Contigo by Alejandra Alarcon
Contigo by Alejandra Alarcon
Courtesy OCCCA

OCCCA's 'You Should Not Be Here' Lives Up to Its Title

Sometimes a provocative title designed to lure people into an event can also be an unintentional warning label: A Jews for Jesus or Log Cabin Republican meeting, for example, Black Friday at Walmart or the unwittingly-named "You Should Not Be Here" at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA).

It's not that there isn't good work on display—there are a few pieces worth mentioning—but this ranks as the least interesting show I've seen in the space: sparse, repetitive and poorly conceived, so artlessly curated by Sali Heraldez and Lilia Lamas that if I hadn't taken notes, it's unlikely I would have even remembered attending.

Ostensibly about not belonging, very little in the show indicates estrangement, aside from Bolivian artist Alejandra Alarcon's marvelous Sing Sweet Songs of Conviction video of a non-communicative couple sitting on a couch while a fire slowly licks and consumes the couch they're sitting on or Nikholas Newell's violent Prosopagnosia, 18 giclee prints that resemble commonplace Facebook pics your friends would post . . . if they were stalkers. Jagged Sharpie lines black out faces, eyes are burned out of the photos with a startling venom, and the cryptic writing on some of the images mutters unnerving things such as "You Don't Seem Familiar."

Info

"You Should Not Be Here" at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; www.occca.org. Open Thurs.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. Through Dec. 13. Free.

The young man's face in Guanyu Xu's photo Why do you have to kill me after taking my virginity? doesn't look dead so much as utterly bewildered, as if he's just lost much more than his cherry. The circular mirror that reflects his image, as well as the leafy tendrils turning in on themselves on the ugly wallpaper, suggests the loneliness we're seeing is going to be a constant, Mircosoft-style spinning color wheel of death. The most powerful work in the show is Spanish photographer Diana Martin's carefully posed and framed editorial portraits, powerful acerbic stand-alone social commentaries that hang with the viewer long after they're viewed: In New Tin Soldier, a grade-schooler peers around a gun aimed at the camera, an enlarged dollar bill behind him, its motto altered to "In Blood We Trust"; the chilling New Clothes for the New Empress shows a girl in a dilapidated hotel room wearing a diaphanous princess get-up, adult-magazine images of naked women on the floor surrounding her. In Not Guilty II, a nude woman shaves off her mustache, the gunmetal blue of her surroundings a glorious contrast to the glowing white of her skin.

Likewise, the pre-op transsexual in Not Guilty I, wearing only bright-red boxing gloves and high heels, stands on a boxer's scale, face turned nonchalantly from the equally red punching bag lying on the cement, a suggestion of the operation to come. Without feeling in the least exploitive, the nudity retains, even heightens, its model's dignity. I am woman, hear me roar indeed.

The other pictures in the exhibition—whether straight-forward journalism or just pretty images to look at—lack enough subtext to offer much walk-away, with several of the stills duplicated from the video work, inexplicably eating up valuable space that should have been used to introduce us to new material or give us some sort of context for the work.

Aside from Alarcon's aforementioned piece and her fascinating, watchable video of a woman washing out a bloodied sink, Contigo, the rest of the video on display is pretty much a wash, barely reflecting the theme of the exhibition (if at all). Not all the monitors are accessible, and even then, the work is ho-hum and inconsistent: The empowerment message at the heart of Justine Garcia's Find Strength in Your Roots is a minute and a half of Viva La Raza cornpone as a young Latino fondles the indigenous necklace he's wearing around his neck, ditches his desk job, stops to ponder a Mexican mural, and then strips down to his shorts so he can stand and watch the sunset. Profoundly obvious at best; painfully sincere at worst.

In the video nearby, the headphone cable is so short it literally held this viewer nose to screen. There are seagulls and people mucking about in trash heaps, accompanied by a soundtrack of a child banging on a xylophone, but as the picture screen became fogged with my breath, I moved on.

Making matters worse, the main gallery is so overlit because of OCCCA's untinted windows that the already-dim projections on the white walls are sometimes little more than vague outlines, not worth the eye strain to try to decipher them.

OCCCA's regular hours mean the only time it's open is when the sunshine is in full effect, putting a third of the exhibition out of commission. "You should be here at night," offered the woman at the desk the afternoon I attended. "It's really something to see."

Wish I could. Really wish I could.

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