Orchestrated Gestures

Clifton Childree

November 27, 2010 - January 29, 2011

Clifton Childree’s sculptural installations convey narratives of unfinished or lost musical pieces by Scott Joplin, Richard Wagner and Alexander  Scriabin. A blend of fact and extrapolation, Childree’ stories take the form  of old arcade games, each housing a preview game trailer enticing someone  to play. The games’ physical structures re-enact the stories they have  endlessly repeated, so much that the story haunts the inanimate thing.

Gone-Aria-Rag re-enacts the untimely end of ragtime composer Scott Joplin, whose body was destroyed by syphillis. The film in this piece shows Childree performing as Joplin, playing piano in a bordello. The arcade built around the film comes across as a run down version of a strength-and-hammer game.  A disembodied penis appears in the film, encouraging players to hit the  cushion on the floor in imitation the brute cure for syphilis in Joplin’s time. The machine grunts and buzzes, and musical notes burst out. “Harder!” the trailer demands. The game tries again, hitting harder until the penis is erect. A winner! We then see Joplin locked in an asylum. The late stages of syphilis affect the nervous system, rendering the subject insane. Childree shows Joplin playing the piano again, but now his hands are destroyed and he is blind.  He falls to the floor, as does the the game itself.

Gesamtkunstwerk tells Childree’s story of mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, the patron of Richard Wagner whose piece plays in the background. King Ludwig built castles and spent extravagantly on the arts, and could not be bothered with matters of state. His attitude did not endear him to other powerful people in Bavaria. Childree is skeptical of the official account that King Ludwig fell into a lake, since Ludwig drowned with his doctor in waist deep water the night after he was kicked out of the castle. In the game’s trailer, Childree  portrays King Ludwig in all his effeminate glory, dancing about his room, until he is shot and then deposited in the lake. The arcade, fashioned after an organ, is sinking into the lake, smashed by a replica of the King’s memorial.

Mysterium pivots on the personality and death of Alexander Scriabin.  He spent his life composing an epic piece of music that he never finished. Scriabin was a brilliant composer, but he was a hypochondriac. He died of sepsis after a small boil, which he picked, became infected. His incomplete masterpiece plays here, but in snippets, as if the musical piece is dissolving. The trailer, too, gives glimpses of Scriabin, but the picture is incomplete,  disjointed, playing the game over and over again in slight variations.




In Orchestrated Gestures, Clifton Childree will exhibit new sculptures, with film and audio components, in the form of old arcade machines. Each of these three machines conveys sketchedout narratives associated with musical pieces by composers Scott Joplin, Richard Wagner and Alexander Scriabin. Childree's arcade games elaborate on and combine aspects of his previous work: grotesque slapstick, sweet silent film, self-contained arcade games and large-scale installations that incorporate his films. With Orchestrated Gestures, Childree creates his first exhibition of stand-alone sculptures, each more fully realizing the potential of the arcade game's form and more focused than his all-encompassing installations, like Dream-Cum-Tru at Locust Projects in 2008. 

The first machine re-enacts the untimely end of ragtime composer Scott Joplin. A blend of fact and extrapolation, Childree's story of Joplin is relayed by the film and its housing - the arcade game. The film in this piece shows Childree performing as Joplin playing piano in a bordello. The arcade built around the film comes across as a version of the strength-and-hammer game. In the arcade game's physical structure re-enacting a part of the story that its film describes, so much that the story haunts the inanimate game. Similarly, the second arcade game acts out the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria, known as "Mad King Ludwig," the patron of Richard Wagner, whose music accompanies the game. The king's effeminate character and his ignoble death are fodder for Childree's exaggerations and hyperbole - all part of the slapstick style. The third machine crystallizes the character of composer Alexander Scriabin, a hypochondriac who died when a small boil he picked at became infected. Scriabin's unfinished masterpiece, Mysterium, accompanies the machine's telling of his story. Each of the musical pieces in this exhibition was either unfinished or lost, yetanother beauty Childree finds in attenuated states of being.

His work will also be on view at Galerie Ernst Hilger's booth at the PULSE Art Fair in Miami, December 2-5, 2010. 

Childree has shown his work in over 40 international film festivals. He has shown in Miami at MAM, MoCA, Art Center South Florida, BFI, Pulse Art Fair, FIU, Miami International Film Festival, Florida Dance Festival and Locust Projects. He received the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship, the Legal Art Native Seeds Grant, and the Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, and was commissioned by The Miami Performing Arts Center/Miami Light Project and Hilger Contemporary Gallery. He is featured in the book Miami Contemporary Artists and is in production on a book for NAME publishing. He will have his first solo museum show at the Wien Kunsthalle, summer 2011. He lives and works in Miami, FL.

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