Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of This Is Real Life, artist Diedrick Brackens’ current solo show at Johansson Projects in Oakland. Author Anton Stuebner notes, “By invoking […] histories and their associations, Brackens acknowledges that seemingly innocuous devices can produce real and violent effects.” This article was originally published on March 31, 2015.
Diedrick Brackens’ show at Johansson Projects, This Is Real Life, opens arrestingly: with two woven wall hangings resembling elongated Band-Aids, their frayed white “gauze” “stained” with rainbow-hued “blood.” Initially, Blat (2015) and Blatent (2015) seem almost playful, as their exaggerated scale (nearly three feet long) and materials (tea-dyed cotton, acrylic, nylon) make apparent their obvious artificiality. No one would mistake this for trompe l’oeil. But the artist makes clear in the accompanying text that they are far from cheerful exaggerations, and indeed deliberate references to wounded bodies. But whose bodies? Are they queer bodies, as the rainbow-colored blood may suggest? Or bodies that have been queered through violence—made strange and unfamiliar by larger cultures and systems of oppression?
Consisting largely of textile-based works, This Is Real Life traces both the presence and the absence of bodies. The brightly colored pieces may seem, on the surface, to bear little resemblance to familiar human forms. Traces of the body, however, are everywhere. By utilizing a medium known for the intense manual work it requires, Brackens fills his weavings with indexical markers of his own hand. He takes it a step further by actually describing the works as “portraits,” eliding familiar limits between abstraction and figuration, and subverting conventional understandings of how individuals are represented. And in doing so, he deliberately raises troubling questions about how bodies are made absent, specifically through violence. What happens when the subject of portraiture has been violently erased? How to represent a person of whom all that is left are traces?