For all the art that addresses protest and activism, it is surprisingly rare to come across a work that is as succinct and conceptually together as Jordan Corine Cruz’s “Face Each Other, Burn Together.” The object, installed at Haul Gallery, is a police barricade cast entirely of red wax with long wicks embedded at each end. As the wicks burn, the barricade structure slowly breaks down and falls apart. It is a simple yet powerful gesture against what the artist calls “the language of enforcement.”
References to Catholicism are embedded in her use of votive prayer candles as the source material for her sculpture. Implicit in the object’s slow collapse are notions of symbolic sacrifice and the act of prayer. Yet both rituals are subverted by repurposing the candles to make an object that is destroyed rather than worshipped. Cruz’s ritual requires no kneeling or pleas for forgiveness, just the desire to dismantle racist and oppressive structures.
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The artist has reproduced the cast object in the past and is planning a future melting ritual in the Bronx. People in her community are often corralled, held back, and contained by barricades; the work is a direct challenge to this authoritarian control over their bodies and freedom of movement. According to the artist, it is “the first iteration of a city-wide protest.”
“Face Each Other, Burn Together” is a perfect fit for the avowedly anti-capitalist Haul Gallery, a venue located in a trailer 100 yards from the Gowanus canal, where the subway rumbles by every five minutes. Owners Max C. Lee and Erin Davis pledge to give artists 70% (instead of the customary 50%) of any sale because they don’t believe a gallery needs to be just one more obstacle for artists to overcome. It’s exactly the sort of overlooked urban space where Cruz’s piece resonates the most — ritualistically transforming a symbol of oppression into an object of quiet meditation.
Face Each Other, Burn Together: Jordan Corine Cruz continues at Haul Gallery (24 9th Street, Trailer R, Gowanus, Brooklyn) through April 23. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.