max c fields



The Color of Love
Peggy Ahwesh, Julia Brown, and Skylar Fein

My Friend, Paris, TX
Opening October 13, 7PM; RSVP + invitation only
October 13 – November 10, 2018 by appointment

Tired, weather-worn, and dehydrated, he collapses on the floor of a dusty West Texas dive bar. When he regains consciousness, he’s lying on an examination table in a dingy, makeshift clinic. Through glassy eyes he stares at the ceiling. A doctor with an Austrian accent enters the room and introduces himself . . .

You know which side of the border you're on?
You got a name part?
I guess something must have cut your tongue out.
Either that or... you got something to hide.[1]

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city of Paris, Texas, a railroad-town located 100 miles northeast of Dallas, garnered national attention for its spectacular displays of racial violence. Once known for its thriving industry, rich agricultural resources, and growing population, headlines in newspapers from cities as far away as Chicago and New York denounced Paris for its horrific crimes. With the town’s sins exposed and its New South reputation in tatters, the working population began to drop and outside investment in Paris’ economy dwindled as capitalists deferred their stock to towns unmarred by the national press.

In 1916, more than 1400 buildings were destroyed in a fire that consumed Paris’ city center, reducing its recognizable architecture to little more than burning debris and rubble. Although the devastation to the landscape was immense, the city’s most prominent businessmen saw opportunity in the ash. For them, the fire offered a chance to rebrand the city, to obscure the brutal histories that tarnished the town’s image, and to salvage its commercial assets. Two days after the last fire was extinguished, the town began to rebuild.[2] Over the next century, the town underwent extensive infrastructural development, burying its charred ruins and troubled historical legacies to build a new, more amiable identity, one that conjures associations akin to those of its adopted namesake: Paris, the city of love.

Presented in a 1930s-era apartment located in the heart of Paris, Texas, The Color of Love explores narratives of historical erasure that are shared by cities and towns that dot the Southern U.S. The exhibition considers works by artists who explore relationships between place and power, representation, and the construction and reconstruction of historical memory within the context of a vast cultural archive. Found materials serve as the catalyst for each artist’s research, becoming foundational to works in which histories are exposed, alternatives are imagined, and established narratives are challenged. In presenting these materials – a discarded stag film, an unspecified photograph of a wade-in protest, and a series of promotional matchbooks – outside of their originary contexts, the artists propose not simply a rereading of the past, but do so during a moment wherein political silencing, cultural suppression, and revisionist historicizing are key issues in contemporary political debates. The artists suggest ways in which meditations on material sources can reveal deeply hidden secrets while offering methods through which to recognize conditions of oppression without hindsight.

Composed using a reel of decaying 8mm film, found in a discarded box of rusty film reels, Peggy Ahwesh’s work, The Color of Love (1994), presents a reedited version of a 1960s pornographic film. As two women perform vampiric acts and sexual rituals over an inert male actor, a lush display of reds, greens, and magentas dance around the frame, at once embellishing and obscuring the spectacle beneath the deteriorating emulsion with beautiful patterns. Violence, eroticism, and death intrinsic to the found film are camouflaged in the process, not only frustrating the subject-object relationship between the actors and assumed male viewer, but also placing the material of the performers, their bodies, in direct contact with the material of the film itself.

The Swim (2013) by Julia Brown is comprised of a series of images found in the Florida State Archives that document a beach desegregation protest held in the summer of 1964 in St. Augustine, Florida. Presented as a black and white photographic test-strip, the digitally printed image depicts a wade-in event wherein black protesters, dressed in beach attire, stand arms akimbo in opposition to a wall of white, segregationist counter-protestors. Brown’s use of the test strip, a method used in darkroom processing to determine a correct exposure and accurate representation of tonality, challenges notions of photographic neutrality, demonstrating the means through which visibility is mediated. As a series of photographically reproduced index cards, featuring the artist’s handwritten research on the St. Augustine wade-in event, the Construction Series (2013) extends the artist’s interest in the effects of mediation on historic documentation. With each subsequent index card it becomes increasingly apparent that the research presented is incomplete and perhaps inaccessible.

The advertisements that appear on the face of Skylar Fein’s magnified matchbook paintings (2014-16) reflect the simultaneous expansion of American industry and consumer culture throughout the 20th century and the neighborhood jaunts and underground venues that cropped up in their wake to serve as relief and respite from the developing homogenous popular culture. Corporations that defined the American cultural and commercial landscape, such as Bell Systems and Pepsi, are juxtaposed with now defunct local businesses that were critical to the development of counter-culture and queer communities. Together, these matchbooks form an unlikely cultural archive out of seemingly quotidian Americana and create a cartography of alternative histories, some erased and long since forgotten.

The Color of Love is hosted by John Forse and Melinda Laszczynski, directors of My Friend, a pop-up gallery located in Paris, Texas. This exhibition is made possible with the support of the artists and Skylar Fein’s gallery, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans.

To make an appointment to view the exhibition or to RSVP to the opening reception, please contact Max Fields at 832 863 6688 or by email at maxcfields@gmail.com.

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[1] Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders, performed by Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, and Dean Stockwell, Road Movies Filmproduktion, 1984, film.

[2] Brandon Jett, “Paris is Burning: Lynching and Racial Violence in Lamar County, 1890-1920,” East Texas Historical Journal 51, no. 2 (2013): 40-65.