March 24, 2016

Johnny Coleman at N’Namdi Center @ Hyperallergic

DETROIT — Perhaps I should preface my discussion of Homage: Regular Folk with a brief declaration of my own sentiments regarding the energetic qualities of inanimate objects. This perspective is not so much in alignment with object-oriented ontology, which suggests that objects have existences and uses beyond their relationships to humans, but rather a hyper-human orientation that regards much-used, well-loved, and dearly-valued objects as repositories for the energies of their human caretakers. Second-hand objects — a bit of a misnomer in itself, as it implies that “new” objects are not handled by anyone prior to their purchase, which is patently untrue — betray their use through patterns of wear, reshaping, scent, material change (such as softening), and, I would argue, an ephemeral energetic signature. I am a native Californian; we have license to believe such things.

Allow me to return, now, to the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, where the main gallery features Homage: Regular Folk, a solo exhibition by Johnny Coleman, also a native Californian. His works include wall-hanging, free-standing, and installation pieces, all comprised of found materials that very much bring a sense of their own history to bear on his austere and moving compositions. Many pieces in the series are dedicated to poets and musicians — including Maya Angelou, Wendell Logan, Andre Burbridge, Toni Morrison, Brother Yusef, Kamau Daaood, and even one dedicated more generally “For the Poets” — and the most frequently recurring found materials are salvaged wood and musical instruments. These constructions are basically sculptural in nature, and feel quasi-figurative in the sense that salvaged tool-handles and low benches can mimic human forms, but also in the sense that they radiate personality.

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