St. Louis

Drew Heitzler at Parapet Real Humans

A small crowd gathered within the intimate space of Parapet Real Humans, in St. Louis, waiting to hear the California-based artist Drew Heitzler deliver his artist talk on the opening night of his solo exhibition. Projected onto one of the gallery’s white paint-covered windows was a stop-motion video of the green-clay humanoid Gumby, pawing at a piano with fingerless hands. The appropriated footage had been edited and synced to a medley of atonal music. To the left of the projection, a baseball cap and pair of plastic-rimmed glasses—signature elements of Heitzler’s wardrobe—were placed upon a small stage. The hat was a reissue, featuring the vintage logo of St. Louis’ former and Los Angeles’ current football team, the Rams—a sly nod that paralleled Heitzler’s brief stint in St. Louis before traveling back to California. Small paintings depicting covers of Thomas Pynchon’s most celebrated novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, were dispersed throughout the space; the one exception portrayed a later novel, Inherent Vice. Most of the paintings rested upon door and window frames, and one hung on the wall at a similar height as the others, well above eye level. Almost beyond notice because of their discreet scale and placement, the works nearly disappeared within the gallery.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis, Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis. Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

The paintings were secondary to the talk/performance that transpired. While the audience settled and conversed quietly, Heitzler slipped to the back of the gallery as Ann Marie Mohr, a local performer and the artistic director of OnSite Theatre in St. Louis, made her way up to the front, purposefully donned the glasses and hat, mounted the stage, and began reciting a monologue prepared by Heitzler entitled, “How to Disappear In(to) California.” Reading from a stack of papers, Mohr projected her voice, detailing how the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction unanimously recommended Gravity’s Rainbow for the award in 1974, but the prize board refused the panel’s advice; consequently, the prize was awarded to no one that year. After this anecdote, Mohr digressed into a lengthy speech loosely centered on California, mentioning a disparate range of cultural figures and ideas that included Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, adolescence, the culture industry, sadomasochism, music, William S. Burroughs, Walter Benjamin, Mickey Mouse, National Socialism, occultism, imposture, and narcissism—to name a few. She concluded the speech with another reference to Pynchon, this time about Inherent Vice, bookending an impenetrable rigmarole with allusions to the reclusive author.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis, Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis. Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

This performance—which lasted just under an hour—was no doubt inspired by the 1974 National Book Awards ceremony, in which a comedian accepted an award on Pynchon’s behalf and delivered a rambling, pseudo-scholarly speech that left many in the audience to assume he was the author. Mohr’s performance, however, fooled nobody; by choosing a woman to replace himself, Heitzler clearly did not intend to deceive. Mohr’s lack of convincingness as Heitzler’s impostor was further compounded by the deliberately apathetic attempts at disguise, putting on and taking off his hat and glasses. On its surface, this absurd charade was an homage to Pynchon, both in delivery and Heitzler’s unabashed use of dense and complex language. Rather than furthering one’s comprehension of his practice, the reading was a performance that pushed the limits of endurance—of the performer and the audience—and operated beneath a veneer of theoretical circumlocution that obfuscated its lack of substance.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis, Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis. Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Although it was a frustrating experience, the performance—specifically the idea of imposture—was thoughtfully linked to the works on display. The paintings were appropriations of images found online and therefore not wholly Heitzler’s own. Watching the video of Gumby alongside Mohr, it was hard not to consider the animated character as a stand-in for the artist. Meanwhile, the atonal music elicited a feeling similar to the language of the speech, offering no melody to grasp onto, just as the disjointed diatribe of the speech was too dense to absorb through simple narration.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis, Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Drew Heitzler. Drew Heitzler, 2016; installation view, Parapet Real Humans, St. Louis. Courtesy of Parapet Real Humans.

Heitzler’s elaborate digression successfully expressed a juvenile nihilism that pervaded the exhibit, but he missed an opportunity to partake in an intelligent conversation with his audience. The performance felt like a commentary on our culture’s inability to focus; if this was Heitzler’s objective, there’s an element of (probably intentional) perverse hypocrisy to his script. Rather than developing a thesis, Heitzler touched on multiple tangents, teasing his audience with fragments and simplistic observations about complex concepts. Perhaps he meant to undermine the theoretical language prevalent in art criticism, but he fell into the same trappings he may have sought to subvert.

The performance took place at Parapet Real Humans, in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 10, 2016.

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