Martina Onyemaechi Crouch-Anyarogbu (MOCA)

 

 

 

ARTIST STATEMENT

My practice stems from an awareness of the legacies of conceptual, identity-based, and ethnographic art, in which I combine material strategies in a way that questions the basic nature of all three. I tend to use video, performance, and installation to create observational and critical distance for viewers; in some instances, I implicate them as participants. My practice reflects on both specific material manifestations of self and larger group identity or belonging, but my main critical purpose is to deconstruct the various social classifications and cultural expectations that have accumulated power over time through simple, scalable repetition. If we can acknowledge meaningful categories of historical being and contemporary experience (such as race, class, or gender) as adaptable constructions, facilitating the movement of power and entrenching its hierarchies within society, then my critical purpose as an artist revolves around reminding people that these categories of being are actually reinforced habits, targeted practices — conventions which can be reconsidered, usurped, and angled to produce different outcomes. My practice stems from an awareness of the legacies of conceptual, identity-based, and ethnographic art, in which I combine material strategies in a way that questions the basic nature of all three. I tend to use video, performance, and installation to create observational and critical distance for viewers; in some instances, I implicate them as participants. My practice reflects on both specific material manifestations of self and larger group identity or belonging, but my main critical purpose is to deconstruct the various social classifications and cultural expectations that have accumulated power over time through simple, scalable repetition. If we can acknowledge meaningful categories of historical being and contemporary experience (such as race, class, or gender) as adaptable constructions, facilitating the movement of power and entrenching its hierarchies within society, then my critical purpose as an artist revolves around reminding people that these categories of being are actually reinforced habits, targeted practices — conventions which can be reconsidered, usurped, and angled to produce different outcomes.
My earlier works were concerned with how various publics voice political desire, commemorate and build solidarity around events, and exercise agency in relation to each other. In a piece called roadside memorial, I erected a public memorial to no one in particular and watched as a profile emerged from the artifacts passerby began to leave at the site. In a piece called interactive protest, I took a broader approach, making use of proxy protestors to amplify a rotating cast of messages provided by the public. In re-enacting collective actions absent a rallying cry, subject, or social cue, I presented opportunities for spontaneous site-making and intervention, and opened a space for critical reflection on the tendencies of these modes of public address and involvement.

Expanding on my interest in the criteria for autonomous representation and group identity formation, as prescribed by racial or cultural membership, and as informed by different geographic contexts, I began conducting formal and psychological experiments in collective portraiture. In particular, I aimed to foster conditions for the simultaneous presence and interplay of multiple subjectivities in one place, or as limited by a single informational tool or representational mode. The berlin portraits series was produced during my time in a borough of the city with one of the largest immigrant populations (Neukölln), which necessitated the participation of strangers I encountered in places of public gathering: parks, cafes, public transportation, and other local venues. Through a months-long process of peer interviewing, visual research, and location scouting, I developed relationships with the participants and facilitated the production of a set of autobiographical sculptural assemblages, employing everything from personal effects and found objects to items sourced from thrift, secondhand stores, and flea markets. The sculptures were alternately disruptions of a public aesthetic sense, and singular assertions of self, cleverly camouflaged to maintain the coherence and logic of a public setting.

As a member of an experimental art collective invited to participate in the fourth Athens Biennial, I posed further challenges to the idea that one can achieve agentic and flexible self-representation through tools that limit, or politically precondition, the terms of visibility. I aggregated the fourteen page inter-nodal gnodic survey, lifting language from the United States national census bureau, consumer polls, employment surveys, background checks, demographic questionnaires, and popular quizzes online. I then disbursed the survey at a public kiosk in Omonoia Square in Athens. I structured the survey as a comment on itself, a meta-object with critical self-awareness: its actual purpose was to induce a cognitive distance from which participants could analyze the objectives and biases of certain methods of data collection.

Over the past few years, I’ve been making work that investigates the theorization and objectification of social difference, and the language we use to standardize, generalize, or cohere differential cultural meaning or value — mining problems of essentialism, classificatory breakdown and fixity, and sense-making tropes in the narrativizing of complex intersectional subjects. For Black hole, I converted a gallery into a blackbox theater, within which I arranged a multi-channel video and sculptural installation that sourced and generalized imagery from the iconographic and performative histories of the “African American experience.” One static sculpture, hip hop uniform, appears dancing and gesturing in a series of instrumental hip hop music videos, spliced into found footage of contemporary hip hop performers and programming schedules culled from the Black Entertainment Television (BET) channel. In another video, a semi-nude, painted performer climbs a tree and completes pull-up reps on a twin set of nooses, at times with a white assistant’s help. These characters are black composite beings — references outside of more didactic narratives, somehow truthfully located within an archive of racial representation, but operating in the capacity of a rhetorical device.

In D300 4.21.2016, I purchased and collected items online, and from discount, secondhand, and home supply stores around Los Angeles, and fabricated my own copies of similar items, at times indistinguishable from those I found. Grouping the objects as tableaus in the gallery space, I coded each item with a unique tri-color sticker label that corresponded to an indexical text description, all of which were compiled in a searchable card catalogue. The index texts  came from keyword search metadata for similar items online: I edited texts from search results and e-commerce platforms to recompose existing definitions. The internet itself acted as an almost universally-informed intermediary of social and economic descriptive possibilities. By co-opting the internal classificatory language the internet uses to describe itself and track its assets, I accelerated and individualized definitive meaning to the point of paradox and breakdown. The objects, estranged from marketable projections of lifestyle, affiliation, and utility, asked viewers to reconsider the aspirational psychology behind their own consumptive habits — or to look at meaning-making less as a a series of official outcomes and more as a continuous process of differentiation and hyper-specificity.

As a follow-up to this interrogation of authoritative explanatory frameworks, I made a set of nine new world flags (Flag Day at HRLA) employing the same color palettes and compositional strategies as those found in the flags of various post-colonial or historically contested countries; imitating museological didactic materials. I also made a placard bearing formulaic descriptions of the flags’ symbolic meanings, displayed as a wall piece. This project replicated an existing national practice in myth making and narrative control that involves generalizing a specific country’s history, political dynamics, and cultural or ethnic characteristics through a globally standardized, representational flag structure.

My most recent video works, discommercials, are three pieces from an ongoing series. The videos each run the duration of a typical commercial programming block and feature a template character who delivers his lines — slogans, pitches, and snatches of off-script rehearsal — in a conversational African American vernacular in front of a green screen, often to inconclusive ends. His color-blocked clothing and presentational style are modeled after the cartoon characters and mascots one can expect to see in a car or life insurance commercial, but he shirks his responsibilities as a commercial agent, pitching the product only in an approximate sense.