... a Margaret Roleke solo exhibition that provokes deeper investigation into what the American legacy truly is—not what the age-old myth of American Exceptionalism has preserved, but what the day-to-day lived reality is cementing into history.
A year ago, almost to the day, America’s most impressionable attacked the US Capitol building in Washington D.C., an effort incited by propaganda spread by the country’s leader. Supporters breached security perimeters and occupied the building in pursuit of government officials with the intention of causing them harm. It was a scene that portrayed the country and its citizens as nothing more than a bunch of savages—ironically the very “brutes” the country’s founding was sworn to save. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more.” Words from the former President himself, which correctly reflect the truth: to live in America is to tread through the ever present undercurrent of violence that pervasively surges, surely to be remnants of the violence that founded the country rippling through time.
The Contemporary Art Modern Project is honored to present March On Society, a Margaret Roleke solo exhibition that provokes deeper investigation into what the American legacy truly is—not what the age-old myth of American Exceptionalism has preserved, but what the day-to-day lived reality is cementing into history.
Roleke creates sculptures muted in color, though extremely charged in content, that exist as what can only be described as relics of a lost cause. Her work Disorder features small toy houses, guns, army men, trees, and other items coated in a somber grey, a grey akin to the ash that coats a scene after a large fire. The items are arranged—intentionally, of course—disorderly, though with the scattered placement of toy homes, one gets the feeling that they are looking at an aerial map of suburban America. What should have been well thought out and planned, containing within it the potential for realization, presents as the byproduct of misguided efforts.
This feeling of misguided effort is enlivened throughout Roleke’s work by way of her usage of plastic toys, in both her sculpture and cyanotype works. Though it may be difficult to admit, most of us traverse a period of misguidedness, and, usually, this is during our youth. It’s practically unavoidable, with little experience, and therefore a lack of knowledge or a chance to apply the very little we have, many of us move idealistically. This is precisely the case for America, and Roleke makes this clear. In her work Baby Blue War, American toy soldiers lay clustered across what reads as a globe, calling into mind America's position as a worldly force. Comparatively, America is quite young, both culturally and politically. At only 246 years old, she is the little sister to nations like Britain or France. Roleke displays America’s misguided efforts in international relations in her work Lace Wars, the country’s shameful lack of public health in McDonaldland, and the shared illusion of safety, particularly for women, in Holy Torture.
The artist delves into this elusive idea of safety in America through her cyanotype works, often conjuring up the image of a gun, and rightfully so, as on the topic of gun violence, America stands as an outlier. It is particularly in Roleke’s work Liberty Gun that we see the country's relationship with violence so clearly conceptualized; the outline of Lady Liberty’s hand raising her torch is superimposed directly over the barrel of a gun. In America, violence, and the right to exercise it, is synonymous with freedom. What’s even more jarring is that this is the ideology we wish to enlighten the world with, this is what we choose our legacy to be. In the work Association, though the title is referring to the word “association” in the NRA logo that's layered between images of toy bodies, chains, and targets, the image itself, in all of its chaotic glory, is very American. These are all things associated with who we are.
The brilliance of Margaret Roleke’s work lies in its objectivity. Rather than promoting an opinion, or attaching emotions, she simply presents the facts, allowing the viewer to digest what’s in front of them. It’s often hard to evaluate the state of things when you’re so deeply entrenched within what you’re observing, but March On Society provides a detached, yet achingly grounded perspective on the current state of affairs.
Statement by Brianna Luz Fernandez
Curation by Brianna Luz Fernandez and Amy Clarke