Joshua Hagler: The River Lethe

Swerdlow Art Group is pleased to present The River Lethe, a solo exhibition at the Brand Library & Art Center by Los Angeles artist Joshua Hagler.

Since 2006, Hagler’s work has responded to religious fundamentalism in America, the history of Westward Expansion, notions of progress and exploration, mythology, and the poetics of theoretical physics. This current body of work draws inspiration from Lethe, the Greek mythological river of forgetting. It was said that one drinks from Lethe before being reborn, losing most or all memory of the past. German philosopher, Heidegger interpreted Lethe not as a simple accident of forgetting, but as a “concealment of being.” The task for Heidegger was “unconcealment,” in turn Hagler sets to uncover personal truths by examining America’s cultural amnesia and psychological repression.

The work comprising The River Lethe was made over a two-year period beginning in Los Angeles and ending at the Roswell Artist in Residence Program in New Mexico.

A large-scale sculptural and sound installation consists of a canoe of translucent horsehide quietly suspended between two doors alongside horse and cattle bones. It recalls 19th-century overland expeditions which kick-started Westward Expansion in early America. Sounds subtly emit from either door in a call-and-response fashion, echoing between past and future, and evoking a more ethereal orientation with time.

Another installation, entitled “Mother,” makes use of a found cattle feed chute covered in bullet holes floating above a pair of plaster child-sized Moon Boots, unavoidably suggestive of American gun violence and its victims, and, for the artist, of unspoken memory and trauma at the center of his own family.

A number of intricately layered large-scale figurative paintings examine and reinterpret fraught 19th-century historical imagery ranging from film stills of early propaganda movies to frontier paintings. The image is transformed in repetition and erasure, seemingly suspended in a state of simultaneous excavation and decay.

Other paintings loosely reference Hagler’s own photographs taken in areas near the Missouri- and Snake Rivers, which were early overland river routes used in exploration. Referred to as landscapes by the artist, many works have the appearance of abstract paintings. The locations from which the images originate are rich with history and memory, and show evidence of vast scales of time at work. For the artist, the subject is the felt presence of memory in the environment, more than the landscape itself.

Joshua Hagler has exhibited in galleries and museums in North and South America, Europe, and Australia, including a long list of solo exhibitions. He is a frequent columnist for Venison Magazine and a recipient of numerous awards and residencies. In the summer of 2017, he was awarded a spot at MICA’s Alfred and Trafford Klots Program for Artists in Brittany, France. A solo exhibition at the Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico is planned for November of this year.