Rachel Mason’s show at Andrew Rafacz Gallery inspired something in me I never thought I’d feel: the desire to pick up the grizzled Fidel Castro and put him in my pocket.
Or at least, the little bust of him that Mason has made, along with dozens of other late 20th century political figures that have been arranged on a shelf spanning three of the gallery’s walls.
Mason has done a pretty good job at capturing the likes of Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Bhreznev and an astonishingly numerous array of others whose heads we’ve seen on television screens or in newspapers but which have here been reduced to the scale of domestic knick-knacks. This editioned series of sculptures is part of a long-term project in which Mason fantasized about the emotional lives of world leaders embroiled in war and conflict.
In an attempt to gain a subjective and emotional understanding of their controversial actions, she’s projected herself into their personas via live performances, videos, writings by herself and others, and sculptural figurines made over the last four years (check out the artist’s website for examples of texts, music and performances from this project, which is titled “The Ambassadors”).
This multi-faceted project is difficult to contain in a single gallery (Rafecz is showing the sculptures, an artist’s book, and apparently a video which wasn’t on when I visited the gallery last Wednesday). I have to admit I don’t always have a lot of patience for sprawling, multi-part performance-based works of this type. It’s a weakness on my part, I know, but the fetishist in me remains fully under the sway of objects, be they two – or three-dimensional, and I do tend to think that objects work best when left to their own devices. Mason’s great feat is her ability to take historical leaders, some revered, some loathed and feared, and shrink them to the size of Hummel figures without simultaneously rendering them objects of kitsch. There’s a certain pathos to the artist’s labor-intensive efforts to create things that could so easily be dismissed as cutesy jokes; but Mason’s sincerity comes though in the way she inserts her own, slightly smaller ambassadorial figure into the parade of statues as a persistent disruption. The empathy with which Mason approaches the subject of war and political leadership is an anomaly in this age of hard-line factionalism and harsh political rhetoric. It’s easy to wear your politics on your t-shirt, but far more difficult to cloak yourself in the garb of your political Other and, heart on sleeve, sing a song or write a poem in their name. The show closes Saturday, so if you want to see it, go over right away.