Michael Arcega, “ESPYLACOPA: A Place” at Johansson Projects

by admin on July 16, 2015

Horace Mitchell Miner’s, The Body Ritual Among The Nacirema, published in 1956, was a ripping satire of the proliferation of anthropological and behavioral science papers narrating the nuances of other cultures that were rife with arrogant Western biases. Nacirema was an intentionally transparent word play, spelling “American” backwards; Miner’s fabricated native group of people were directly based upon the contemporary (1950s) culture of the United States, thus turning that same lens Western culture often cast upon the “other,” upon itself. Although his first exhibition at Johansson Projects, Michael Arcega’s “ESPYLACOPA: A Place” continues the artist’s series of work that expounds upon Miner’s not so-mythological Nacirema with a wide body of material culture, as well as creative interpretations of the same, that reveal multiple aspects of not only behavior and society, but also drawing greater focus upon perhaps at times equivocal cultural perspective. A small amount of work on view also comes from Arcega’s recent Recology artist residency, RECOLOGICA: A Nacireman Excavation where his aesthetic explorations into local refuse was as equally enlightening as this exhibition is about contemporary Western culture. 

Arcega’s turn of the tables, presenting North America as the Other, whose symbols and rituals must be studied and understood, to an audience that (one can assume) to be predominantly fluent in Western culture will create an opportunity for a space of somber and playful social and political critique. Manipulating familiar objects and activating them as an assortment of Nacireman “artifacts,” the artworks are aimed to instigate alternative modes of thought about our common everyday items, our deeply-held ideals, and the relationship between them. A flattened aerosol can, for instance, takes on elaborate symbolic meaning with a simple, clever title as Arcega names it, Spreihkahn (Technology for non-verbal mass communication). Yet, while some can be witty word-play, others are much more. One such intriguing example is the series of “beisbol clubs” that, the gallery press release explains, “… have been used in a variety of social circumstances such as personal vendetta, civil unrest, and ceremonial competition. They reveal how the Nacirema settle disputes through physical means, sometimes in ceremonies and other times in riotous events.” The carving of one such “beisbol club” as phallic object combining manhood, virility and masculinity with an expression of violence is unsettling.  This example, coupled with the easily-read underlying intention of the “Prih-Sohn stick chart” as a map (looking very much like the United States) of the Nacirema’s “main thoroughfares,” prompts reflection upon how these representations of the nation’s violence and delinquency can be objects representative of their, or essentially our, nation — which, as history has shown, has continually been difficult to both accept and attempt to change.


Michael Arcega, “ESPYLACOPA: A Place” will be at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland through August 22, 2015