Hammer Projects: Brenna Youngblood

Hammer Projects: Brenna Youngblood

Brenna Youngblood's photographic collages are drawn from her everyday life, broken apart and re-assembled. Figures, architecture, and decorative backdrops are fragmented, multiplied and layered to form dynamic, chaotic rhythms. Youngblood uses her own archive of photographic images and details, from which she pieces together mosaic-like versions of her environment and community. Police cars, storefronts, and people in the artist's life intertwine, conjuring up personal, social, and cultural situations that are sometimes sinister, sometimes humorous.

Hammer Projects: Brenna Youngblood. Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. January 14-April 12, 2006. Photo by Joshua White.

Biography

Brenna Youngblood was born in 1979 in Riverside, California, and currently lives in Los Angeles. She received her BFA in 2002 from California State University, Long Beach, and will receive her MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2006. She participated in group exhibitions at Hayworth Gallery and Compact/Space in Los Angeles in 2004. Her photographic collages were included in Handmade at Wallspace, New York, and State of Emergence: Unsuspected Cracks in the Art World Infrastructure at Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles, both in 2005. This is Youngblood’s first museum exhibition.

Essay

By Kianga Ford

Brenna Youngblood's is a whirlwind chronology that moves from straight portraiture to large-scale landscape collage in less than a couple of years. The images of Youngblood's family and friends, prominent in her earliest works, have receded over time and given way to what the artist articulates as issues of ethics and contemporary representation. In Youngblood's current work, these figures have been drawn into a narrative-driven landscape where subjectivity is implied, rather than exploited, in the architectural details and imagined horizons of her dystopic urban scenes.

If, as a very young photographer, Youngblood started with an interest in her family, friends, and friends' families, and in the architectural and interior details of their domestic lives—from the embroideries on their cabinets to the chairs in their living rooms—then, in this maturing body of new work, as she herself notes, "the people sort of became architecture."1 In an intellectual double take, she returns to photography to reckon with the question of how one represents already saturated and disregarded figures. She lands front and center in the contemporary ethical struggle over "not using an iconographic image of a black man/black woman" in a medium best known for its capacity to render the body with compelling veracity and for its historical fetishization of just such bodies. 

 

 "It's suicide . . . you can't win!" yells Adrian Balboa. "Bla, Bla, Bla," I Reply"  It's suicide  It's Suicide Really, You Shouldn't Have 

 The Subtle Shift between Then and Now  Detail of a Fine Mess  It's Suicide  Really, You Shouldn't Have

Like much of the art that has fallen under the rubric of a broadly post-black gesture, Youngblood's works are materially and architecturally sensitive innovations that remain deeply concerned with flow, position, people, and relationships. Clearly present is the urban collage work of artists such as Mark Bradford, whose aesthetic proximity, Youngblood would argue, is a function of being engaged in the same conversation. The work, too, has fantastic elements that reveal the spaces and conversations that shares with the boys of Conceptual Popstraction2 and other UCLA contemporaries such as Elliot Hundley. Beyond the contemporary dialogues to which she adds a clear voice, Youngblood presents here a body of work with a broad range of historical citations and interlocutions, from Romare Bearden to Mark Rothko, from William Eggleston to Nan Goldin.

Notes
1. All quotations from Brenna Youngblood are from an interview with the author, November 2005.
2. The artist of Conceptual Popstraction, a self-generated label, are Amir H. Fallah, Chris Grant, Nathan Mabry, Antonio Adriano Puleo, and Rob Thom. The artist published a book documenting their experiences and the work they produced as students in the UCLA graduate fine art program and participated in a group exhibition of the same title at cherrydelosreyes gallery in Los Angles; see Conceptual Popstraction ([Culver City, Calif.]: Beautiful/Decay, 2004).

Kianga Ford is an artist and scholar. She is a 2003 graduate of UCLA’s MFA program; a doctoral candidate in the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and an assistant professor in the Studio for Interrelated Media at Massachusetts College of Art.

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Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, Fox Entertainment Group's Arts Development Fee, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.