LAST LOOK | HASSAN RAHIIM’S “DISTILLATIONS” AT HVW8 GALLERY, LA

June 19, 2014  |  art

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Closing shop this weekend in LA is Distillations, the must-see show by 27-year-old upstart and native Angelino artist Hassan Rahim at HVW8 Gallery. With Rauschenberg’s visual semantics and Man Ray’s photographic unconscious, the pieces in this exhibition are faint recollections of an era floating in purgatory. Solarized prints of Dr. Dre’s monumental album The Chronic, distorted reproductions of the Nike Air Foamposites, and Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber are appropriated and manipulated into a spectral grammar of kink, poetry, and violence. Despite a conceptual grounding in his personal memories, Rahim suggests form, then rejects it; retains context, then negates it; collages, then throws it all into the white noise.

Instead of compositing, Rahim practices a sort of anti-collage allowing images originally chosen for montage to remain separated and unviolated. Associated images not only share a frame, but also exist in the same chronology. This contemporaneity of pictures, given the dignity of negative space, serves to concentrate a narrative. BMW rims and Air Jordans were not only collateral in the height of ‘90s street theft but were also major pawns in collector culture. Like luxury cars, his works operate on a value of period-correctness – a system of fetish and preservation. Both abstract and figurative, his work negotiates issues of nostalgia and iconicity as constructions of the personal and universal subconscious.

Rahim asserts the material and intrinsic worth of objects in relation to the specific time and place of their production. Cultural relics like an authentic 1984 LA Olympic archery pad and a true BMW E30 windshield existed in the same decade as 1987’s violent Operation Hammer, a city initiative where the slightest suspicion of drug possession justified a fever pitch of police brutality, mass incarceration, and prejudiced racial profiling. The archery board, an artifact from the very event that gave legislative rise to Operation Hammer, has an eerie physical relationship with the cracked windshield in which it repeats the same violence of targeting, bludgeoning, and revolt that characterized the streets during the LA Riots.

Not only are these objects part of a street market economy, holistically Rahim casts them as totems of competition: basketball, cars, gangs and music. Master of None, a weighty arrangement of tiered podiums resembling the pedestals of Formula One racing, is stripped of its function and reduced to its essential minimal form. When isolated from its competitive context, one is confronted with its brute materiality and presence. It is at once purely aesthetic and a cynical expression of hierarchy, a stage without champions. Much like the ambiguity in his other pieces, the viewer is left between sculpture and commentary.

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