Artslant- May 2009
Marci Washington- Dark Mirror at Rena Bransten
by Petra Royale Bibeau

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Working with parallel opposites, Marci Washington takes on extreme elements of social commentary and uses them to explore each other, here specifically using a show of simplicity to construct overarching, decadently lavish paintings depicting a contemporary context against Edwardian backdrops. The detailing of Washington's work is meticulous and lends the content a genuine addition that's readable to the point of transference. That said, Washington's contemporary sensibility allows for her sensitivity to come through the work. Washington's paintings are much more than stunning (even though aesthetically the pieces are stunning and when put together provide a stately, dark otherworld to get lost in), they are as beautiful as they are brash. The grotesque does not overcome the beauty but instead adds a sullen byproduct to tone down any mistaking of these pieces being simply light objects of aesthetic appreciation. As with Washington's thoughts on Western society and history's repetition, the concentration is on an unlearned past, or 'ghosts' of a certain tense coming back to revisit, lurking over the same issues that existed centuries prior in similar political and social set ups. Washington is dealing with the extravagancies of social ills in a particularly haunting light from what she expresses as closely related to a gothic novel on a visual scale. In step with that notion, none of Washington's depictions look dead as much as they looked gorged and blase, an interpretation easily inferred many times over in the history of America alone. 'From Within' and 'From Without' present beheaded faces blackened with time and obviously plagued, while still portraying a sense of a long rest rather than a dead state. It is this distinctive measure that Washington imparts through the entire exhibition giving depth to issues of death, revival, all the while resisting resolution. The historical concepts of imperialism and kingdoms as Washington aesthetically depicts are Edwardian-England styled but very much in current circulation and contemporarily packaged. For example, 'Remnants' illustrates a detached blackened limb next to a Chanel ballet flat while 'Escape Into the Woods-Overcome' features a sickly thin male topless with a wallet chain on his pants while he's leaking black substance from his mouth. Washington's historical framing in many ways allows an easier view into societal ills, looking from a reference guard of the past coupled with images easily appropriated in our modern life.

--Petra Royale Bibeau is a writer and curator based in Los Angeles. Maniac Gallery