An Exhibition of Letterpress Posters Creating an Ongoing Essay in Phenomenology
October 15 - December 1, 2013
Viewing by appointment.
Carl Pope's ongoing essay, The Bad Air Smelled of Roses continuously provokes by introducing thoughts, delivered by way of letterpress posters, to an audience with the intention of "creating epiphany and revelation within the imagination of my audience".
Pope explores the concept of Phenomenology as seen in the writings of Martin Heidigger, a German philosopher of the early 20th century. Heidigger contended that self-exploration in the 20th century was a trap, because our way of questioning defied nature. He believed our presuppositions about human nature inevitably led to our failure at any sort of discovery, because of the "always already". Essentially, what he was getting at in his most well-known book, Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) was that we couldn't trust ourselves to reveal anything about ourselves, e.g., consciousness, because we had to eliminate our idea of existing as a specific being---and the only way to accomplish this was through a process of repetitive interpretation (critique), such as Hermeneutics.
Pope uses the medium of letterpress posters because they represent a presumptuous idea--they seem official. People look at the printed posters as a source of information and even direction. What Pope offers, however, is misdirection , so the viewer is required to reconsider, because the message is contrary to the viewer's concept of reality. His work, ECHO THE FICTION OF MY IDENTITY , points to what Heidigger meant in Sein und Zeit . The literal message or direction given is for the viewer is to "echo" or support what comes next, but then he follows with "the fiction of my identity", which confuses the viewer and then provokes a reactionary response. This is exactly Pope's goal: incite the viewer to question his current state of consciousness, or how he defines things, and simultaneously encourage him to develop new ideas. What is crucial is that these ideas are initiated from a standpoint that is different than before---and according to Pope, that is more valuable. One work reads, "MOVE INTO THE GAP BETWEEN WORDS AND REALITY". The artist is also not bound by truth to initiate this process: Pope can use messages that are absurd or even blatantly false to serve his purpose of jerking the rug out from under the viewer. An example of this is his work, AS A BLACK WOMAN I FEEL AN URGENT NEED TO FIND Radical SOLUTIONS.
Another artist who explores phenomenology in a similar fashion is Shepard Fairey, with his OBEY THE GIANT propaganda campaign. Fairey created a fictional, but official-looking image, presented via stickers and graffiti pasters, in an attempt to unbalance the viewer and provoke reflection.
Most of Pope's subject matter, or what he might be inclined to call, "anti-subject matter" is concerned with his identity as an African American. Borrowing from the writings of Alain Locke (The New Negro, 1925) and Hubert Harrison (The Voice) and his "New Negro Movement", Pope questions the role and identity of the African American today. He accomplishes this, not by offering solutions or pre-supposed identities, but by questioning everything and being provocative---and then as Heidigger explained the usefulness of Phenomenology, "letting things manifest themselves". Some people might find several of the messages offensive, but Pope challenges them to question the very perspective from which that reaction emanates: WHAT IS A NEGRO WITH A PH.D? or BLACK GENIUS IS SO COMMON THESE DAYS are two such examples.
In The Bad Air Smelled of Roses , Pope attempts to finesse the over-the-top play. He seeks to explore the "inner space" through public, in-your-face art. He rejects images and simplifies the messages, being careful not to offer any complete packages or ideas--he leaves things wide open, "letting things manifest themselves".