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Postcommodity Retools Mechanisms of Western Culture to Critique Itself at SMoCA

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Indigenous art collective Postcommodity's two installations currently on display at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art as part of its "southwestNET" series until April 26, 2015 transform idyllic imagery into a subversive spectacle, utilizing Western culture to critique itself. The Southwest-based interdisciplinary collective currently consists of Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist, and Nathan Young. What ties these two participatory installations together is the precarious nature of our interactions with the works.

Promoting a More Just, Verdant and Harmonious Resolution (2011) and Pollination (2015) each utilize the audience as a catalyst for dystopic destruction -- our movement within the space activates the piece. Our bodies are essentially invading the space, much like how Western modes of culture and capital invade the natural landscape and non-Western cultures. The problems that Postcommodity addresses are heavy and deeply ingrained in history and social constructs. Through speaking the language of Western culture and retooling it, the collective is raising these concerns in an ironic, humorous, and accessible way.

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Postcommodity have been working as a collective since 2007. Since its inception, various artists have been a part of the collective, challenging the myth of the autonomous artist. Over the past several years they have received numerous grants and have exhibited their work nationally and internationally. Although their work is heavily connected to the Southwest, they raise issues that are global in scale. Postcommodity seeks to destabilize the "colonizing force that is defining the 21st century," which includes imperialism and capitalism.

When thinking about Promoting a More Just, Verdant and Harmonious Resolution, it seems like the audience is the one in control. When entering the immersive video installation for the first time, we are naive to its perils. The scenes surrounding us are bees pollinating flowers, the sun reflecting in the ocean, people enjoying life. It's hard to avoid walking around the space to take it all in because it feels so peaceful and meditative.

Through the act of occupying this seemingly utopian space and walking through it, we are unknowingly enabling its destruction. Under the ground below our feet are randomized detonation triggers. Referencing the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and Iraq, these embedded sensors are activated by our movement. Our desire to be engulfed by these commercial stock images triggers a disruption in the installation, mimicking the widespread destruction in the Middle East caused by IEDs, along with other forms of destruction -- of nature, of non-Western cultures.

When a detonation is inevitably activated, samples of intergenerational pop songs fill the space with a boom. This explosion reduces the moving images lining the space to feedback. This disruption of time and space only lasts for seconds and the scene becomes the tranquil oasis it once was. The collective compares the installation to science fiction film Soylent Green. In the film, Sol Roth chooses the process of euthanasia consisting of a lethal drug coupled with a visual and musical montage displaying the bountiful life of nature. We too experience life and death, but in our case it's on loop -- always just beyond the horizon.

The way that Postcommodity positions Western culture against itself is both playfully subversive and clever. The purchased stock footage that may normally be used for advertising a product is retooled as a critique of capital itself. The cacophony of popular songs, which range from the Beatles to Bad Brains, turns sonic artifacts into indistinguishable noise. Everything that acts as a mechanism of culture, including ourselves, may also a mechanism of destruction.

Pollination, another installation by Postcommodity currently on display, deploys similar methodologies to offer a critique of Western culture. Like Promoting a More Just, Verdant and Harmonious Resolution, the idyllic beauty of nature is again on display and just as far out of reach. Nature is set in the venue of a pay-to-play peep show.

Through the exchange of capital (in this case, a coin received upon entering SMoCA) in dingy booths, we are offered a quick glimpse of a brightly lit room filled with plants and butterflies. In the booths we are shrouded in the bright light and surrounded by unattainable nature. The closest we get to something tangible is the smell of the plants.

Nature becomes a sexualized and othered body on display, powerless to the viewer. The piece points to the ways in which Western culture and its mechanisms have exploited the other and positions it in comparison to the exploitation of natural resources, such as water and land. Postcommodity is again proposing a dystopic possibility, one that could be written into Soylent Green.

The space itself, reminiscent of an adult video arcade, is automatically charged with sex. The entire installation is dimly lit with barbed wire surrounding the top of its walls. Outside of the individual booths is a wall dispenser of hand sanitizer, a paper towel dispenser and a cheap trash can with no bag in it. Each individual booth is equipped with a white plastic chair, a box of Kleenex for the climax, and its own trash can.

There's this seedy, yet enticing feeling when you enter, like you could be getting into something morally reprehensible. The normally privatized act of sex and voyeurism becomes public and communal within the walls of the museum. Through the windows you can see others projecting their gaze onto the scene in other booths. In combination with Postcommodity's elaborate staging, we are technically watching sex happen in witnessing the act of pollination. The installation subverts the Western gaze (an inherently male one, at that) and raises questions about desire and power.

"southwestNET: Postcommodity" is on view at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art from January 31, 2015, through April 26, 2015.

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