Fusebox Festival at MASS Gallery
April 23 - May 2
by Lee Webster
Video Still from Keys to Our Heart, 2008
Courtesy the artist and Taxter & Spengemann, New York
Grab a paper fan and fix a tall glass of lemonade, for Kalup Linzy spins a sordid story. One of his latest, The Keys to Our Heart (2008), is as pretty as a Hollywood classic, told with the conviction of a Lifetime movie, and the moral voice of a Harlequin novel. Linzy pulls from all these genres in this half hour video work, for a tale that is one part social critique to two parts sound and fury.
Linzy has made a name for himself as the one man production house behind the epic and episodic works All my Churen and da Young and da Mess. Linzy’s brand of video art combines a deep investment in the art of narrative storytelling with the glorious bastardization of all its conventions. With titles twisted from daytime television, much of Linzy’s previous work parodies the TV dramas of the white, affluent and troubled. Linzy’s stories follow the lives of the Southern, black, and equally troubled. Plots take a turn for the worst and characters border on fulfilling uneasy stereotypes, but Linzy keeps it light. Linzy’s work passes censors of decorum and slips into the institutions of an art world that is normally loathe to be reminded of systemic racism and poverty, due in no small part to his sense of comedic timing. His videos are biting, but they’re also funny as hell.
Created for this winter’s Prospect.1 in New Orleans, Linzy locates The Keys to Our Heart in the vague past of the Crescent City, sometime after World Way II and before women’s lib. The look is more polished than Linzy’s soap stories, shot on video in high-contrast black and white, mostly against the plain interior walls of apartments with vintage detail and the austere exteriors of the courtyards outside. Here Linzy weaves a parable from the lives of four friends in an entangled love quadrangle. Linzy himself plays the puppet mistress who uses the guise of a consoling confidant to end her best friend’s romance and provoke the ex-beau into a new tryst. All characters of the fairer sex are vocally resigned to their archetypes in this twisted morality play: the Princess, the Queen and the Sweetheart, or alternately the Bitch, the Queen Bitch, and the Hoe. And the gentleman? A low down dog.
The satire in The Keys to Our Heart is clearly there, as it hits you like a theatrical slap to the face. Gender and racial stereotypes are its aim, but the significance is convoluted along with the love affair. Linzy’s work begins to reveal that contemporary stereotypes follow the old archetypes of black and white femininity But Linzy resurrects these ghosts only to seal them to their fates; they never have a chance to challenge fully our social memory and stereotypes. And so he’ll have us waiting anxiously for the next episode…
Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.