William Pope.L

The Long White Cloud

03 August 2013 - 20 October 2013

Te Tuhi is proud to produce a major new project by prominent Chicago-based artist William Pope.L. Hailed by Frieze Magazine as a 'neo-Dadaist agent provocateur', Pope.L creates politically charged and bleakly absurd work that troubles the themes of sex, language, race and beauty. His practice spans a wide range of media from painting and sculpture to performance works that intervene into public space or the theatre context. An important influence throughout Pope.L's practice have been situations of uncertainty and contradiction from his life experiences. He explains: 

I'm suspicious of things that make easy sense ... whereas contradiction does make sense to me. When I was able to accept that something could be true, and not true, I felt at home. This feeling felt threatening yet familiar. For example, one of the hardest paradigms is that your family can hurt you, and love you at the same time. How can that be possible? ... but being able to accept that contradiction at this level has been a guiding principle for me; it's not an answer, it's a positioning that's always unstable.[1]

Pope.L has exhibited internationally in Japan, U.K., Senegal, Germany, France and extensively throughout the U.S. including the Whitney, MoMA, The Art Institute of Chicago and has been the recipient of many high profile awards such as the Guggenheim Fellowship. In his recent exhibition Forlesen at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, Pope.L installed an immersive multimedia installation that investigated the demarcation of racial difference through fictional references, pornography and acrid decaying skin like substances. Artforum's Julia Langbein described the work as a 'riddle-like assortment of objects [that] inhabits the space differently as the show ages ... its acid waft, like some mysterious breath, animates the space between the objects in the gallery, but with no hint of secure identity.'

For Te Tuhi, Pope.L creates a format-performance accommodating a type of play existing in competing versions: live, recorded and edited. Through these different formats an uncertain drama unfolds that acts out difficult family relationships as a microcosm of larger societal dysfunctions. Overall, the work is informed by a series of interrelated enquiries including an attempt to find solidarity between the national and the individual, a search for clarity in a 'post-race' culture as it supposedly exists in the U.S. and New Zealand today, to question what is such a culture and what does it feel like? It also explores the impossibility of truly connecting to another's situation or history.

That said, at the moment of writing this exhibition text the work is far from being realised and therefore it would be misleading to define what it is or isn't. For as a project in the throes of becoming it is also undoing itself through the meta-complexities of melding two connected but vastly different geo-political conditions. As Pope.L shares:

So this history we want to make, this play, this song of in-betweenness will be about not knowing who we are and using the mask of, let's say for example the history of the U.S. or Aotearoa or my father or your mother or some fictional hybrid character made of bits of your mom, Māori culture and southern American black culture - this mask could be true and based on supportable evidence but if I use this mask to hide my face then there's that - isn't it?[2]

Curated by Bruce E. Phillips


[1] Martha Wilson. BOMB 55/Spring 1996. http://bombsite.com/issues/55/articles/1957

[2] Personal communication, March 27, 2013

https://frieze.com/article/aint-no-such-thing-superman