The Wonder Gaze
In the Main Space
SPACE Gallery is pleased to announce Ken Gonzales-Day:The Wonder Gaze, an exhibition of photographs by the Los Angeles based artist. The work on view developed out of Gonzales-Day’s examination into the history of lynching in California, a largely unknown chapter of the American West.The Wonder Gaze is scheduled in conjunction with the 2007 Human Rights Watch International Traveling Film Festival, a weeklong series of films and discussions, which SPACE has hosted six times.
While researching the omission of Latinos in California’s published histories, Gonzales-Day discovered a considerable number of names mentioned in documents associated with lynching. Sorting through newspapers, court records, periodicals, first hand accounts, historical photographs and souvenir postcards, he began to uncover a hidden legacy of lynching in California. Gonzales-Day identified over 350 separate occurrences of lynching in the state, a number that was previously cited at 50. What results is a powerful union of artistic practice and scholarly research: the work on view and Gonzales-Day’s highly praised book, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke University Press, 2006), a study that not only updates the historical record and substantiates the prevalence of racially motivated crimes in frontier justice but also addresses ideas of erasure, spectatorship, and degrees of accountability. The term “wonder gaze,” which Gonzales-Day elaborates on his book, comes from a newspaper article summarizing the execution of two Mexican men in 1854. Describing the scene, the journalist wrote: “Their bodies are now swinging to the limb where they were executed, and will probably continue to boast the wonder gaze of the public until time and decomposition shall allow them to fall to pieces.” For Gonzales-Day, the “wonder gaze” invokes, perhaps, the most disturbing aspect of lynching practices: the necessary presence of an audience, as event spectators, participants, and even as consumers.
The Wonder Gaze includes a series of digitally altered souvenir lynching postcards, several large-format color photographs of oak trees, taken by the artist, and a site-specific, full scale wallpaper installation of a historic lynching image. Whereas the original historic lynching postcards gratuitously displayed the victims bodies, Gonzales-Day has chosen to remove them, leaving everything else unchanged, shifting the focus from the original spectacle and object of shame to the crowd in attendance. The color photographs of oak trees come from the series Hang Trees, which Gonzales-Day shot over a five year period as he retraced the steps of lynch mobs and vigilance committees, visiting nearly every county in California in search of these landmarks.
SPECIAL THANKS to Portland Color for printing the wallpaper installation.