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Oakland art exhibit dissects masculinity and the military

on September 2, 2011

Jason Hanasik’s looping video, “Sharrod (Turn/Twirl)” is framed by his portrait series of the same subject. Photo courtesy of Krowswork.

To check out Krowswork, first you have to find it. The gallery is tucked behind Chandra Cerrito Contemporary on 23rd Street, through a metal gate on the east side of the building. Inside, subtle design features echo an overall sense of being in a forgotten place: An old door has been plastered over, leaving a rectangular imprint; a slat of wood peeks through a triangular hole in the wall, the word ‘remember’ scrawled across its surface.

A short hallway plots a line through four modestly-sized rooms containing video installations and photographs. Unlike a traditional gallery with a few wide-open rooms, the flow of traffic here is confined to a mostly linear path. That prescription of movement helps underscore common themes between the two presenting artists, said owner-director Jasmine Moorhead. The current show, This Means War is Personal, “presents itself as a dialogue,” she said.

It is among a wave of exciting exhibitions and events that signal the kicking off the Fall Season of First Friday art walks, a project by Oakland Art Murmur. Member galleries have recently revamped their monthly program, holding smaller receptions on first Saturdays and organized tours on third Saturdays, as well. “Frankly, First Friday has gotten a little crowded,” said Danielle Fox, executive director for Oakland Art Murmur. Third Saturday tours depart from Mama Buzz Cafe on Telegraph at 2 p.m.

Upon entering Krowswork, there is a seamlessly looped video of a young man wearing his uniform from a mock bootcamp, turning in a slow circle while remaining rigidly at attention. His boyish face peers out, again, and again, as he eternally pirouettes in the entryway between two walls, on which hang photographs of the same man at home. He always seems to occupy the little niched spaces in between things. He is laying down in the shadow between two trees, or sitting on the curb between a median and a highway.

“It’s more about him conforming to his uniform, rather than his uniform conforming to him,” said artist Jason Hanasik. He was referring to a specific print, but the idea also describes the overall function of the entryway—to probe the construction of “one of the ultimate forms of masculinity in Western culture, the military man,” he said.

In the next room, that construction gets broken down. Another looped video shows one marine giving another dance lessons. Most of the time they are posturing, flashing quick glances at the camera, laughing. But in small moments, there are glimpses of tenderness between them.

Hanasik said his work is often perceived as dealing largely with sexuality. He disagrees. “I’m not interested in homosexuality or heterosexuality,” he said. “I’m interested in that liminal area where people are unhinged from expectations.”

At first it seems hard to imagine that Hanasik, who is openly gay, has been able to make straight male marines, who fascinate him as subjects, feel comfortable in his presence. It wasn’t always that way. His orientation alienated him from many people in Hampton Roads, an area in Virginia that houses the country’s largest naval base, where he grew up. His childhood best friend’s younger brother, a boy named Steven, wanted nothing do do with him.

An important turning point came when their mutual friend Josh died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. “Steven and Josh were in different platoons, but enlisted the same day,” said Hanasik. He recalled the moment Steven first opened up to him. It was in a car, shortly after the crash, and the marine was trying to fight back tears. “I didn’t look away,” said Hanasik. And then tears came, along with the feelings Steven had bottled up.

Steven started inviting Hanasik to parties, and the young photographer got to know other marines, some of whom also began to talk openly with him, knowing he was gay. One of them told him, “’You need to see what I made in Iraq,’” Hanasik said, and then showed him an archive of video footage he’d taken, including the raw material of the soldiers dancing.

“When I saw this video” Hanasik said, “I almost started weeping.”

The first time Moorhead saw the video, the curator said, it impressed her deeply. “To me there’s this absolute innocence of this act that’s outside of sexuality completely.” She said, “Both [artists] have gone to great lengths to not predict the obvious.”

At the opposite end of the gallery, David Gregory Wallace has mounted an array of theater lights along the back of a chair, all pointing in a single direction, illuminating a pile of rubble in a corner of the room. It brings to mind an “interrogation inverted,” said Wallace. “The focus is not upon the person trapped in the chair but rather the possibility of another truth just behind it.” It asks, “’What is left over when a bomb is dropped?'”

In an adjacent room, a more ambitious Wallace project represents two-and-one-half years of research. A monitor displays unclassified video taken by U.S. Military drones, which Wallace collected from the Department of Defense. Similarly to declassified text documents, certain areas of the screen have been censored, blacked out. This spurred Wallace to question, “What do these censored areas reveal?”

As part of his research, Wallace said, he made several trips to Indian Springs, Nev., where drone jets are launched from the Creech Air Force base. There, he said, pilots spend several hours flying remote aircrafts through war zones, returning to their homes and families at night.

As a sort of visual rumination, Wallace projects original footage onto a fabric screen opposite the monitor. Large blacked-out areas hide much of the image. Behind the screen, another world lies hidden; there is a table set for dinner, a vase of flowers, two empty chairs. The video projection obscures the scene and it’s only through the image redactions, the censored spaces, that we can make out silhouetted shapes of the kitchen scene.

Moorhead said, “To me, this piece is very much representing David’s life, the lives of the worker there, the lives of the pilots, and then the lives of the people affected in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

This means War is Personal is viewable today from 6-9 p.m. Normal weekly hours are Friday 3-6 p.m. And Saturdays 1-5 p.m., and by appointment at (510) 229-7035 or

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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