the 60s and 70s in the United States and abroad.

Unlike previous works, Michael Heizer s Dragged Mass, was not installed in the desert but on the front lawn of the Detroit Institute of Art in 1971. The city officials of Detroit’s had decided to leave the scorched buildings standing after the upheaval of 1967, and these ruins became an affectual backdrop for Heizer s vision. He believed his 35 ton monolith (as object of fossilized geological time) could be performed in the confines of another monolith, the city. This new performance stood in stark contrast to the sublime beauty and desolation of the desert in the surreal reality of Detroit, desolation meant a constant reminder of desperation as well as isolation.

In Arceneaux’s opinion, the history of upheaval in Detroit rendered Heizer s work as a moral allegory that resulted in a violent public reaction to the work which led ultimately to its destruction by the museum itself. As Dragged Mass Displacement attempted to submerge, it met the chaos which extended from the subterranean basement. Through montage, Arceneaux is weaving together myths, political events, and historical facts into associative relationships, pointing to the multiplicity of meanings within a highly codified time and space of Detroit’s history.

Edgar Arceneaux has shown his drawings, sculptures, and installations in solo exhibitions at ArtPace, San Antonio, Texas; at the Kitchen, New York; at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; at the Witte de With Museum, Rotterdam; at Gallery 400, University of Illinois Chicago, Illinois; at the UCLA Hammer Museum; and at the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. Most recently, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and in the California Biennial 2008 , Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach. His collaboration with Charles Gaines, entitled “Snake River”, has been shown at the Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz, Austria, and at the REDCAT Gallery, Los Angeles. Arceneaux s work has been included in Code Share: 5 continents, 10 biennales, 20 artists , Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania; in Black Is, Black Ain t , The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; in the 2nd Moscow Biennale, Moscow, Russia, and in exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Art, Oslo, Bard College and the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Halle für Kunst e.V., Lüneburg; the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; in “Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970”, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, in “Quicksand”, de Appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and in Persoenliche Plaene , Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, among others.

Susanne Vielmetter Berlin Projects is located at Holzmarktstrasse 15/18 in Berlin Mitte. From the U/S train stop Jannowitzbrücke turn right and walk approximately 300 meters towards the Aral gas station. At the Aral gas station turn right towards the galleries which are located in the arched spaces underneath the rail road tracks. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday from 11 am – 6 pm.


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