"Who's Got a Price on Their Head?" @LHUCA
Lubbock’s First Friday Art Trail is pretty popular, but in years past the winter months have been notably less well-attended. Which is why, after dealing with the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in LHUCA, heavy lines waiting to get inside 5&J and the TTU Satellite gallery at CASP, I came away feeling really proud of Lubbock for turning out in the cold. Still, in the midst of a lot of happily chatting people observing (and sometimes touching, that’s something you can do in Lubbock) art, there were some weirder things I witnessed last night. I want to discuss Cody Arnall’s room-sized installation Who’s Got a Price on Their Head?, framed by one of these moments.
I entered the John F. Lott Gallery at LHUCA, a small, single-entry room that Arnall had blocked off with a swath of fencing, forcing viewers to single-file into the room. The installation was comprised of three platforms, the first hosting a dog mauling the neck of a cat. With teeth and balls bared, red pools surrounding the presumably dead cat, both animals are constructed with a pock-marked, waxy looking surface. It’s a pretty bleak sculpture. The next platform is trimmed with a few blades of greenery, with wavy edges that reference Bikini Atoll, where Arnall’s grandfather was a military telegrapher until the Cold War, the beach later serving as the site for nuclear tests. The third stage sports a dog-house sized metal structure, which could be referencing the actual dog, an abusive family history, or the base where his grandfather spent time probably in isolation: likely all three. The final wall of the room is flanked by another fence overlaid with a projected loop of the Bikini Atoll test's mushroom-cloud footage, in seafoam and acidic green tints.
Not part of the artwork, a young woman is posing for a photo, with the video over her body and face. She is smiling with all of her teeth, her hands thrust behind her head creating a diamond shape with her arms, and it seems she quits breathing for the duration of the photo session. Her friends snap the picture, and she eagerly trots to make sure she approves of it or to admire her good idea, I’m not sure. The contrast of the impromptu photo-shoot and the content of the installation (family history of alcoholism and abuse, mutually-assured destruction, and a dog ripping a same-family-pet cat apart) was too much.
As symbols, a dog and a beach are so accessible. Arnall’s foil is subtle, by way of the single-layer-of-fence-until-you-see-it’s-a-bomb. I don’t think of this installation at all like the selfie fodder of a Kusama room- rather, I think it is the direct opposite. Arnall’s work and statement are fairly cut and dry- this is what I love about them. This room is a hapless signpost pointing to power that is embodied and also power that controls all bodies. Taking an interesting photo in front of a most fear-inducing image is a pretty accurate well-check for my generation. The violence that we can enact upon each other presented as seemingly non-threatening is a pretty heavy way to bring up aggression and suffering in the chronic “am I going to perpetuate this shit?” sense. After all, big themes like isolation, nuclear decimation, and tearing each other’s throats out have become old news, even while (and because) we are so inundated and aware of their reality.
*”Who’s Got a Price on Their Head?” is on view through February 17 at LHUCA in Lubbock, Texas. The author's opinions are her own.