‘You Might Be Any Shape’ at CAC

Balmore Ruano | New University

With every new academic year comes new introductions, new instances of connecting face and name. The exhibit titled “With a Name Like Yours, You Might Be Any Shape” in the Contemporary Arts Center at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts plays with this notion.

The gallery uses artwork spanning over 20 years to upend the notions of authorship. It asks, “What if this referent — the name — were altered, changed or twisted?” The exhibit does just that — scrambling our concept of the name and the identity that it brings to mind.

The gallery alternated between untouched and obviously touched pieces, such as still snapshots, shifting videos and slideshows along its long white walls.

At first glance, it is hard to find any names for the people in the artwork. For example, on one wall hangs a collection of driver’s licenses.

They all read “George Marshall,” but the faces range from male to female, and only two portraits look anything alike. The last license is placed on the reverse, with the nondescript back of the card facing into the room.

And of course, this is no mistake. It’s a great way to add in that final tweak. With the indispensible use of the driver’s licenses, especially considering their relveevance in a college environment, it’s pretty brilliant.

The first piece that caught my eye and ear was the video of palm-reading titled “dark.reading” (2004/2005) created by Hina Berau and Judith Fischer. I walked into the thankfully air-conditioned room and saw the reader’s hands and the participant’s hand, and heard their two voices. It’s amazing to think the reader knows her client’s identity, past, present and future from some folds of skin on her palm. The point is that the face isn’t even needed.

The scene seems disembodied, even though a part of the body is there and represents the whole of a person’s life. The effect is a conscious effort, a way to “ward off a conventional narration … and remain a potentiality.” Believers and non-believers aside, it’s an interesting way to welcome visitors into the gallery with a spiritual version of identification.

However, I’m more of a skeptic with fortune telling, and the piece was too figurative. Something visceral and immediate was missing.

The back of the gallery showcased the “Story of Roee Ronen” (2008) created by Roee Ronen. Loud rock music blared throughout the video, which doesn’t shy away from sweat, saliva and spit as the band it features lets loose. The film cuts this footage with contrasting scenes of very different kinds of women. A restrained classical quartet plays and two older women silently and awkwardly perform arm motions behind a clean, white desk piled with books.

The film ends with one of the musicians graphically licking the desk. And then resumes with a view of one of the older women. She speaks a really slow, controlled Hebrew that was somehow annoying to my ears. The woman reads from a teleprompter a gory story of war, perversion and reconstruction of her own self. She talks about the way she “sees through … the [transparent] earth” up through “the rubble, the dog shit, and to the sky.” Image and substance apparently don’t mean much.

The installation tests identity by using others to portray Roee Ronen, who stands behind the teleprompter. Two women stand in for one man, and their language is subverted for the man’s native tongue. At one point, there was too much graphic detail for my liking and I decided to leave.

It left me realizing how quick I was to assume what I saw was spoken from the body of the author. I think I knew something was up, that the language was not a part of the person.

My reaction proved that titles and the language we humans express them in don’t always correlate exactly with the “proper” image. Actually, perhaps it shouldn’t be such a straight game all the time. I say the mission of the gallery was accomplished.