Upon entering Luis de Jesus in Culver City for Miyoshi Barosh's second solo exhibition with the gallery, a large mixed media work commands viewers to "Feel Better" in bulging nearly two-foot-tall black and gold letters. The floor in front of this piece is scattered with glittery chunks of debris, as if the letters were arduously carved from stone and the rubble was left behind but, in a wry twist, both letters and fallen bits are made from foam normally used in making upholstery. One of numerous pieces in this ambitious and thought-provoking exhibition, the work's playful message and kinetic energy contrast with its dark palette and ominous size and suggest something deeper lurking beneath the friendly platitude. Through soft sculpture, collage, digital imagery, prints, and textiles -- the majority emblazoned with cute pictures of kittens gleaned from the Internet and, in some cases, enlarged to mammoth proportions -- Barosh explores the implications of societal pressure to feel good, to feel better, even, than you do.
"The title of the work and the exhibition, 'Feel Better,' does sum it up for me," Barosh explains, adding that, "There is an increasing lack of a national social agenda or safety net, leaving people with the sense that you alone are entirely responsible for your well-being. We've internalized this 'propaganda' that we must be happy, that our fate is in our hands, that the market divides winners from losers, that you just need to work harder and faster."
Left to our own devices, we seek help where we can. "So there is an epidemic use of anti-depressants, self-medication, and sales of self-help books," Barosh contends. Into this rather bleak picture, she introduces humor, warmth, craft, art historical references, and the cutest of cute -- kittens! -- to explore fulfillment, or lack thereof, and the creation of meaning. "Internet cat videos are the drug of choice for many of my friends looking for a happiness-fix," Barosh tells me, and many of the works in the exhibition take a visual cue from this particular fascination. Barosh culled the Internet for cat pictures and integrated these into many of the works so that cats balloon out from quilt-like assemblages and shimmer like icons in large-scale digital prints.
The adorable face of a black and white kitten fills the nearly four-foot "I ♥ Kitties," 2014, a hand-embellished digital pigment print with fabric collage. For this and two similar pieces (all with the same title), Barosh reproduced a low-res found image in large format, allowing the fuzzy digital degradation to transform the picture and further attacking the surface by burning tiny holes in the paper before carefully filling these back up again with colorful bits of fabric. The effect might be that of a happy cat floating in confetti but for the fuzzy image quality and burnt-edged holes.
"When I think of all of us sitting in front of our glowing computer screens," Barosh notes, "it does seem lonely and a bit sad." The kittens reflect the kind of beautiful sadness evident in memento mori, the tradition of including a visual reminder of death or immortality in painting, one of Barosh's many art historical inspirations.
In the back room of the gallery is a suite of sweet characters on pedestals, the "Models for Monuments." These approximately three to four feet in height figures are crafted from a patchwork of colorful fabric and cotton batting and call to mind stuffed animals, anime, and the bright palette of kids' cartoons. On the opposite wall is a series of framed prints depicting the figures as they might look in nature. For these prints, Barosh painted images of the sculptures onto enlarged prints of vintage postcards. The accompanying prints and, more so, elaborate titles such as "Monument to a Manipulated State of Well Being," 2013 and "Monument to Accelerated Impermanence," 2013, undercut the innocence of the bright characters.
When I note in an email to the artist that these titles seem to refer equally to Eastern spirituality and Western psychology, she replies that, "They do reference the East and the West, but they are more about the failure of capitalism in the west and communism in the east. I was actually inspired by the show, "Building the Revolution," that originated at the Royal Academy of Art (10/11-01/12) and traveled to Berlin but doesn't seem to have come to this country. The show starts with Tatlin's "Model for a Monument to the Third International," 1920, and includes work by other Constructivists including these great maquettes by Liubov Popova: "City of the Future" and "Capitalist Fortress." Russian Communism and American Capitalism both failed to deliver on the promise of the Industrial Revolution, to provide the basic needs of every citizen."
Throughout this body of work, Barosh builds on her interest in popular culture and a very real consideration of how art can manifest and represent our dreams and fears, frustrations and reveries. A quilt-like wall work, "Arcadia," 2013, is made with burned, bleached, and printed fabric, polyester and cotton batting, vinyl, vacuum-formed acrylic letters, and fiberglass. Despite its contemporary media, this work is inspired by a 17th century painting by Nicholas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego, a Latin phrase literally translated as, I am in Arcadia, and widely interpreted by art historians as being spoke by Death. Arcadia is linked to paradise so the phrase suggests that death is everywhere, even in paradise, beauty, deep contentment, or, as Barosh might say, feeling good. "Today we live with the promise of a technological Utopia, the Arcadia of our times," Barosh reflects, "The manipulated, digitalized, burned and taped together kitty quilt with its box-patterned fiberglass sarcophagus becomes, for me, the momento mori for this technological age."
Miyoshi Barosh "Feel Better" is on view at Luis de Jesus Gallery in Culver City through February 15, 2014