Marjorie Rawle unpacks the way David Thomas Colannino’s solo show at The Front questions the ways history is told.
David Thomas Colannino
4100 St. Claude Avenue
November 12–December 4, 2016
On the opening night of David Thomas Colannino’s “AP history,” an expansive, neatly formed army of miniature toy soldiers stood frozen on the floor of The Front’s first gallery, encroaching heavily on the already limited walking space. Another visit just a few weeks later, however, revealed that this same installation, entitled The Battle of Gaugamela, 2016, was in disarray. With most of the tiny green and grey bodies knocked over and strewn about in oddly disturbing heaps of plastic, it appeared as if some pint-sized battle had taken place while I was away. What was at first imposing and mesmerizing was now decimated, a bleak reminder of violence and destruction.
Whether orchestrated by the artist, the audience, or some other force, this transformation underscores Colannino’s ability to subtly prod our typically narrow perspective of the progression of history and acknowledge our necessarily intertwined past and present. Colannino continues this provocation with three screen prints on colored paper—Famous Generals, Famous Religious Figures, and Famous Geographers, all from 2016—hanging side by side on the right wall, categorizing dozens of history’s most recognizable figures from the world’s first civilizations to present day. Removed from their typical contexts of textbooks and museum collections, Colannino’s miniature, minimally rendered busts feel remote, clinical, and highly caricatured, their tripartite arrangement turning them into more of a study on classification rather than the usual majestic display of significance.
And, as one final blow, the largest two-dimensional work on view, Tigris & Euphrates, 2016, renders a map of ancient Mesopotamia—a region widely referenced as the “cradle of civilization”—nearly indistinguishable, replacing flowing water and fertile sediment with dazzling graphite patterns and bright, candy-colored swatches of acrylic and vinyl paint. A striking antithesis to the oft dreaded high-school seminar, “AP history” proves that even the seemingly cemented aspects of our histories, and thus our realities, are in fact mutable and endlessly subjective.