When Vincent Como's “No Hope. Not now, not ever," on view through Dec. 3, opened at Guest Spot, I did not really think that it would open some portal to a darker dimension. I took the work for what it was—a meditation on nihilism and gothic tropes. I accepted its repetitions and labyrinths. However, following the election, a specter has risen up and the Brooklyn-based artist's grim exhibition, full of black unrelenting monochromes, esoteric symbols, and unescapable mazes appears prescient.
Concerning its nihilism, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche could come to help frame this exhibition but their voices are muted by other, more plainspoken references. In 'Army of Darkness,' a ring of small black ink monochrome paintings on cardboard, the ink is rolled on, sometimes covering the gessoed cardboard and at other times leaves small gleams of the white ground as a gradient trace. The particulars vanish, the line of relentless mourning goes on without intervention, appreciation or disapproval. It just is. This series is named after the 1992 Sam Raimi film, "Army of Darkness," and specifically references the many acts of replication that inform the horror-comedy film: when the character Ash crashes into a mirror and his replica becomes his nemesis, a resurrected copy becomes an adversary. Certainly spending any amount of time ringed by these pieces you feel this adversarial presence nearby.
Suspended in the middle of the 'Army of Darkness' series is the strange and imposing 'Unholy Passion: Prelude to Necromancy' which blocks off an entire passage way in Guest Spot. Mounted half on the wall and half over a break towards a hallway with clamps, this black monochrome foamcore absorbs light differently. Its title is a reference to the second EP by Samhaim, Glenn Danzig’s deathrock band formed after the dissolution of the seminal punk outfit The Misfits (and before the cash grab reunion shows or awkward Jerry Only fronted efforts). But Como’s gothic block of black goes back further than the '80s and harkens back to the infamous black pages following the death of Parson Yorick in Laurence Stern’s eighteenth century novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman." 'Unholy Passion' rests like an imposing simulation of a painting as if it contains no paint—like a death mask to the void.
These references to horror films, death, and gothic music tropes are only accentuated more when we consider the trajectory of work that Como is engaged in. This trajectory stretches from Ad Reinhardt, whose most famous works were a series of almost monochrome grids of varying tones of black which he called his “ultimate” paintings, to the American artist and musician Steven Parrino, who tortured his monochrome paintings by shattering them off the wall and considered the act of generating them a work of necrophilia.
The most telling Como piece is perhaps the small piece of graph paper in the back room that the exhibition is titled after. In 'No Hope. Not now, not ever,' Como has filled each square with a meticulous set of lines that offer no release, no way out. Instead, each set of lines in each square just changes direction, sliding your vision back to another square of lines. There is no escape from this maze.
Again: I viewed the exhibition before the outcome of the election, which has set many (including myself) in the United States into a profound sense of mourning, or a desire to wake up from some alternate reality not to mention the many who reevaluate activism and the role of art in the oncoming era of Trump. It makes reflecting on these themes of hopelessness or an embrace of outright nihilism seem appropriate. This is not new. Como’s forefather in black, Ad Reinhardt, felt his aesthetics tied entirely to his politics (Communism) and a skepticism towards art’s positive impact.
Perhaps in the five-piece series that make up Como’s 'Black Tectonics,' this negative theology is the most apparent. Here five simple geometric ink drawings on letter-sized graph paper form geometries of the trinity, hexagrams, sigils and other signs to ward off darkness. Esoteric and clean, these pieces offer some relief—they are contained and even hopeful having meaning in their sense of order. They feel the least relentless and through their execution bring to mind what philosopher Jean Baudrillard was referring to in "Simulacra and Simulation": "The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and indifference."
And while I’ll argue the apocalypse is here, I also hope against hope that indifference is not the coda to this moment.
Terence Hannum, who has displayed his work at Guest Spot in the past, moderates a discussion between Como and Guest Spot's Rod Malin on Dec. 3 at 2 p.m., for the closing reception of "No Hope. Not now, not ever."