No, yes, Christ, crossing, 10, times, poison, pirates, dead string, straight-edge, I’m lying, I like you�an X can mean a lot of things. But an X is never just an X. In Crux, Mokha Laget creates a space to meditate upon the X and all its connotations in order to leave those associations behind�or not as the case may be.
When one enters the exhibition, a cross�the Christian kind�called “Bildung XXI” is immediately visible high on the far wall. Simultaneously visible on the near title wall are two pieces, one a vertical line, “Bildung XXIII,” the other a table (two vertical lines and an over-arching top), “Bildung XIV.” These three pieces, along with most of the exhibition, consist of wooden beams covered in canvas and painted with acrylic. The acrylic on all the pieces is compact and alive, and ranges from Frank Lloyd Wright to Fruit Stripe zebra tattoo chewing gum to West African to sumi-e ink in style.
The common “Bildung” title (an utterly explicated but totally nerdy term) roughly means “education” in German, but is more elegant and comprehensive. The artist’s statement says the word has come to mean “unfolding of one’s potential” and is “associated with liberation of the mind from tradition and superstition.” Similarly, a bildungsroman is a story that traces the moral and psychological growth of the main character.
Fair enough. Over the course of this exhibition, viewers watch the cross grow, or at least change, as it is gussied up and abstracted. Laget constructs crosses, but also sideways Ts, henge, levels and parallel, horizontal and vertical lines. Following the pieces around the room, one witnesses the transmutations of the cross. It stands up, stands down, limps, lilts and disassembles, until on the upper ceiling, only visible from within the exhibition, a simple X resides. That X, “Bildung XXVI,” is made from what look like two bisecting film reels.
In an even more extreme departure, “Lucky 13,” a 3-foot segment of a tree freed from bark, stands at one of the exhibition’s corners. Its top is painted a sturdy pink that drips in a single line down the length of the wood (the blood of Christ?). Perhaps it’s lucky for being the sole tree intact (well, sort of), or for not having had to bear the weight of Christ or the blood of the Crusades.
These crosses reduce to the base products they are: two (more or fewer) pieces of wood, often fitted with canvas and painted.
The idea of a cross is there, however, and the Spector Ripps Project Space, a room that is lofty, white and peaked like a chapel, does nothing to dissuade the crosses’ pervasive connotations. Additionally, many of the pieces are crosses and one can’t forget having seen them.
For a literary exhibition, the varied pieces present the “crux” (whose first definition in Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a puzzling or difficult problem: an unsolved question”) that is the crux (“3: a main or central feature (as of an argument)”) of the exhibition.
While deconstructing and decontextualizing the cross, Laget simultaneously shows how inextricable its connotations are. For a koan: It is a cross�with all its baggage�until it isn’t.
Although the patterned crosses don’t seem durable enough to carry the weight they conjure, they are crosses nonetheless. The cross itself never held any inherent value. Its rife symbolism, however, comes from the people who vest the sign with meaning, not the other way around. Otherwise a cross would only be an X.