Jason Kofke and Chris Chambers contemplate The Ends
Duo's Beep Beep Gallery collaboration is the best kind of cultural time capsule
It's hard to think of a better way to nerd out on nostalgia than the blast of outmoded technology, high school hair, and the black Pontiac Fiero parked dead center in Beep Beep Gallery for its current exhibition The Ends. If you weren't a man going into The Ends, you'll come out one.
The Ends is a dude collaboration between Atlanta artists Jason Kofke (2011 Artadia awardee) and Chris Chambers that suggests the kind of geeky-smarty-britches show you'd stumble across in a hipper-than-hip section of Brooklyn.
The tiny gallery has been filled with vintage televisions that play bits and pieces of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, images from a video high school yearbook, and other snippets of mid-'80s pop culture. The space is also ornamented with vintage radios, alarm clocks, a Microfilm reader, old MacBooks that now look shockingly archaic, as well as high school yearbooks and that vintage Fiero (complete with Challenger license plate).
Mounted on the wall are typewritten (another dead technology) transcripts of bellicose folk artist Ronald Reagan's speeches cataloguing now ancient-seeming disasters from the Challenger explosion to the 1983 Soviet Union attack on a Korean Air commercial plane. Vintage laptops play Pontiac commercials and offer sound bites such as "memory is constructed" and other insights into the psychology of time and memory. The shocking speed with which we create and discard not just TVs or laptops, but ideas, national enemies, and world views makes The Ends an exceedingly provocative and brain-tingling show. There is the shudder of self-awareness in the work, that the shiny, new iPads we anxiously queue for will be obsolete toxin-emitting Third World waste in no time. Our own mortality is measured in these plastic encased tombstones.
The assembled dross of obsolete technology and vintage disasters exudes a powerful mix of melancholy and black humor. The installation suggests video artist Nam June Paik crossed with some future world natural history display of technological relics.
Whether intended or not, the accumulation of junked technology (and perhaps the reek of so much rubber and plastic crammed into one small space) emits a chemical funk: eau d'nostalgia. It's the cumulative stench of VHS tape, burning rubber, and a mix of longing and disdain for the time that came before.
On one wall, Kofke and Chambers have assembled an array of drawings also using the outmoded materials of an analog world: found index cards, graph paper, technical pens, rubber cement, and other tools evocative of our pre-digital era. The drawings conjure up images of warfare in renderings of missile silos and fighter jets, as well as pixilated, split identities in Chambers' ink on graph paper humanoid portraits of psychic distress. Combined with the Challenger disaster and Cold War-era intimations of nuclear war this exhibition reminds us of the perennial American crop of toxic fear-mongering, whether the Cuban Missile Crisis or September 11.
The Ends is as much a head space-journey as Ben Roosevelt's dream-inspired dive bar at the Westside's Get This! Gallery. The Ends is the best kind of cultural time capsule, both personal and universal. Plucky, resolutely indie gallery spaces in Atlanta are doing some of the best shows in the city these days, taking risks and transforming their spaces in a trend that would be thrilling to see continue.