Shotgun Reviews

Cold Storage: James Cordas and Rhonda Holberton

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Elena Gross reviews Cold Storage: James Cordas and Rhonda Holberton at City Limits Gallery in Oakland.

Rhonda Holberton, Knights of the Sky, Digital video projection, 3:24 (looping), Edition 1/1, 2015. Courtesy of City Limits Gallery.

Rhonda Holberton. Knights of the Sky (2015); digital video projection; 3:24. Courtesy of City Limits Gallery.

A chilly, overcast afternoon seemed like the perfect conditions for experiencing Cold Storage, the dual exhibitions of artists James Cordas and Rhonda Holberton. The gallery resonates with stillness as the slow, measured pace of the video projections and an even-toned white noise settle over the room. The sobriety of the atmosphere, however, masks the underlying tensions in the exhibition’s design.

With Holberton occupying the back wall with the hypnotic three-minute video projection Knights of the Sky (2015), and Cordas on the perimeter, a tug-of-war for the gallery’s limited floor space ensues. Sharing a space the size of City Limits would be a challenge to anyone, but Cordas and Holberton make unlikely bedfellows and feel somewhat disconnected. Though both artists’ showings are strong and compelling in their own right, it is not immediately obvious how they are meant to fit together—or if they even are. For example, the press release for Cold Storage features a short statement about the show written collaboratively between “the artists.” However, the artists referred to here are not Cordas and Holberton, but Cordas and the poet James Gendron, a collaborative partner of Cordas’s for one of the works in the show, Sexual Boat (Sex Boats). While the poem/artist statement allows for a subtler and more complex read of the collaboration between Cordas and Holberton, it also runs the risk of obscuring a definitive thread that holds the show together.

Holberton’s presence in the show is immediately striking and commanding. In addition to claiming the back wall with her expansive projection, Holberton’s polyurethane sculptures of “fallen pixels” are separated prominently around the room like the points of a triangle, giving the artist equal weight and equal measure in the room. Her sculpture N-O U-N-R-E-A-L T-H-I-N-G E-X-I-S-T-S (2015), of a clenched fist raised high atop a white plinth, stands out and stands against the cold, hard gray of Cordas’ steel cage in A Mason Jar Full of Wasps. Cordas juxtaposes perforated images of dark silhouettes and colorful flowers, video screens and steel panels, throughout his portion of the show, engaging in a dialogue of contradictions more with his own work than with Holberton’s.

Where the two do seem to meet is in the contested spaces of digital and analog, closeness and distance. While Holberton renders digitized data into physical objects with Fallen Pixels (2015), Cordas explores this terrain through works like Chair (2015), which combines a vertical LED screen and hardcover book in one. More than just the space between objects, the many surfaces employed in each’s work keep one at a constant distance—Knights of the Sky being uninhabitable, and Cordas’ ultrachrome mirrors, overlaid with vinyl screens, making one’s reflection always just out of reach.

Cold Storage: James Cordas and Rhonda Holberton is on view at City Limits Gallery in Oakland through December 19, 2015.


Elena Gross is a writer currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Visual & Critical Studies from California College of the Arts. She lives and works in the Bay Area and her writing focuses on gender, race, and sexuality in contemporary visual culture.