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Noelle Mason at Thomas Robertello Gallery

Robin Dluzen

Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan)

Noelle Mason’s exhibition, “Bad Boys,” on display at Thomas Robertello Gallery, does address what the title suggests, however the artist’s exploration is much more complex than merely pointing a finger at stereotypical masculine roles; Mason’s exhibition articulates the social construct that can predicate delusional, violent tendencies in contemporary masculinity.

Mason frames the work in this exhibition as “investigating and critiquing the idea of hysterical masculinity,” turning the term—originally applied by the Greeks to women and their ‘wandering uteri’—on its head, to describe the occurrences of horrific, illogical conduct in the masculine. Approaching events like the Columbine school shootings, war and terrorism through the lens of art, Mason’s Fond (fingerbang), is a conceptual connection between the various works of different media. This three-minute video of the artist’s female fingers penetrating a Dia Foundation Joseph Beuys felt sculpture is embedded in the gallery wall, only visible through a ‘glory hole’ cut at waist height. The inclusion of Beuys’ practice in this exhibition further informs Mason’s works as addressing an overarching anomaly that is based upon fabricated ritualism.

The recuperative themes within Beuys’ practice pinpoints the delusions present in the events depicted in Mason’s works, ones in which the males involved have convinced themselves of a need to ‘right the wrongs’ they see in their lives: terror ideologies, police violence, school shootings, etc. The work, Big Stick (Dithyramb), a 121-inch-long police Billy-club reinforces the competitive nature that accompanies these masculine ‘heroics’ by way of violence and destruction; it does so through its reference to the Greek ritual of Dithyramb, which was performed competitively, and exclusively by men and boys.

Sonata

However, many of Mason’s works undermine this masculine myth of violence leading to recuperation or enlightenment. Some works mediate the source imagery to the point where the intended provocation and intimidation are completely nullified, such as Sonata, a depiction of Al-Qaeda beheadings turned into sheet music laser cut in vellum. Others re-present the delusions through historically feminine craft, such as Love Letters (White Flag), the writings of one of the Columbine shooters transcribed as embroidery on handkerchiefs.

And other works provide glimpses into the hysterical behaviors, displaying the disturbing imagery, but reducing the visual charge in varying degrees, as in the cross-stitched camera footage of Nothing much happened today (for Eric and Dylan), or the calm voice tones accompanying the actual sniper and Gulf War footage of LAN Party, or “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” Mason exhibits this ritualistic violence not only through retrospect, but also as present in our daily news. And, if the Billy-club waiting in the corner is a metaphor for this hysterical masculinity, present here is a suggestion that more of this behavior is to come.