Avram Finkelstein. In Conversation with Ken Gonzales-Day.
Artwrit.com, Jun. 2011, New York.
“Most societal notions sit on a constantly shifting plain, repositioning over time. Since its rise during the Enlightenment, Physiognomy—the study of human character based on outward appearance—has advanced and receded in social credibility. As our cultural conscience, art is meant to illuminate how theories such as this become agents of social control. Frequently, it does. Except, of course, when it supports them, as with the construction of race bolstered by centuries of Western European aesthetics.
The artist Ken Gonzales-Day takes art to task on this account in his new monograph, Profiled. Foraging through our cultural warehouses, Gonzales-Day assembles a concise inventory of Western European depictions of race across generations and continents. But it’s far from a backwards glance. Gonzales-Day contemporizes his overview by re-imagining the history of sculpture as a series of mug shots, and connects it to American life in the twenty-first century without ever becoming flat-footed. Through the simplest of rhetorical devices, juxtaposition, he lets this history speak for itself.
Gonzales-Day posits dialogues between his mute subjects, either gazing off camera in apparent agreement, or staged into various face-offs. Shattered noses are present nonetheless, courtesy of the coded gestures of Eurocentrism. Caucasians pose as Asians, or sit in for deities, while fragmented racial archetypes peer out under plastic tarps, safe from view on storage shelves. With great clarity, Gonzales-Day articulates what everyone who has ever stepped foot in a museum already knows: everything comes down to class.
That the artist’s monograph begins with an image of a caliper is not simply a reference to the sculptural practices at work. This is also the instrument shared by many of the “scientific” inquiries that have fueled our ideas about inherited supremacy, like phrenology, eugenics, and anthropological criminology. The caliper is the culprit in this telling, the divisive measuring stick behind many of the conversations we assemble around difference.
Ken Gonzales-Day sat down with Artwrit to answer a few questions about the hidden methodologies tucked into classical theory and practice…”