Born 1972 in Los Angeles, California; lives in Los Angeles, California
Probing strikingly incongruent sets of data for patterns of a≈nity, Edgar Arceneaux’s conceptual program uncovers meaning in unexpected adjacencies and sees beauty in tangential leaps. The artist’s practice takes advantage not only of his intellectual restlessness but also his wide-ranging technical adroitness, a mix of multidisciplinary skills—including drawing, photography, sculpture, and filmmaking—that figure into the unorthodox installation scenarios he has developed and refined over the last decade.
Arceneaux’s early work often grew first and foremost from the act of rendering—his Drawings of Removal, an ongoing multivenue performance/production project begun in 1999 and first seen in New York in 2002 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, filled the different galleries where it was executed with dozens upon dozens of drawings directly on the walls of the gallery. Working in the exhibition space as a live studio, he repeatedly made, erased, redrew, scored, cut up, and reassembled the pencil on paper and velum images in a process designed to both mimic and provoke the mechanics of recollection. From early projects like this, Arceneaux’s explorations have only increased in breadth and complexity. Cosmologies, both personal and scientific, are often woven into each other: in 2004’s Borrowed Sun, for example, Arceneaux created an intertwined meditation on three major cultural figures—astronomer Galileo, musician Sun Ra, and artist Sol LeWitt—that read the trio’s respective astronomical/religious, musical/ racial, and conceptual/perceptual systems against one another, teasing out surprising consonances between them via gorgeous charcoal drawings, sculptural elements like glass disks and a Minimalist wall of cinder blocks, and both 35mm slide and 16mm film projections.
Another of Arceneaux’s recent large-scale projects is similarly representative of his exploration of the potential relationships between what at first might seem to be unlikely topics. His 2006 installation piece The Alchemy of Comedy . . . Stupid features the actor David Alan Grier working out an introspective and frequently awkward comedy routine before a number of different audiences in a variety of venues. Shot under various lighting and compositional conditions, the resulting videos are presented on separate screens in the gallery (amid drawings and works on paper) in a complex geometrical array whose arrangement and palette turn out to be based on classic alchemical processes. The alchemists, Arceneaux recently noted, believed that their practice brought about changes not just in the objects of their experiments, but in the experimenters themselves; it is an observation that lies at the heart of both the work of the comedian and, in Arceneaux’s transfigurative practice, the artist as well. JEFFREY KASTNER
Edgar Arceneaux, The Alchemy of Comedy….Stupid, 2006. Nine channel video installation: four projections, five 36 in. (91.4 cm) flatscreen monitors, cardboard, and wood, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist