Hashimoto Contemporary's latest show is a solo exhibition by Woodrow White titled Babel Video. The artist will transform the gallery into a video-rental store, complete with hand-painted DVDs and movie posters from the artist's created universe of fictitious films.
Woodrow White’s paintings explore the failure of illusion by examining the nexus of narrative, history, and artifice. White’s work speaks to the anxiety surrounding the validity of information, where trust in images has been irreparably damaged by mass consumption. The artist’s iconoclastic paintings are in response to our current, seemingly-apocalyptic, news headlines. Each tableau draws upon politically divisive topics like climate change, social inequalities, economics, and war.
For the exhibition, the artist will physically alter the gallery space into a video-rental store filled with a collection of imaginary films. Viewers are invited to browse through the shelves to discover titles like Toxic Masculinity II, Feminazis, and Fluid of the Druids. In addition to the hand-painted DVDs, the show will also feature large-scale paintings of movie posters advertising invented blockbusters.
Babel Video is a response to Hollywood’s syndication of escapism. White is particularly interested in the industry’s rampant obsession with genre franchises. The exhibition title references both the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel, as well as the short story ‘The Library of Babel’ by Jose Luis Borges. The artist elaborates on his vision as an “absurdist Borgesian storefront filled with forgotten films you can’t even find on the internet.”
To give some more context on the artist and the exhibit, Hashimoto's curator sat down with White to lay out some of the complexities in his process and concepts. Read the interview below:
Tell us a little bit about yourself, what's your background?
I’m an artist and illustrator who’s lived in the Bay Area for several years. I graduated California College of the Arts in 2014 with a BFA in Painting.
How does your process unfold in the studio?
Most ideas begin with a phrase or certain image in my mind. I draw out some sketches and if I’m still attached to the idea, I move onto making the actual piece. I can tell when an idea is good. It’s like a song that you’ve got stuck in your head. It will keep repeating itself until you manifest it physically. That’s what this entire show was like.
In what ways do you view humor as a catalyst for your concepts?
I think humor’s a great way to catch people off-guard and lure them into your headspace. There’s plenty of thinking involved, but the thinking doesn’t feel forced. You’re having fun.
How do you see your work in conversation with the current political and social climate?
The news has been feeling very apocalyptic lately, and it got me thinking about the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel. God was said to have given us all different language, so we wouldn’t be able work together to build this tower that could reach Heaven. Some days it’s as if we’re living in a similar biblical myth, where no one understands each other and nothing makes sense. I wanted my work in this show to reflect that anxiety. So there’s also lot of pieces about divisive topics like climate change, social/economic inequality and war. The paintings reflect my stream of consciousness, and that’s what’s been on my news- addled mind lately.
What interests you about Hollywood, and pop culture as a whole?
I grew up near Hollywood. It’s a world of make-believe. Art is about make-believe, but Hollywood has made an industry out of it. It’s the intersection of imagination and capitalism. Nowadays, I don’t see too many films addressing the negative effects of capitalism or any other major real-world issues. Or, if they do, the movie typically ends on a high note with the characters saving the world, defeating an empire or getting justice. Recently I left the theater after watching the latest Star Wars, and the first news I read was that the Senate passed their awful tax bill. It’s all escapism.
Can you tell us about the concept for 'Babel Video'?
I’m fascinated by how much Hollywood has become dominated by franchises, and how many ads you see for them. As a response, I was really into the idea of creating an absurdist ad campaign for a film that didn’t exist. So, my friend David Lauer and I began making previews for an imaginary film called Quadrant.
Around the same time I began painting DVD covers for films I came up with. Weird, forgotten B-films you might expect to see on the same shelf as Quadrant. That developed into crafting an art show presented as a video rental store.
Babel Video gets its title from “The Library of Babel”, a short story by Jose Luis Borges. In the story, he describes a universe that’s an infinite library, filled with books on all the information of our world, including useless books on absurd and meaningless subjects. Babel Video is the video rental version of the Library, this absurdist Borgesian storefront filled with forgotten films you can’t even find on the internet.
Where do you see your work heading in the future? Do you have any specific projects you’ve been wanting to pursue?
I’d like to work more with video. I want to try more high-concept projects like this one. Hopefully more opportunities to collaborate with others as well.