Walking into Mutant Media, the latest exhibition at SPACE Gallery, the art comes with a certain, vaguely recognizable atmosphere. On one wall are drawings by Ally Orlando and comic strips by Samuel Ombiri, all of which look more suited to a high schooler’s notebook or bedroom wall, an effect emphasized by the absence of framing. At the back of the gallery, VHS covers, record sleeves, and trading cards for fake ‘80s movies — all by Los Angeles-based artist Jon Clark — are haphazardly displayed on shelves like something out of a sad, poorly stocked Goodwill.
To some degree, that’s the point. By highlighting artists working in a DIY aesthetic familiar to the underground punk scene, with its crudely designed zines, band flyers, and screen-printed t-shirts, Mutant Media also recalls spaces formative to that scene — adolescent bedrooms, thrift stores, and even horror aisles at bygone video rental chains, which, for co-curator Joshua Rievel, is relevant, especially in regards to Clark’s work.
“My attraction to his work is — being in my early 30s, I grew up in the videocassette era where I would go rent whatever crappy horror movie because of the cover,” says Rievel, an artist, musician, and filmmaker who also collects old VHS tapes. “So for me, it’s not even nostalgia. I still live in that world. It’s still very much my reality.”
He curated the show with Jesse Hulcher, and together they searched out local and national artists, some of whom had never shown in a gallery before. Many were discovered on Instagram or Tumblr, including Portland, Ore.-based mask-maker, Genevieve Goran.
For Rievel, the sense of uncanny familiarity is what drew him to artists like local painter John Rogers. “There’s something I find very creepy about something so simple,” says Rievel, pointing at one evocative painting of a large, white van parked in an overgrown patch of woods. While unassuming, it’s a scene that conjures various scenarios, none of them good, especially for generations that grew up in the era of "stranger danger" and the Satanic Panic.
Rievel and Hulcher say they took a loose approach to curation, allowing artists to send whatever they wanted without preapproval. For example, Rievel says Goran was free to do whatever she wanted with the collection of latex monster masks she made specifically for the show.
Some artists are more meticulous, like Clark, who constructed an alternate fantasy world of dead media, including a fake movie that screens in a separate room off of the main gallery. Others are far more casual.
“We definitely represented a lot of artists who are just like, ‘Here’s a thing I drew on an eight and a half-by-eleven sheet of paper and it’s wrinkled and I don’t care,’” says Hulcher.
But while the artists work in a variety of mediums, Hulcher notices one major commonality.
“All these artists are really interested in language,” says Hulcher, adding that, for a visual arts show, there’s a lot of text.
With the exception of Goran, guests are sure to confront works emulating the brash, often ironic scribblings of punk youth (one Rogers painting has the phrase “Honk If You’re Horny” in big, bold letters).
The use of text especially applies to the stark black-and-white comic illustrations of Karissa Sakumoto and the zines of Jason Lee, which lay out, begging to be read. Lee also contributed a series of ink drawings exploring the limited representations of Asian people in media, with images criticizing the hit film Crazy Rich Asians and the treatment of Annyong Bluth on the show Arrested Development, among others.
Even as work like Lee’s takes on heavy topics, it does so with a touch of levity, a quality Hulcher hopes defines the entire exhibition.
“I hope people laugh and see the humor in this stuff and are entertained, and are just sort of in awe of this alternate dimension where people are creating a whole world of media that doesn’t actually exist,” says Hulcher.