There's a human-sized hole in the wall at Commonwealth & Council where Gracie DeVito broke through a couple Saturday nights ago. She was doing a performance she called If I don't go through a wall I'll always wonder what it would have been like that began with her playing harmonium, an instrument that looks a lot like an accordion, and singing about not knowing what it would be like if she didn't go through a wall. Then she said, “Well, I might as well go.”
She had already cut a small hole into the dummy wall she'd seamlessly built a few feet out from the original wall into which a bowl of green apples had been inserted. She had built two white steps a few feet below that bowl, so after she removed the bowl, she climbed up the steps and wiggled through the hole headfirst. She disappeared for a moment before bursting back through the thin drywall she'd previously scored with a knife.
DeVito's holes and the two boldly whimsical paintings flanking them, one of two horses done on the backside of a sheet of drywall, are part of the show “Akina Cox and the Holy Trinity.” Artist Akina Cox organized the show and has her work in the small front gallery, to the left of the second-floor Koreatown space's entryway. Devito shares the much larger main gallery with the rest of the trinity: Krista Buecking and Ariane Vielmetter.]
Before the show opened, Cox explained via email that the Holy Trinity reference had less to do with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost than with the Unificationist practice of organizing new converts into same-gender support groups of three. In 2012, Cox made a small book called When I Tell You I was Born into a Cult this is What it Means, which is full of observations about growing up in the Unification Church (members are often called “moonies,” given that Reverend Sun Myung Moon started the church). For instance: “Art lessons and sports were usually after six-hour lectures on eschatology and the return of Christ.” So what seemed most interesting about the show before it opened was the way it might expose the overlaps between weird religious communities that alienate outsiders and art communities, which can sometimes seem like equally exclusive, secular substitutes for religion.
Now that it's up, what's most interesting about the show is the way it treats friendship
The same weekend “Akina Cox and the Holy Trinity” opened, the third, so-far disappointing season of Lena Dunham's show Girls debuted on HBO with two back-to-back episodes. In the second one, Hannah (played by Dunham), her on-again boyfriend Adam and friend Shoshanna drive to pick-up problematic Jessa from rehab. Adam doesn't understand why Hannah assumes Jessa's actually ready to go. “When was the last time an addict lied?” he asks. Hannah tells Adam he doesn't understand female friendship. “You're right,” he says. “I don't. And I don't want to if it involves ignoring all logic and being totally hysterical.” This seems to be a prophesy, as the girls become caricatures of themselves and more stereotypically vulnerable than they've been in previous seasons as the episode continues.
The portrayals of vulnerability at Commonwealth & Council are not stereotypical, and the relationships between the artists, who went to school together and see each other often, seem fairly logical, or at least comfortable. Cox painted the small gallery's walls all black, except for a white rectangle she projects her video Ugly Duck onto. The black and white footage shows the artist, in a white dress rolling down a woody path, then being covered in a large black egg, muddling that familiar ugly-to-pretty narrative. A version of Camille Saint-Saens “The Swan” in a minor key, which Cox's performs on cello and calls “Ugly Duck” like the video, mingles with sounds coming from the other gallery. There, a version of the Ronette's Be My Baby accompanies Krista Buecking's video of a blue sky and plant leaves, with a GAP bag briefly moving into the frame. The video plays behind a cleanly carpeted light green platform called transaction island, with bright orange foam letters that say “I'm Okay, You're Okay,” after self-help guru Thomas Anthony Harris's best selling book – according to Harris, people usually take the “I'm not okay, you're okay” position, assuming others have it better.
Ariane Vielmetter's gesso and watercolor paintings of a gloved midwife's hand and a pretzel, domestic images rendered on rough black paper, hang to the right of Buecking's work. DeVito's paintings and hole in the wall are to the left. “We all had input with each other's work – Ariane helped Gracie place some of the objects on the wall, and at different stages of development we all asked for each other's input when we were stumped,” wrote Cox, a few days after the show went up. “I don't know if that makes the work very collaborative, as most of the work was made by us each in isolation . . . but I think it is very representative of how we work.”
“Akina Cox and the Holy Trinity: Krista Buecking, Gracie DeVito, Ariane Vielmetter” is on view at Commonwealth & Council through Feb. 1.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Rev. Sun Myung Moon as Rev. Moonie. We regret the error.
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