2.20 / Review

Zombie-Proof House

By Michele Carlson June 28, 2011

Quiet and complex reflections on fear, anxiety, and survival permeate Zombie-Proof House, the current group exhibition at di Rosa in which eleven artists search for and sort through the abundant and very real environmental, political, and social issues facing contemporary communities and individuals. The show’s theme is not zombies, per se, but the cultural landscape that allows for the pervasive production and ravenous consumption of end-of-the-world scenarios, as well as the immense enterprise fueled and funded by a population of consumers fascinated with fear, the human condition, and, ultimately, survival.

On May 16, 2011, the Public Health Matters Blog of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted an article titled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” The post suggests items the average person ought to have prepared in the event of an impending and perhaps inevitable zombie takeover. Though not a comprehensive list by any means, it highlights staple necessities such as a first-aid kit, water and food, bedding, and important personal documents. The CDC admits to using this tongue-in-cheek metaphor to, in fact, prepare society for other more immediate natural disasters, like the looming hurricane season and impending earthquakes; it states that it’s better to be “safe than sorry.” As the post suggests, if one were to prepare for this satirical, yet entirely possible, worst-case zombie scenario, it’s also easy to be prepared to wait out a few downed power lines from any old hurricane or earthquake. The phrase “better safe than sorry” is one of those brand-like figures of speech fundamentally rooted in anxiety, fear, and paranoia, which in many ways works to distract from the tougher questions that plague the current cultural tumult, and di Rosa's Zombie-Proof House is an elegant example of artists who are picking up on these cultural red herrings.

Though the gallery building at di Rosa is surrounded by an arresting natural landscape—quite the backdrop for visiting one of the largest collections of California art in the country—these rolling hills of Napa are “yet another post-apocalyptic scenario.” At least according to Anthony Discenza’s satirically predictive construction sign that is installed outside, deliberately cutting through the picture-postcard di Rosa landscape. Discenza's work is hard to miss, yet it is also easy not to see. This type of common industrial signage cluttering urban landscapes can be so ubiquitous that it is often ignored—a type of blindness that is just one of the poignant themes in Discenza's work.

Inside, a roll of Packard Jennings' gold Bible Stickers (2005) hang discreetly on a gallery wall, inciting visitors to question the torrid and complicated relationship that the United States has with religion. Jennings calls for a criticality of how texts such as the Bible are used and read. The mere practice of

Anthony Discenza Another Post-Apocalyptic Scenario

Anthony Discenza. Another Post-Apocalyptic Scenario, 2011; vinyl on aluminum. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

Whitney Lynn Bunker/Bunker

Whitney Lynn. Bunker/Bunker, 2010; archival inkjet print mounted on aluminum. Courtesy of the Artist.

placing a Bible in contemporary hotel rooms addresses not-so-subtle contradictions of terms such as “freedom of religion.” But Jennings asks viewers to go one step further, inviting them to take one of his Bible stickers with them and place it into the Bibles they may come across in their travels.

Discenza’s and Jennings’ work exposes and creates slippages in both the representation of and response to a smorgasbord of global and local anxiety by calling out the proverbial hype. Many of the artists in the show dig into and, at times, take digs at how quickly fantastical aspects of death, faith, or even the environment (read: sad polar bear stranded on an icecap) serve as distractions rather than an incitation to action and accountability; such a response is much easier than examining the current raptness with “being aware” or simply creating a dialogue. Instead these artists ask: what do we actually do?

Many of the works in Zombie-Proof House reflect on notions of survival in a post-[fill in the blank] world in different degrees of literalness. Multimedia artist Whitney Lynn juxtaposes spatial subjects that have the same name but very different meanings. In her photograph Bunker/Bunker (2010), what is left of a dilapidated stone bunker sags into the side of an incline, both of which risk crumbling into a golf bunker sitting directly in front. The rough here looks especially overgrown, but not so much so as to mirror the age of the architectural bunker. What near future is this? And, more importantly, how will the ongoing shift in delineation of space simultaneously shift how we navigate these spaces and one another amidst the economic, political, and environmental changes that are undoubtedly already in motion? On the floor and walls of the right section of the gallery, Lucy Puls' sculptures appropriate the leftovers from such postindustrial consumer spaces as foreclosed homes. Puls pairs photographs of transitional domestic spaces, such as a stairwell, with found objects such as a light fixture or an old television; a haunting sense of anxiety seeps through Puls' representations of the residue of what is still an ongoing national financial crisis. Zombie-Proof House contends with these bigger questions about what will happen when the world we live in changes: when the gadgets, objects, and spaces that currently structure our lives change, if not fail, what will we do with them, ourselves, and each other?

The ice caps are melting. New contending epidemic diseases spring up monthly. Markets are crashing. The landfills are rising. In the current, post-9/11, color-coded-terror-threat-level, hand-sanitizing space of sociopolitical cultural fear, it's no wonder that artists are producing works that examine what is produced in spaces of grave anxiety; it’s where we live. But the artists in Zombie-Proof House are not offering didactic scoldings, preventative diatribes, or even ominous predictions about the state of the world; instead, they are asking viewers to really stop and consider the world they live in. And perhaps they’re also suggesting a creative and critical model to address the unavoidable changes that are surely looming.



Zombie-Proof House is on view at di Rosa, in Napa, California, through September 17, 2011.

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