Furthering his investigation into these ubiquitous urban mainstays, Lobo made a rectangular casting, almost pelt-like, of a line up of cell phone display models from one of these stores. On a copper-tube display armature for another sculpture, Lobo dangles a row of flat strips that he hand-carved from faux Rolex watchbands in black-, amber-, and ivory-toned resins. Lobo’s hand brought a human sensibility back into this otherwise machined part, much like the ethno-specific skinning that the multi-service storefronts do for the faceless technological services they sell. Without their watch face, these carved bands have a tribal appearance with a slightly irregular grid pattern of charcoaled wood. This structure echoed an earlier set of his works: framed CD’s that Lobo put in a microwave, revealing an eroding brick pattern of the data burned on to them.

All Lobo’s sculptures in this series can fit into a shipping tube, allowing him to set up his international version of a multi-service store anywhere in the world. Dubai is at the top of his list. Lobo’s investigation of these businesses started with a crash course in black market banking when living in San Francisco’s Mission District. “I used to get Western Union money transfers and they would give me cash that was stamped with the street gang logo…They were controlling the Western Union money because that was the flow of money going from the Mission back to Central America and they were taxing it somehow. So you would get your money and it would have Maras, the name of the gang, stamped on every bill.”

While Lobo has plans to disseminate his hybridizations globally, Bhakti Baxter investigates in the opposite direction, culling visual examples from international and ancient sources. One of his recent projects is a one hundred-part painting series of primitive figures on paper from cultures around the world. He explained how these objects inform us of their creators’ cosmological views, myths, interests in sex and food, and other universal needs. “Although they’re from extremely diverse and idiosyncratic cultures, when you see them together you start to see patterns,” said Baxter.

Bhakti_Baxter-Work_in_Progress

Bhakti Baxter. Work in Progress, 2012-ongoing; tempera, acrylic, and gouache on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and the Miami Rail.

While the other three trawl contemporary waters, Baxter’s new project dives into the past. However, a connection lies in his identification of cultural indicators. If it is true that one can find commonalities between cultures separated by time and distance (and Baxter has) then his project simultaneously addresses the essence of each figure and the universal language they communicate. Nevertheless, by highlighting the qualities that a primitive statue shares with that from another culture, Baxter removes his subject matter from its original context. His exploration shows that universal similarities in human expression can be transported via unique objects despite the crossing of borders and timelines.

Primitive art, in Baxter’s opinion, elicited one of the first acknowledgements by the western world of the existence of irrational and innate drives of the human spirit. He envies the belief systems that our early ancestors possessed and were so deft at articulating. “Their world view was never questioned. It was never like. ‘Oh, this is an interesting theory.’ It was like, no, the world is filled with spirits and we’re just one of them.” Replace spirits for radio waves or the digital transfer of funds, and you have a belief system that is not as primitive, nor foreign, as it first seems.

For these four artists, physical orientation regarding international borders also plays a role. Baxter starts with objects from distant origins and works inwards to the universal aspects of the human psyche. Long reconfigures a perpetuated narrative of local space. For Lobo and Hernandez, the goal is to transmit outwards and promote exchanges abroad. In a sense, one cargo container of the same information, but to different locations, produces unique outcomes. A new translation occurs.

As we cope with the effects of cultural globalization, it seems the message, as detailed in these four approaches, is to avoid homogeneity. And further, we must protect the viability of transmission structures by diversification. In today’s world, most of the communication that reaches us has filtered through the official channels of the state or the corporate structure (Twitter and Facebook, both lauded for their roles in recent uprisings, are both private companies). To circumvent these hegemonies, the artist often moves to quasilegal territory. We arrive at piracy.