In what Fred Jameson calls the “long countdown to Utopia or extinction,” Hugo Hopping’s post-conceptual art sets its arms—i.e. shimmering surfaces—down in the warm light of the negative, the critical apprehension of our geopolitical situation. Born in Mexico City, Hopping has spent much of his life since adolescence in East Los Angeles (he is part of an L.A. generation that includes Ruben Ochoa and Carlee Fernandez.). In the last several years he has shuttled back and forth among Copenhagen, Paris, and Barcelona. If Los Angeles anchors the experiential core of Hopping’s work, his aesthetic regard is formed by a “regional” set of influences: Marcel Duchamp, Ulises Carrión, David Hammons, Adrian Piper, not to mention the polymaths Allan Sekula, Michael Asher, and Andrea Fraser. Hopping’s work, a positioning system for cultural politics, arises from the streets of a global Los Angeles. In it, enigmatically “high impact” aesthetics, creating a strong response readymade for a security/surveillance apparatus, find themselves run up against an “engagement” that recalls left Latin American artists from the last (-is-it-really-over?) century.

From a different perspective, Hopping’s art can be slotted into the burgeoning, neo-traditional, text-based conceptual practice that mines the reflexive features of gallery and museum reception, i.e. institutional critique. His collaboration with Mario Garcia Torres and Nate Harrison on the para-gallery, ESL (Esthetics as a Second Language), aimed at the partial transcendence of exhibiting currents today. ESL organized a once a month and one night only opening that hosted the artist for a site-specific installation and discussion. Not a gallery and certainly not an institution, neither authoritarian nor democratic in structure, ESL explored a flexible organization inclusive of its participants. There are still codes to undo, many ways left to change the existing order—this is a Hopping maxim. 21st century standardization finds an absent expressivity, its surfaces reverse engineered and repurposed for some other kind of strange-familiar mission. Home Depot has the requisite materials. (Hopping’s contribution to the Mexicali Biennial a few years ago was comprised of identical takeaway toilet seat covers, homogenously stamped with “I am the past, the present, and the future.”)

Hopping’s interests lie either on or in the surfaces of globalization’s homogenization and standardization (in this, his proximate relation to Sekula). A 2006 project, En Memoria del Marxista Desconocido (In Memory of the Unknown Marxist), found Hopping transmogrifying a standard red with white lettering “For Rent” sign, into a talisman of some historical potency: the title of the work appeared in white lettering, in a band of 3 lines, with all the plaintive urgency of one of Jean-Luc Godard’s intertitles. From there the project turned into un proceso, beginning with printing the signs in substantial number. I encountered them at G727, on Spring St. in downtown L.A., alongside a slide show of Hopping dressed in mourning garb. He was depicted “slanging” these signs at the traffic signal of Martin Luther King Jr. 110 freeway off-ramp in Los Angeles. Ramifying through a text-based practice utilizing sculpture, installation, video (some of the slides were video stills), performance, and drawing, the work’s signified is one part “tomb of the unknown solidier,” another part indicator of a political unconscious, yet another part “unknown” descent into social misery. The “For Rent” sign appeared in several subsequent iterations (flat on a pedestal at Sandroni Rey in Los Angeles, for instance). I once even caught a glimpse of the sign in the backroom of the ad hoc space for the displaced struggle to preserve LA’s South Central Farm. Slightly dirtied, it sat facing up in the one of the less full milk cartons on the ground greeting any number of unknown Marxists in its midst.

These days, new work is poring out of Hopping (with particular standouts, like G727’s photographic installations of pedagogical room/table making). He’s also shared several recent drawings with me. They rework and rewrite political figurations with a vestigial trace of heroic abstraction from “the Red century.” One particularly notable drawing, Flag for Eventual People, features an anonymous male figure from the neck up, hair all aflame and bearded, a kind of Che Guevara at the corner market. Below the figure there’s a hard black burst of a thick line, as though the figure were rising from the field of possibility opened up by Malevich’s stark, uncompromising, pitiless abstraction. (Is Hopping’s abstraction full postmodernism’s “ephemeral frame”?) Several of the other drawings in the sequence also feature a pronounced rectangle or trapezoidal figure, sometimes a red one, and a human figure somehow assembles itself around the geometry, as in a marching band musician whose wrist arises from such a red trapezoid.

A recent solo show at Galerie Anne Barrault in Paris showed off several works revisiting Duchamp’s 1963 trip to Pasadena. The gallery walls in Paris were covered with signs whose texts were strung on a line between incomprehensible graffiti and a political feeling. Meanwhile at the back of the space a scene from George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (1951), with Hopping in one of the starring roles, was projected with a background soundtrack of the David Isaac’s reggae cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Place in the Sun.” As the brief, associatively invigorating vortex of cultural memes concludes, the credits indicate an ominous setting: “Filmed on location at Brecht’s house in Svendborg, Denmark.” And we are left wondering how we can make the houses of the left right again, how we can inhabit the structures of our political defeat. Through what figure or frame should we perceive the distances? With new, personal and impersonal (political) content, Hopping’s work triumphantly resigns itself to such logic of “strange position.” There is mourning and loss—there is also the bare clouding over of something else.

 

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