Primo Salvo In Vibracolor
Dina Gadia

William Burroughs will be name-checked at some point, figured might as well front-load it, and in the manner of laying down the law at that. There are other referents, of course, but Burroughs is the source of the Nile, so to speak. His influence over many things has been so over-emphasized as to reek almost of cliché and certainly of laziness to invoke, but it’s impossible to avoid. What’s relevant here is his central process, the cut-up technique, which involved the inserting of other people’s text into his own and a shape-shifting of form as an aftermath, a literary method that smacked of ritual, of casting the runes. No wonder he nursed this adamant belief that it was a conduit to sorcery and who’s to say it isn’t. More pragmatically, it was the primordial voltage for mash-up culture, and you can sense its trace elements in everything from plunder-phonics to fan fiction to hip-hop. But his name comes up, too, out of how he had this obvious kinship with pulp, with science-fiction and horror primarily, with superheroes and erotica, with its flamboyance and hysteria.

The relevance of Burroughs goes beyond how the title of Dina Gadia’s new show, Primo Salvo In Vibracolor, has all the shock and tang of a Burroughs title, which of course it isn’t. Pulp is also the base matter of her collages and paintings and installations, and her fundamental process the mash-up, willfully mismatched juxtapositions of art and copy. The art here being dated, banal images from old encyclopedias and lifestyle magazines and vintage advertising, which are in and of themselves, signifiers of conflicting modes: utopia and repression, obsolescence and nostalgia, death and memory. The copy being garish and bombastic pulp titles, some taken verbatim and some themselves mashed up, serving as commentary, as counterpoint, as annotation, as re-contextualization, as punch line.

And that last qualifier is far from a dis, given how the sense of humor in the work is prevalent to the point of being insidious, another thing it shares with Burroughs, moreso when it leans towards a queasy strangeness, which it does most of the time: the panther growling over the dinner table spoils in Fangs Into You , the caveman lugging hollow blocks in Everything In Modernation, the spiritualists trying to exorcise the blancmange in The Spoiler and those creepy hairy things in the two works called The Hair! The Hairrrr! In some cases, though, the humor achieves the give-and-take immediacy of a stand-up routine. There’s the matinee idol lothario peeking out of the garish pink bed as the Tagalog word for “hell” floats ominously in Let the Love Flow. And the dolled-up socialite, dressed in minty cobras with the word “karanasan” (“experience”) emblazoned underneath in Display of Hard-Earned Callousness. Or the three manicured men having a laugh in nothing but their undies, immaculately bereft of wrinkles, under the insinuating logo of the defunct Manhunter comic. And in A Cultural Weekend Exploitation Away, the word “holiday” hovers gleefully over a cartoon model peddling a cannibal rite like a game show girl. There are nuances to mine here, sure. The “ho hum” sign in We All End with Lines of Ending Cliché I is a riposte to the ubiquity and dominance of the Hollywood sign, which it emulates in size. And the two young girls in We All End with Lines of Ending Cliché II are shackled by the anchor they hug for comfort and safety. Ultimately, its collective dialectical urge has to do with bashing the stereotype, taking it apart and putting it together again. But like any good routine, elaborating further would neuter the buzz, like having to explain the joke.

Fast and cheap and out of control: there’s a catch-all that nails the quintessential ethos of pulp. You could nail the quintessence of Gadia’s work here with it, too. The thing it slightly misses, on both occasions, is the vibrancy. There is a tawdriness on the surface, sure, but that tawdriness is as much an aesthetic directive as it is a function of osmosis, and it is a tawdriness that is not without its charms. Just as Burroughs recognized a visceral potency in the pulp he revered and appropriated, so does Gadia, and she seems fueled here by her desire to revel in the relative rawness and ugliness of her chosen subjects, aiming as she is for that boiling point in pulp where process becomes product and where “bad” bubbles over into “good”. In many ways, she’s trying to replicate her own pleasures with it and in many ways, she has. Prima Salvo In Vibracolor deserves the Burroughsian allusion. And as mutated and recombinant as its pulp is, it has all its prime qualities: fast, cheap and out of control, right. As deep-seated as its resonances run, its delights are immediate and it’s funny as all hell.

*Primo Salvo In Vibracolor ran from May 24- June 23, 2012 at Silverlens.

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