Personal Values 

Jordan Essoe makes conceptual artwork about, uh, life and death.

The mixed-media works in Jordan Essoe's installation, Strictfathermodel, at 21 Grand, seem at first glance visually austere and thematically esoteric. The longer we consider them, however, the more idiosyncratic they appear: the pale gray, square photos displayed above white sheets painted with yellow-tan squares; a small painting of sky and trees next to an oddly torn drawing of a young woman holding a bowl; two long horizontal paintings, one dappled gray, floorbound, and partly wrapped in plastic, and the other blank white except for a grisaille depiction of three dead men surrounded by ghostly onlookers; a glass bowl of shredded paper cushioning two bottles; an empty white bookshelf shrouded in plastic wrap; and a video of a vasectomy.

Fortunately, I received a full briefing from Essoe, who was present at the gallery (as he will be on Saturdays while the show runs). The title comes from George Lakoff's Moral Politics, which theorizes two antithetical parenting styles, "strict father" and "nurturant parent," deriving, if I am interpreting correctly, from differing world views: realistic/cynical/paternal and idealistic/utopian/maternal. Essoe, who recently underwent a vasectomy (filmed by his wife), here commemorates their marriage and analyzes his abjured role in continuing the genetic line — which "feels like an act of violence against [your own children], against their family, and against the world." The symbolism informing the work is complicated, involving Camus' hypothetical book on morality, 99 blank pages concluding with one page exhorting love, so a brief summary will have to suffice. The sunset painting is based on a photo taken the day Essoe proposed; the woman in the drawing is his wife at their wedding; the 99 square photos are shots of the sky on successive days before and after the operation, while the 99 square ideograms, traditionally symbolizing man and earth, were painted with semen (following Duchamp's precedent, a painting for a former mistress); the dead men come from a photo that Essoe's immigrant grandfather marked in a book about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution; and the glass bowl contains shredded calendar pages and seven years' nail clippings. Strictfathermodel's meditation on time and transcendence is a serious reply to Duchamp's naughty, witty post-Edwardian Large Glass; if it is less elaborately elucidated, and similarly abstruse, its serious examination of "the intersection of morality and mortality" may be what we need societally more than jokes about mechanosexual delays and roundelays — if that's not too strict. Through October 28 at 21 Grand (416 25th St., Oakland). or 510-444-7263.


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