Borna Sammak’s exhibition america, nice place at Dallas Contemporary conceptually and materially questions popular American archetypes and the redundancies of cultural consumerism.
Borna Sammak: america, nice place
April 16–August 21, 2022
Lately, it has felt exhausting being an American. Even when change arrives, progress seems to remain stationary. Americans, it appears, are on a perpetual Penrose staircase, a continuous loop ostensibly moving upward, but ultimately chasing itself in a square. Even with all of America’s idyllic freedoms, it is trapped by reckless repetition and regressive ideals. This proliferates not only in politics but in the commerce and conversation of our daily lives.
America, nice place at Dallas Contemporary is New York-based artist Borna Sammak’s first solo exhibition in Texas. The title of the show, while not bookended with a question mark, is in constant inquiry.
A bright red rug and a black-and-white striped sectional couch, which appears to have collided with itself, are located in the center of the Design District gallery. The furniture piece is a quintessential image of comfort, but in Sammak’s installation, the couch is not an invitation to relax but rather a statement of excessive consumerism with its black and white stripes akin to a barcode. This is an expense that has become bad fashion in America, where appearance outstages purpose. At every turn, even with the rug that the couch sits on, I am confronted with a question: Can I step on this, or should I walk around it?
Asking for permission is not a tenet in the installation itself. In fact, the work stakes a claim as shown in an untitled canvas work that the artist created by using heat-applied t-shirt graphics, which Sammak sources from pop culture, film, television, and digital advertising. The stacked composition of roses and clichéd expressions like “up all night” and “party girl” is, at first, familiar and humorous, but after a third encounter with another one of Sammak’s collaged canvas works, a pattern rises.
There are so many images of boats and barbecue and camo and guns and skulls and flags and beer and flames that moving through the gallery especially feels like getting trapped on the Penrose staircase, where a hive-mind of unoriginal thoughts are distilled into a slogan to express individuality. Here, the exhibition title, america, nice place, suddenly frames itself as a question.
Other works in the gallery include Lucky for Men, a bait-like life-sized advertisement constructed of steel and wood. This brightly painted work (and the biting truism in the title) is a consideration of how we permit consumerism to market our ideals. What does it mean to fit America on a three-by-three-foot canvas?
The overall framework of Sammak’s exhibition revolves around controlled chaos. The found source materials pile atop each other on every canvas, rendering most words illegible. Perhaps a more pronounced representation of chaos is in the digital work Powermad Dude.
From a distance, this looping video appears to be a series of vibrant abstract lines. Up close, viewers discover recurring images of a whale, a dinosaur, a goldfish, an explosion, a beige building, an American flag, a slogan, a jet stream, yellow lines, blue lines, red lines, and more. There is no audio emitting from this video, but because of the haste and volume of images, the work feels audible. The TV monitor is held with pink rubber divided into angular sections. The digit-like appearance makes for a hyperbolic installation, a surreal hand-held experience.
Additionally, what is striking about Powermad Dude is its predictability considering the mass amount of displayed images. The variable speeds of each image steer the work toward chaos—an unyielding, predictable portrayal of societal consumer expression.
Affixed to the wall behind the TV monitor is a line of mountable hooks in their original packaging. There is a dichotomy here between the hooks being both used and new, and the utilitarian purpose is as evident as the invisible metaphor that dangles from them.
Sammak’s exhibition is alluring and alarming. It highlights the uninspired clichés that have cemented in United States culture and with tireless redundancy. It also inspires a question: if a set of ideals trap America on Penrose stairs, what set of ideals would get America out of the feedback loop? Perhaps, it is the urge to define ourselves and demonstrate our desires that ultimately spiral this country into numbing chaos.
Borna Sammak: america, nice place is on view at Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street, Dallas, through August 21, 2022.