“This is not a critique of America. It’s more of a critique of where we are in the world,” says Dallas Seitz. “We are in the Cold War all the time. Mutually assured destruction is everywhere – I know everything about my mother and she knows everything about me.”
These thoughts frame Seitz’s The American Story, an exhibition that sets out to dissect a number of American cultural and political symbols including missiles, Marilyn Monroe, meteorites, palm trees and telegraph poles. The artist’s personal iconography is manifest in the gallery in eight black and white photographs printed directly on to Perspex and hung like signs from the walls and ceiling. These are accompanied by a video and two sculptural works.
Each photograph is saturated with geographical politics, shot as they are in California, Arizona and the American-Mexican border towns of Yuma and Los Algodones. Missile and Age of Death (all works 2016), for instance, explicitly present the bleak beauty of the American desert in relation to sites of military research testing via found sculptural signifiers of aggression and power. Passage and Death Sign, meanwhile, highlight danger with a slightly different political nuance, as the very real risks of illegal border crossing continue to find terrible resonance on a global scale.
In another work more playfully titled Sigourney Weaver, a found meteorite is displayed beneath an acrylic sphere. It pulls together many of the exhibition’s key strands, for, as Seitz explains “Mexicans are aliens in the eyes of many Americans.” Political and geographical displacement can be found everywhere, from space debris to migrating peoples. Seitz is keen to note, too, that technologies developed for space travel – endeavours purported to support the eventual salvation of the planet – are, in fact, often covers for military weapon development. That Seitz’s works are devoid of people makes them all the more affective. A sense of detachment, however, moves the works away from any accusation of a voyeuristic standpoint toward an almost documentary perspective.
Sigourney Weaver, titled after the lead actress of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), neatly introduces The American Story’s other lead actress, for where would American visual culture be without Marilyn Monroe? Seitz approaches this through the dismantling of a 7.9m tourist-pleasing statue of Monroe made by Seward Johnson, sited in Palm Springs, which was taken down in 2014 for relocation. Monroe is shown in both the photograph, Deconstruction Legs, and in a video slide show with a pulsating musical score. The literal disassembly of the statue and the metaphorical disassembly of her body as symbol is problematic and compelling. It points, again, toward the portability, displacement and recontextualisation of cultural icons.
Such strange aspects of visual culture are further probed in Palm to Gods. The photograph presents a suburban country club cellphone tower that has been disguised as a Californian palm tree for aesthetic seamlessness. Paralleling the military cover stories, one object is re-presented as another in an attempt at political and social harmony. It is, like the best of Seitz’s works, darkly comic, uncomfortable and curious.
The American Story exhibition by Dallas Seitz continues at IMT Gallery until 6 March 2016.
Review by Anneka French, commissioned by Photomonitor. Published 29 February 2016.