Hoffman Lachance Contemporary, St. Louis Mo, November 2016
Jamming, Wailing, and Soothsaying: The Trickster Topologies of Christopher Burch
written by Eileen G'Sell
Br'er Rabbit lurking as a morbid jester. A tattooed tongue criss-crossed with hemp. A griot clutching her gold-toothed skull, roses blooming from its sockets, life borne of the void, seeds from dust.
Immersed in "One Who Sings with no Tongue is Either Damned or Divine," Christopher Burch's latest multimedia installation, a world unravels both seductively strange and woefully familiar. Burch tills history, waters it with myth, then boldly sets its archetypes afire.
"But we WHALERS. We can kill whales/We could get on top/of a whale and WAIL!" blares the painted verse atop a wall-sized mural, the fifth in dialogue with Burch's ongoing graphic novel, The Missed Adventures of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Death in the LAnd of Shadows. Excerpted from "Wailers," by the late Black Arts poet Amiri Baraka, the lines grant context for the goings-on below. Absent of the expected signifiers
(whither, Br'er Fox?), Br'er Rabbit curls into a Chuck Berry guitar jam below a broad, blanched sky. To his left, "Br'er Death," the artist's narrative invention, dances a garish jig, lanky bones a tangle aside his sharp eared friend.
Complementing this looming illustration, thirteen serving trays face us like mirrors, some depicting a variation on the "Pirate Jenny" trope made famous by jazz singer Nina Simone. Upon each jet black surface, a portrait stares back in stark whites and grays-a bearded tramp with hat askew, a fortune teller catching her face mid-laugh, a striped owl with vacant eyes. Collected by the artist at flea markets, thrift shops, and estate sales, the trays themselves recall traditions of domestic servitude-their language of ritual, inheritance, and formality revised to accommodate a wise, if wayward, cast of characters from Burch's graphic novel.
On the next wall hangs a series of disembodied tongues, amulets against Burch's dark story world. Their grotesque tactility-dotted buds visible-is tempered by their banal presentation: each centered within a basic frame that from a distance belies its visceral contents. Cut off from their original owners, the tongues disquiet their quietude, rendered all the more disarming next to "Stepping Razors," Burch's functional harmonicas with retractable straight razors.
Beyond the parables of the South and into the tunnels of the psyche, this divine dystopia damns only the naive. Br'er is no happy hare, but we are captured by his capers, falling down the rabbit hole to reckon with ourselves. The Blues blend with fable, fetish blends with blood. Melville meets Baraka, their white wail rising. And the fleet-footed one cheating Death-shucking common law like shoes too tight? He is roving through future, the present and the past; he is serving us tea too bitter too swallow. "