We’re looking at an almost perfectly painted black canvas. At first glance it seems to be a little tattered on the edges, but a closer look reveals that the fringes are actually tape. Affixed nearly in the middle of the canvas is a cut-out detail of a photograph, which depicts a torn open animal mouth and one single, white tooth. The brightness of the tooth stands in juxtaposition to the dark background. The baring of teeth in Canker (all works, 2020) by the American-born artist Cudelice Brazelton is symbolically charged, it serves as a metaphor for the willingness and necessity to resist. A metaphor which gains more urgency with every day. This symbolism in relation to animal teeth is a recurring motif in his work, that can currently be seen in his latest exhibition project Heavy Circuit at Ola Bunker in Frankfurt, which is additionally accompanied by a website.
Cudelice Brazelton and I have been in exchange ever since he had the first initial impulse for the project at Ola Bunker. Our early conversations were centred around the question of how we are able to react to the unprecedented times we are currently experiencing. This was at the beginning of the pandemic and the lockdown in Germany. We were thinking about what it means for art students when their studios are closed, and they’re forced to either work at home or pause. At that time, of course, communication exclusively took place online – this way of corresponding quickly turned into a symbol for the developments of the following months – both in the way art was being presented and produced. How does the homely environment influence the artworks? Apart from acknowledging the dark times Brazelton emphasizes the new potential of the situation, which for us also offered an occasion for reflecting. Coherent to the improvisation that the time of isolation required in various fields, it is part of Brazelton’s artistic practice to react spontaneously and intuitively to situations that arise. Much has changed over the past weeks and with the murder of George Floyd end of May, a boiling point in the US has been reached and the global urgency to raise a clear and loud voice against white supremacy has become evident. The determined fight against discrimination and police brutality towards People of Colour became the focus of our discussions and – more importantly – revealed an accuracy of the projects initiated by the artist in the past months. These conversations have now reached a point where we believe and hope that the world will definitely have to change after what has already happened in 2020. It will also be interesting to watch how the art world will respond to this and hopefully defeat the inequality and privilege that currently feeds it.
At a time when many facets of our lives were being shifted from the analogue to the digital, it also became important for emerging artists to gain visibility in the surreal fast temporality of online platforms. Brazelton was invited by curator Silke Lindner-Sutti to participate in an online project called ‘The Decameron’, initiated by New Release Gallery in New York City. For this, the artist created The New Grade (all works, 2020), a sculptural work combining sound and text, which are now presented on the gallery’s website. When I first saw the work, many thoughts came to mind, some of which I would like to share here:
“The text and sound piece leave me with a bizarre feeling because it seemed like the composition of the works give me kind of an idea of a narrative but still is blurry and mysterious somehow. […] But also, the text evokes a feeling of unbalanced power relations. Or more, the protagonists of the story are clearly part of an unfair hierarchy. The pictures attached to sculpture further enhance that idea. Due to the pixels and the detail cut-out from a scene, you can only locate a head and hands. They seem like they’re in a fast movement or something? […] The different aspects of the work are impulsive and associative. When one is familiar with your previous works, clear connection or continuation becomes visible, but maybe more abstract or uncanny. […] Especially because we talked about your working approaches several times and I feel like you’re strongly incorporating personal but at the same time-shared realities. It’s amazing because the work has a powerful atmosphere even though I’ve just seen the documentation and the text and the audio on my laptop.” In retrospect, that signifies much more than we would have thought two months ago.
The sound elements seemingly form a loose link between all of Brazelton’s current projects. “All three projects have really strange deconstruction/reconstruction elements paired with sound”, says Brazelton. While he recorded a cracking speaker for The New Grade, his work Heavy Circuit is a sampled recording of a construction site and for his upcoming exhibition at Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt, he will collaborate with the American Jazz musician Angel Bat Dawid.
Another (for me very strong) metaphorical connection of the work The New Grade and the project Heavy Circuit is how the sculpture acts as a kind of antenna for the bunker. A receiver. Isolated in a basement without windows, the works seem uncanny and ominous. Like the visitor, they are trapped there. And there is currently no other place where they could fit in better. Brazelton’s works blend into the walls and the environment of the bunker, engaging in a dialogue with its connotations. While thinking about this unusual couple and the coincident match between artworks and space, he and I came to the conclusion that fictious narratives sometimes find their way into reality – even in times of uncertainty. In this respect, the bunker is a symbolically charged image: as a more or less hidden place, its accessibility is expanded digitally via the website. A site which not only accompanies the exhibition but is an artwork itself developed by Dayton-based artist Greg Ponchak in a close collaborative process with Brazelton. When the project first started, Brazelton imagined the exhibition being locked away and closed to the public. Initially thought of as a reaction to the pandemic, it was to be presented only via the website, which is designed as a narrative scroll, but as soon as Brazelton realized how extensive and elaborate the exhibition had developed within three months, it was clear that it needed to be opened to the public. The project resulted in an artistic work that is connected on both analogue and digital levels. These levels are interwoven because the website is only accessible during the opening hours of the exhibition – outside of these the website is blacked out. However, the digital component of the show underlines a crucial point of the unprecedented times we’re experiencing by reflecting on the accessibility of art in general on a broader scale.
Brazelton considers Heavy Circuit as his most experimental project so far. Although this may well be the case, the artworks he refers to as “dimensional paintings” preserve his spontaneity and intuition. Earlier I talked about the unravelling of importance and accuracy of Brazelton’s work and it makes sense to pick up this thread again. He considers his artistic practice as expressions of blackness and the works as bridge between his personal reality and a shared reality within a Black community. In light of the recent protests of Black Lives Matter happening in the US and elsewhere, these relationships within Brazelton’s oeuvre seem even more relevant and urgent. While the works are incredibly charged by this situation and by the way Brazelton relates to it himself, his working practice remains a process of figuring out the right tone. Meanwhile, the works reveal their density and incisiveness. Composed of images of an overturned police bus, a tree and a black cube-shaped building with the inscription “City” in white letters, the collage Dark City stands out as a symbolic and strong example. Brazelton took the photograph of the police bus a few weeks ago and posted it on his Instagram account – in a bizarre way it now seems like a prophecy. Social media has not only become much more relevant during the pandemic, it also gained importance during the protests as a means of sharing video material and information. On another level, the collage, whose images may already be familiar to Brazelton’s Instagram followers, also plays with the idea of the fleetingness of media. Brazelton actively uses Instagram in relation to his work and his account can also be interpreted as a kind of archive for material.
While Brazelton’s project can be seen as a way of dealing with the situation of a pandemic and the fluidity of ideas, his working method is reminiscent of a collage in which everything is assembled in a suitable and adapted way. This collates in both the works content and its aesthetics. The components of Heavy Circuit vary between two- and three-dimensional collages, for which he uses found objects with a strong iconography like rivets or razor blades, cut-out photographs and found footage. The colouration of the different canvasses alternates between dark brown, black and purple tones, often applied in several layers. The paintings do not adhere to the frame that the canvas provide – they expand beyond. In Agent, a belt protrudes from the edge of the picture, resembling a sword that is ready to attack. Two photographs of snakes in Ghidora’s Song jut out beyond the canvas. It seems as if the objects don’t conform to their limitations and instead prefer to test out what the boundaries are and who sets them. They want free themselves while simultaneously trying to enter into a dialogue with the space and one another. Some given circumstances of the bunker seem to respond to this attempt of first contact. The cables hanging from the wall frame the works and it seems like the composition of the show is a response to these very architectonic elements. In a similar vein, the photographic material that Brazelton includes in his works can also be seen as a result of letting chance take over as the pictures were often that others sent to him and were then distorted and disrupted by his old, broken cell phone. Again, a reaction to the given situation.
Before presenting the show to the public, Brazelton wrote to me that “it will feel like a strange boutique of seemingly fashion objects and accessories as painting/collage works. Thinking of what cannot be seen figuratively and social politically, and the cosmic as well. Lots of specific black underground sub cultural things (the club, DIY punk scenes) influencing the compositions.” Many of the works presented here are a continuation of themes that Brazelton has already touched in many previous works, which refer to a specific Black community in Columbus, Ohio, where the artist grew up. Despite the similarities to previous projects, Heavy Circuit attempts to find a new visual language by implementing different components such as the eponymous website, text and architecture.
If you look at the walls of the bunker, you can see holes and scratches. Nothing here is flawless and it is precisely this condition that can also be found in the works of Heavy Circuit: the collages are characterized by a DIY aesthetic, the sound work partly cracks and canvases are cut and frayed. There is a set tone and a given narrative in this exhibition. The term “cut” has several meanings and it seems that Brazelton addresses each of them. Be it in his paintings and collages, for which he cuts photographs and fabrics, or the material he cuts together for his sound work. Like the sword in Agent, Brazelton cuts his way through materials but also through the political and social situations we all currently experience. However, it’s precisely the way how things are put (back) together – by techniques of editing, collaging and composing – that is remarkable and speaks to the desire of unity in multiplicity.