Commonwealth & Council presents the first Los Angeles exhibition of American Artist’s I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die), which uses a vacant schoolroom setting pervaded with blue to summon the psychological environment of the American police system.
Three empty desks stand arrayed before a video monitor, awaiting instruction. Each desk has been outfitted with a riot shield upholstered in navy blue fabric, echoed in the blackboards which are similarly refigured as navy blue panels. The desk modifications literalize the blue shield—the unwritten police code of silence—while recalling how school children explore power and autonomy by opening the lids of their desks to disrupt the teacher’s view. This teacher is different: DC Comics’ Dr. Manhattan appears on screen, admonishing his cop-pupils to stop evading moral and legal culpability behind a false “blue identity” politics.
Fiction creates heuristic distance between an intractable reality and a certain transposed register of life, illuminating the possible from a new angle. Dr. Manhattan exists in a god-like quantum state, apart from linear experience. His atomic transformation, recouped and exploited by the military, has nonetheless given him an outside view, as “a puppet who can see the strings”—powerless to affect events, he shows us the world. He is naked and blue, and in Artist’s version, also Black: a Black cop, restored to self-consciousness by his uniquely fraught position. He interpolates the voice of real life ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who was fired from the LAPD in 2008, ostensibly for making false statements, after blowing the whistle on his training officer for kicking a handcuffed schizophrenic man—an assault which the victim corroborated at Dorner’s disciplinary hearing. In February 2013, in a sprawling 11,000-word manifesto posted to Facebook, Dorner announced his revenge on the LAPD, marking some 40 law enforcement personnel and their family members for death. His sole demand: a public admission that he had been terminated in retaliation for reporting officer misconduct. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck agreed to review Dorner’s case, but the killing had already begun. Dorner wrote, “This is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name. The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse."
Holed up in a cabin near Big Bear Lake following a statewide manhunt, Dorner died in a shootout with police. While his heroic vigilante narrative has entered public myth, Dorner put a hole in the blue wall of silence, providing a rare firsthand glimpse into the culture of corruption, secrecy, and racism pervading the LAPD and American policing at large. I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die) dwells on these openings, expanding them into shared space for learning, consciousness, and agency.
American Artist (b. 1989, Altadena, CA; lives and works in New York) makes thought experiments that mine the history of technology, race, and knowledge production, beginning with their legal name change in 2013. They attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 2017 and received an MFA at The New School in 2015, and BFA at California Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2011. Artist has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2020); Queens Museum (2019); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2019); Koening and Clinton, NY (2019); and HOUSING, NY (2018). Their work was included in group exhibitions at the San Jose Museum of Art (2020); Nam June Paik Art Center, Yongin, South Korea (2020); MoMA PS1 (2020); LC Queisser, Tbilisi, Georgia (2019); The Studio Museum in Harlem (2019); Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2019); Performance Space New York (2018); MCA Chicago (2018); 47 Canal, NY (2018); and Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, NY (2017). They will participate in INFORMATION (Today) at Kunsthalle Basel, opening June 25, 2021. Their project SHAPER OF GOD is currently available to view online at KADIST.
American Artist is also represented by LABOR, Mexico City and will have a solo exhibition at the gallery in September 2021.