LOS ANGELES — The first thing I encountered in Kevin Beasley’s exhibition On Site at Regen Projects was a wall of ambient sound. I saw a speaker hanging high on a wall, which was connected by a long black cord. I followed it into the second room, which had more speakers and more cords, before it led me to the third and final room where I found a utility pole around which all the cords gathered, reaching from floor to ceiling. This pole, “THE SOURCE” (2022), is the center for the sound as well as the power for the lights that emanate from it. I had followed a network that bound together an exhibition of objects.
While sound filled the space, so too did material and color in the form of the large works hung on the walls. Beasley calls these slabs, alluding to a long history of friezes that are a hybrid of two and three dimensions. They are made from cotton, house dresses, t-shirts, and du-rags, bound together by resin. Some are compositions that, from far away, resemble the abstract impressionism of Joan Mitchell or Norman Lewis. Images like “Site IV”(2022) are explosions of clementine and violet, while “Crucible”(2022) hints at a subtle horizon, suggesting a nocturnal landscape.
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Up close, the materiality of these images is both physical and conceptual. The house dresses, stretched in full or chopped up into confetti, allude to Beasley’s grandmother, the material transporting the viewer to interior spaces of domestic intimacy, located in the American South. The plethora of cotton, which I first saw as an allusion to a history of brutal subjugation, was picked from Beasley’s family farm in Lynchburg, Virginia — telling a much more complex story of an industry bent towards self-determination.
Woven into some slabs are photographic images of trees, a fragment of coastline, and a shack-like architectural structure, giving clues to other sites that the exhibition alludes to. Indeed, the exhibition’s title, On Site, provokes us to think of these images as portals to other places. The utility pole resembles one that Beasley built in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in a community garden that he established as his contribution to Prospect 5. It provides free internet to the perpetually struggling community as a part of a long-term project that is intended to outlast the exhibition. While the New Orleans pole might follow what Tania Bruguera calls Arte Útil, a socially useful project that caters to the urgent needs of its immediate public, the pole in Los Angeles functions much more as a representation of that use, a sign of potential.
While this exhibition exists in an austere white cube, far away from the heavy heat and kudzu of Virginia or Louisiana, these sites, historically significant loci of the South, are invoked. In her book South to America, African American scholar and professor Imani Perry says, “Paying attention to the South — its past, its dance, its present, its threatening future, and most of all how it moves the rest of the country about — allows us to understand much more about our nation.” Some think of the American South as the Southeast, the Antebellum South, but in truth, the South stretches all across the Sun Belt, and while a gallery setting might be anodyne, we know that this city holds much more under the surface. In this sense, Los Angeles is also a part of this story, one more star in a constellation of southern cities, one more site to contemplate our troubled past and imagine another future.
Kevin Beasley: On Site continues at Regen Projects (6750 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood) through June 25. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.