March 12, 2003

Mel Roman at Studio Lodo

Review of "Us and Them" by Mel Roman
by Jerome du Bois


This posthumous installation was physically and psychologically the most lugubrious feel-good, feel-sad cliche in town during Art Detour, and the most cynical and dishonest artwork I've seen since the last time I logged on to artnet.

Situated in a darkened, roughly 12- by 20-foot room in a wandering gallery with the dimbulb name of Studio LoDo, I see spotlit before me in the open archway two 7x9-foot mirrors leaning against their respective walls, to my left and right, US printed in giant black letters on the left, THEM on the right. In the middle was a mound of clean, pale brown dirtfill, the size and shape of a grave above ground. In the center top of the mound stood a plain clear glass candle holder with the tiniest flame I have ever seen, as though the soul it represented was shrinking into its smallest possible presence in cringing embarrassment from its appearance in this piece.


As I mull this flat-footed list of cliches -- single candle: check; mound of grave dirt: check; facing mirrors: check; Us And Them: check -- I see a fifth limp element:

On the far wall, writing, too small to read from this side, and I notice as I cross between the mirrors that the overhead lights cast the backward letter shadows on the moundside in each mirror. Nice touch.

The writing is in Hebrew above and English below. I pivot, and see on the opposite wall, to the right of the entryway -- of course -- Arabic above and English below.

Oh dimbulb flash 25 watt baby! This is the best they can do. They really think the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs are either exactly alike or exactly the opposite? As if reality was that simple? But they must, Mel Roman and whoever followed through on this dangerously puerile idea, because here is the first word of the text:

"Brothers. . ." Whoa. Voici la difficulté!

Another line: "We must be men among other men."

Here's the million-watt flash, Kathleen Thomas (what happened to you, girl?) and all others responsible:

Sisters and brothers, many men who speak those three languages believe that they must be men among other men, and that women must be excluded from the free conduct of a serious life to the greatest extent possible.

That word and that concept -- woman, and especially a Standup Woman -- are these unfamiliar to 21st-Century Tweesville Dwellers? Think -- oops, another moribund activity; sorry -- for at least 80 and more likely 1000 years, the Middle Eastern social structure, created by cowards, has been deprived of the intellectual, social, emotional, and autonomous physical energy of women; bereft of the furious but civilizing refusal to bow to the tribal, knuckle-dragging misogyny of bullies with writhing mustaches.

Women working equally with men, and keeping them in line, could have accomplished mighty feats over there; the rule of law, not sharia, might already have been established, and -- but why go on? This stolid, stupid thing is done, it's there before me, smugly sulking.

Mr. Roman -- I know you're dead, man, but the truth is the truth -- and Ms. Thomas take a cheaply sentimental route to a New Age conclusion. Oh why can't it be what I want it to be that I am he and you are me and we're all twee together?

Shame on you people, are you superficial to the core? Children are bombed into bits these days, out there in the real world.

Those words on the walls were written by Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and famous suicide. A few days ago Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and famous pacifist, spoke about the imperative need, "when human dignity is in jeopardy," to stop the growth of evil in its tracks.

So now MOAB's coming, and Hell's coming with him, hear me? Hell's coming with him! (Couldn't resist that.) But how much Hell would we have to bring, had Woman been part of that world for 1000 years?

And before anyone says "woulda coulda shoulda that was then," I say this is now, in our world, where honor killings happen nearly daily; and where the Saudi mutawwa'in would rather have young women burned alive than show their uncovered ankles, so they made sure fifteen teenage girls burned to death one year ago yesterday in Mecca. [Written March 12,2003.]

"Us and Them" pre-empts any honest confrontation with a tangled history, and instead hands viewers a two-minute epiphany ticket, a cynical shortcut to a small, sad beatitude; then he and she can smugly conclude that they have paid tribute to something politically significant. Now on to the mall, while thousands of murdered female souls flow in a steady stream to heaven, unremembered and, so far, unrevenged.

Posted by Jerome at 08:15 PM