The Look of Law

  • installation view, Jeff Cheng, The Look of Law
    installation view, Jeff Cheng, The Look of Law
installation view, Jeff cain, Radio LAPD: 70 Years of Public work, 2006

The Look of Law exhibition addresses the direct and residual effects that state power has on the psyche and how this, in turn, is manifest in the force of Law. More specifically, art works featured in the exhibition confront the subjects of surveillance; the police; the prison; the military; the border; the public sphere; the relationship between nations, corporations, and the media; the constant state of war. Artists participating in the gallery exhibition are Silvia Kolbowski, Mary Kelly, The Speculative Archive, Trevor Paglen, Jeff Cain, Claire Fontaine, Lincoln Tobier, Ashley Hunt, Julia Scher, and Susan Silton.

Organized around the premise that the exhibiting artists’ on-going projects critically engage in a dialogue around the correspondence between “aesthetic form” and “political content,” The Look of Law attempts to seriously contemplate the affective ramifications of state/political power and the apparatus behind the interpolation between representation, subjectivity, the polis, and the ubiquity and vicissitudes of “Law” in contemporary times.

Artists featured in The Look of Law move beyond what is usually denominated as “political art” today. Such art ascribes to a positivistic model of “sympathy” with established political or moral positions, wherein providing “the right information” to the public is believed to sway people's actions. The Look of Law, on the other hand, features contemporary art works that employ tactics of delay, refusal, resistance, and revolt against social and political structures of domination. Moreover, they do so without reverting to a nostalgic idealization of earlier historical moments. 



For the last few years, Jeff Cain has been developing an ongoing investigation on the history, culture, and technology of the Los Angeles Police Department communication systems, focusing on the format change from an "open" analog broadcast beginning in 1930 to the "closed" digital format implemented in 2001. His work, in the form of photos, diagrams, proposals, models, etc, traces the genealogy of LAPD radio transmission, documenting its history and questioning the rights of the public vis-à-vis this technological trajectory.


Claire Fontaine is “not an actual person” but the name of a Paris-based “nth ready-made artist.” Her work in sculpture, neon, and various forms of text (including graffiti made with small flames) enunciate the right to political dissent. Utilizing aesthetic forms that address the logic of war and the all consuming capitalism that permeates our daily lives, Claire Fontaine’s work has focused on the limits of politics in our times, opening up “the question of the collective re-appropriation of the means of production of the present.” Fontaine’s contribution for this exhibition addresses the crisis of consciousness of the citizen of a city in flames.


Ashley Hunt’s work centers on issues surrounding the contemporary American penal industrial complex. In dialogue and collaboration with activist/advocates for prison reform, Hunt has produced videos, maps, photos, and sculptures that address the legacies of class and racial inequities, the privatization of prisons, and lately, the violent inequities in American society as illustrated by the Katrina catastrophe.  The works on display for this exhibition seize the logic and material conditions of the penal system—housing, movement, and processing—as necessary sites of critical intervention.


A leading voice in the interstitial discourses of conceptual art, critical theory, and feminist politics beginning in the 1970s, Mary Kelly has, since the early ‘90s, addressed the theater of warfare and revolutionary politics as they play out in the psychic life of the present-day subject. For this exhibition, Kelly presents Gloria Patri, her 1992 project made against the backdrop of the first Gulf War. A large-scaled wall installation, Gloria Patri conceives the iconography, aesthetics and tropes of nation, honor, and war as a complex of psychological nodal points, wherein a form of pathological masculinity is played out. Gloria Patri is one of the most stringent critiques of the psychology of war in contemporary art from the past two decades.


Silvia Kolbowski addresses the ethics and politics of history, culture and the unconscious. Well-known for many conceptualist projects that foreground the politics of visual representations and urban spaces, Kolbowski’s work of the last few years looks at the interrelationships among language, images and the psyche in such areas as art history, consumerism, entertainment and war. Her most recent project, “Proximity to Power, American Style,” a slide and audio work about the relational aspects of masculine power, was included in her one-person exhibition," inadequate… Like… Power," at the Secession, Vienna, in 2004. Kolbowski’s work for The Look of Law , the screening of a film without sound, is a "sketch" for a larger film project currently in pre-production.


Trevor Paglen is an artist, writer, and experimental geographer working out of the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is completing his dissertation on the spatial aspects of military secrecy. His work involves blurring the lines between social science, contemporary art, and a host of more obscure disciplines in order to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to interpret the world around us. The photographs that Paglen exhibits are taken from the contemporary manifestations of military operations from the current/endless “War on Terror.”


For the last two decades, Julia Scher's projects have deconstructed the logic, aesthetics, and applications of the technologies of surveillance. In many video installation works, Scher is concerned with surveillance and the representations of the “gaze” of power structures such as the military, the police, and the corporation. In various audio works (often a part of or related to the video installations), Scher also explores the sado-masochistic erotics in the “voice” of control in contemporary life. Particularly attuned to the fabrication of virtual, actual and psychological space in private and pseudo-public spheres, Scher’s projects also address the production and maintenance of gender and sexual dynamics, in th space where technology interfaces the psyche.


The Speculative Archive has produced photographs that investigate US governmental documents classified and declassified as “secret” and propose possible alternative representations censored by the post 9-11 state security agencies. Recently, they have produced an extended video project that investigates the aporia of daily life in Syria today, dominated, as citizens there are, by the uncertainties of possible war, terrorism, colonial legacies, and global politics.


Susan Silton’s work consists of photography, video, and sculpture, which explore the social and psychological legacy of historical forms (e.g.the stripe as an official marker of “the other” from medieval times until its continuation in similar social terms today). For this exhibition, Silton extends her investigations of the obscure tools of the state and inaugurates a new project dealing with a specific artifact of war—the leaflet bomb, a state propaganda military instrument which is currently being used by the U.S. military in its various operations.


Lincoln Tobier’s projects, dealing with the mechanics behind the confluence of the corporatization of daily life and the related erosion of the public sphere, have been among the most rigorous post-conceptual art practices in the last fifteen years. In addition to making more than a dozen site-specific radio stations around the world where the local limits of the law are traced and challenged, Tobier has created several influential large-scaled installations (Roger Ailes: A Retrospective in Context; Cop Sculpture; Ruckus LA), which situate the political subjectwithin a complex matrix of power. For this exhibition, Tobier presents a sculpture from his recent body of work in sculptures and paintings on steel.


The Look of Law was conceived and organized by Simon Leung, Associate Professor in Studio Art, University of California, Irvine. For additional information, please contact

Silvia Kolbowski, Mary Kelly, The Speculative Archive, Trevor Paglen, Jeff Cain, Claire Fontaine, Lincoln Tobier, Ashley Hunt, Julia Scher, and Susan Silton.
Simon Leung
University Art Gallery
Exhibition Dates: 
Sep 28, 2006 to Oct 20, 2006
Thursday, September 28, 2006 - 6:00pm to 9:00pm

Designed to foster a sustained discussion on the connections between aesthetic, political and ethical fields, The Look of Law also features a video and film program, planned in collaboration with the UCI Film and Video Center, on October 5 and October 18.
Thursday October 5, 2006


Film Screening: The Bloody Child by Nina Menkes (35mm/86 min/1996)

7pm, Humanities Instructional Building (HIB), room 100.

From “ This film was inspired by a real event—a young US Marine, recently back from the Gulf War, was found digging a grave for his murdered wife in the middle of the California Mojave. Menkes turns the man’s arrest—a moment in time—into a harrowing hallucinatory journey, a mesmerizing look at the desolation of violence. Shot in North Africa and 29 Palms, California, THE BLOODY CHILD combines actual Desert Storm marines, playing themselves, text from Shakespeare’s MACBETH, and wife-murder…creating a witch’s brew Kevin Thomas of the LA TIMES called, ‘Brilliant… an awe-inspiring rigorous work of art on the highest level; one of the year’s top five films.’ ”


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Video screening: The Look of Law
7pm, Humanities Instructional Building (HIB), room 110
This Program is FREE and OPEN to the public.

This program of six short videos is chosen from contemporary videos made mostly by visual artists who have a peripheral relationship with the current video/film world. They address the affective ramifications of state and political power using hybrid forms of verbal and textual narration that owe as much to the history of video art in galleries as they do to experimental cinema and video. Included among the contemporary works is a rarely—seen mid-1970s work by Ron Clark, which eerily foreshadows the tone of the American psyche in a post 9-11 age of homeland (in)security.


Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, The Law and Poetry

Directed by Paul Chan.
2006, US • 17 minutes 30 seconds • video

On February 10, 2005, Lynne Stewart was convicted of providing material support for a terrorist conspiracy. The first lawyer to be convicted of aiding terrorism in the United States, Stewart faces thirty years of prison and will be sentenced in September 2006. Untitled... is a video portrait of Stewart which focuses on the relationship between the language of poetry and the language of the law. Stewart speaks both languages, and employs poetry as a "knotting point" to connect ideas of beauty and justice for juries and judges alike. Untitled… takes Stewart's understanding of poetry and the law as a departure point to explore the possibilities of a poetics capable of articulating the pressures of terror and justice.



Directed by Ron Clark
1975, US • 22 minutes • video

In Doubt, a video from 1975 made during the heyday of the New York video and performance scene centered around the Kitchen, Ron Clark attempts to generate a complex field of affectively charged connotative meanings employing minimal formal elements. Uncanny and timely in its evocation of the state of the American national psyche obsessed with secrecy and terrorism, Doubt revolves around an absent central figure, cast in doubt. The video interweaves narratives drawn from the everyday life experiences of the speakers, emerging from a convergence of Clark’s theoretical interests: Althusser, Lacan, Derrida, and Brecht. A legend and fixture of downtown New York as an influential teacher to several generations of leading figures in art, film, and academia, Clark has been the director of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program since 1981 and its head of its studio component since 1968.


Green Love

Directed by Nils Norman and Lincoln Tobier
2004, US • 10 minutes • video

Scenes of driving around Los Angeles are activated through a voice over narrative: Two supermarket workers caught up in the political fervor of the "Super Market Strikes” decide to take things further. Radicalized at the picket line they begin to implement a series of break-away actions, using radical urban guerilla farming techniques they conspire to redesign their immediate landscape destroying parking lots, monkey wrenching cars, reclaiming surplus spaces, replanting parks, freeway ramps and median strips. This mad spree of micro-landscape design reaches its terrible climax with a standoff with the police and the ultimate deaths of our heroes.


Reference over Time

Directed by Andrea Geyer
2004, US • 19 minutes • video

In Reference over Time, an actress is rehearsing Bertolt Brecht's 1940s text "Conversation Among Refugees". The text that Brecht wrote in exile features two men sitting in a restaurant in the station in Helsingfor (Norway) talking about politics. Made in 2004 in the political climate of the United States where the proposed Patriot 2 legislation proposes to give the state the right to take away citizenship, the actress struggles to find the right tone for the words exchanged in a 1940s Europe. The men have lost their status as citizens. As refugees, conversation has become their main occupation. The “re-uttered” Brechtian text challenges and complicates the recognition of reoccurring patterns in history.


Stock Exchange

Directed by Nate Harrison*
2006, US • 12 minutes 30 seconds • video

Stock Exchange deals with the logic of a video image bank under globalization, including the commodification of the images of war and the nation state. Built around a correspondence where inquiry and response about the corporation trading in the stock video footage is played out, Nate Harrison addresses the contemporary “society of spectacle” where a contrived video depicting generic scenarios can be made and sold to accompany almost anything.


The Years to Come

Directed by Eiko Grimberg
2004, Germany/US • 14 minutes • video

The Years to Come concerns itself with the past and present of New York’s Barrier Street. The building of the Morgan company in New York, at the crossing of Broad Street and Barrier Street, still carries the traces of an event from the year 1920 when a horse cart loaded with explosive exploded, and more than three dozen people died. The case, never solved, was nonetheless alternately rumored to be an accident, an "auto bomb" or a suicide assassination attempt. Today, after September 11, 2001, when the New Yorker Financial District is once again permanently barricaded, Eiko Grimberg weaves an evocative poetic video essay on the strange convergence of past and present, where images from the Financial District show how history writes itself onto the front of buildings.

* Nate Harrison will participate in a conversation with Simon Leung and the audience after the screening.
Video Program: 96 minutes total. 



Thursday October 19, 2006. 2pm- 7:30pm
Humanities Instructional Building (HIB), room 135, UC Irvine


FREE and OPEN to the Public.

“The Look of Law” is a one-day conference intended to develop dialogue between visual art producers, whose work deal with the representations of the force of  “law,” and UCI faculty members from a variety of disciplines, whose areas of research intersect with the artists’ work. The primary goal of this project is to introduce to the UCI academic and campus community to contemporary art practices that address the representation of state power, in order to foster dialogue on the subject across disciplinary boundaries.

This conference is sponsored by the Center in Law Society and Culture, the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, the Humanities Center, the School of Social Ecology, the School of Humanities, and the Department of Criminology, Law & Society, to coincide with an exhibition of the same name at the University Art Gallery (September 28- October 20). Those attending the conference are encouraged to attend the exhibition in the University Art Gallery, and the film and video programs on October 5 and October 18.


Panel 1                        The Force of Law

2pm – 4:15pm

Presentation: Jeff Cain, artist
Respondent: Simon Cole, Assistant Professor of Criminology.

Presentation: Ashley Hunt, artist
Respondent: Jared Sexton, Assistant Professor of African American Studies

Presentation: The Speculative Archive (David Thorne, Julia Meltzer), artists
Respondent: Dina Al-Kassim, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature.


Panel 2                        War’s Remains

4:30pm – 6:45pm

Presentation: Trevor Paglen, geographer, artist
Respondent: Peter Krapp, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies

Presentation: Dorit Cypis, artist, mediator**
Respondent: Thomas Boellstorff, Associate Professor of Anthropology

Presentation: Silvia Kolbowski, artist
Respondent Bliss Lim, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies.




** Dorit Cypis’s project Sightlines is on view in the exhibition “Considered This…” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through January 15, 2007. For details please go to:

Event Galleries

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