‘Daniel Bozhkov: Recent Works’

The pieces in 'Daniel Bozhkov: Recent Works' grab our eye with comic incongruities, but behind the visual joke is a story of how everything in our world is connected

Arts Review

"Daniel Bozhkov: Recent Works"

Arthouse, through Oct. 22

Darth Vader. The Black Sea. Brita water filters.

Crop circles. Larry King. Flying lessons. A green sofa.

The scent of America. An Istanbul hotel. Ernest Hemingway. A look-alike contest in Key West.

Odd things are linked together in the work of Daniel Bozhkov. The Bulgarian native has a knack for combining seemingly incongruous elements, and in the seven projects of his now on view at Arthouse, that may be what's most arresting and, at least initially, most engaging about them. You just don't expect to see a 250-by-300-foot portrait of Larry King made of flattened milkweed stalks or a perfume dedicated to the über-macho author of Death in the Afternoon (much less one with the sissified appellation Eau d'Ernest), and the curiosity of it grabs your eye.

At a glance, these works might come off as little more than the conceptual-art equivalent of throwaway gags. Having the sinister Dark Lord of the Sith knee-deep in water, pouring a portion of the sea from a Brita filtration pitcher into a plastic jug, is such an absurd juxtaposition of unrelated items that the laugh it provides could be an end in itself. But there is much more to these images than meets the eye. Underlying each is a story of interests and associations, of a subject with personal significance to Bozhkov and of him following a thread of meaning through this realm and that one and the other, however disparate they may appear. So a consideration of what the scent of America might be leads to Hemingway as a symbol of masculinity and rugged individuality from, as Bozhkov says, "a time when America smelled good." Which leads to the Büyük Londra Hotel, where Hemingway stayed as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star and to the Hemingway look-alike contest in Key West, where ringers for Papa weigh in on the fragrances that best reflect the old man's essence. So while the end product has its comic punch – and that bottle bearing a passport mug shot of the sober-faced young writer is a deliciously wry commentary on contemporary packaging – the path to it is a rich investigation into cultural identity, traversing societal attitudes, literature, history, the media, consumerism, and more.

See, in Bozhkov's world, everything is connected. Who we are is all bound up in where we shop and what we eat and who came before us and what we watch on television and what happens in the natural world. That may be most plain in Learn How to Fly Over a Very Large Larry, his project involving the Larry King crop circle, which at Arthouse is displayed in a large open room. One wall is completely taken up with a large painting of Bozhkov flattening plants in the field in Maine, while opposite it is a smaller portrait of a young botanist who helped Bozhkov identify the plants in the field. In the center of the room is a long green couch that faces a table on which sit five TVs running video documentation of the project: of the botanist, of the field, of Bozhkov's flight over the finished project, and of news reports about the finished project (including an acknowledgment by King himself). Here would seem to be a full record of this endeavor, and yet look above the monitors, and on the wall behind them hang plant samples from the field itself, stalk and flower under glass. It brings home to us in a very concrete way how this work of art came of the world.

The world matters a great deal to Bozhkov, as is clear from the work he created for this exhibition on commission from Arthouse. Cantata for Twelve Choirs and Several Salamanders features sound and video recorded during a session with local choral ensembles at Barton Springs. Each choir sang the same song, "Wade in the Water," and in the gallery we can see the individual faces of the singers as they channel the emotions of this powerful African-American spiritual. Some are young, some are old, some women, some men, but all seem to feel the pull not only of a human struggle from earlier centuries but of the healing qualities in nature, which is up to us to preserve. As we hear the human voices, Bozhkov blends in the voices of other choirs: birds, insects, wind. Everything is connected, they seem to sing. It is a mighty song.

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