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Paul Chan.


Last March, the National Abstinence Education Association held its annual Capitol Hill Lobbying Day, meeting with national legislators to press for continued funding for abstinence-only sex ed programs. Perhaps because of the growing number of studies that have found these programs to be widely ineffective, abstinence-only supporters argue their moral correctness, if not efficacy.

The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector was quoted that day as saying, "abstinence sex ed is in harmony with the human heart. Comprehensive sex ed is not in harmony with the human heart." Yet critics of abstinence-only policies point out that, aside from being a failure in terms of preventing sexual activity, such policies deny the naturalness of sexuality. Where the abstinence lobby has had to claim moral superiority in the face of contradicting data, its detractors lay claim to the value-neutral biologism that to be human is to be sexual. Enter Paul Chan's exhibition "My laws are my whores" (through April 12), whose videos, ink and charcoal drawings, sculpture and framed fonts take as their starting point, or more correctly take on, the relationship between the law and expressions of the "human" condition.

Entering the exhibition one is confronted with a wall displaying Chan's charcoal drawings of nine Supreme Court Justices, from which the show derives its title. From that one can suppose a certain Sadean thesis regarding the mutual prosecution and prostitution of all subjects under the law--Lady Justice as both pimp and whore. Hung at a great height, at least twenty feet above the floor, the Justices might seem to rule with impunity, but these are sketchy and improbable approximations of honorary portraits, vulnerable to ridicule. The brooding, double-dealing face of the law simultaneously attracts and repulses.

On the other side of the wall one finds a digital projection, Untitled (After a Certain Chateau) (2009), featuring human silhouettes engaging in various sex acts in a minimal, almost abstract space, like one was peeping at them through a window. The figures eerily and continuously convulse, as if in the throes of orgasm or epileptic seizure, but the extremely unnatural speeds involved also recall the jerking movements of infected zombies. Given the work's relationship with the drawings on the other side of the wall, highlighted by the presence of shadowy picture frames, it's hard not to read these convulsing, orgiastic figures as those Justices cavorting in the privacy of their chambers.

Something similar occurs in a small ink drawing leaning against a wall, Ted Haggard, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer are in a bar (2009). Its wire figures, all accused reprobates, are scandalously piled up in an Abu Ghraib-like human pyramid. Chan has also created interventions in font families, replacing the symbolic, alphabetic efficiency of letters with messy utterances of ecstasy and pain. While these fonts are actually available for use, downloadable from the artist's website, they are represented here by large, framed sketches of the fonts in action. Resting against the wall with shoes sticking out from under them, the nine frames again seem intended as stand-ins for the agents and subjects of an obscene jurisprudence.

The font "body bags" are book-ended by two more pieces that bring the mediation of language into sharper focus. On one end is The Mother of All Episodes (2009), a 47-minute video loop presenting an episode of Law & Order that is stripped of all sound except for the metallic clink of law enforcement. In place of the banter between cops, suspects and attorneys, here we are presented with subtitles like "I need it, shape me, yes show me, please sir" and "nothing ... rise, bend, stoop, whimper, just ... come." At the other end we are confronted with Oh Why So Serious (2008), a computer keyboard turned graveyard, the keys replaced with headstones.

When visiting "My laws are my whores," one was most struck by the show's detached brand of political satire, which in Chan's case seems completely removed from the daily grind or grindhouse. The bedroom philosophizing a la de Sade is rigorous and pertinent, but otherwise remains uncontaminated by lives lived under a pall of legal sterilization. While ideological battles over sexual transparency continue in schools, courts and the streets, our modern Marquis scribbles furiously from on high.

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Title Annotation:art exhibit called 'My laws are my whores'
Author:Griffis, Ryan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
Previous Article:Now you don't: the work of metaphor.
Next Article:Claudia Schmacke.

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