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I am a Tape Junkie

Substance of Choice at Galeria de la Raza

How do you take it? What's your pleasure? Pick your poison. I like coffee and cigarettes. Ask an artist and they may tell you they're partial to paint or plaster. We all fancy something, desire some substance that we just can't do without. Galeria de la Raza's current exhibition, Substance of Choice is an eighteen-artist meditation on this material world and the choices we all make in relation to it. These are choices that often render us or others helpless, either through addiction, or through enslavement to others' addictions, a Third World apart.

Situated in the heart of the Mission on 24th Street, a largely Latino neighborhood, the geography of the show holds an added and very particular pertinence. A street filled with stores and shops, many of its customers buy things from countries they used to call home, an ever-present reminder of those left behind. And as an area particularly hard hit by the influx of the dot-com industry and its cultural invasion, the issues of commodity and choice are still raw here, the wounds of its most recent injuries still scabby.

For Pablo Aurelius Manga, who proclaims himself to be "a tape junkie," the show's title has allusions to drug use, and as he claims "intoxicants are all around us." His work starts the show in a blur of color, a three-piece study of chromatics in motion. Almost painfully pretty, Manga's works are created entirely out of Mexican tape obtained on a 1998 trip to Mexico City. Here he found more colors of tape than he thought possible. Layered horizontally in lines than bow and waver almost imperceptibly, Manga forces this commonplace material into a form that works the eye and complicates itself. Tape, under Manga's direction, becomes an intoxicant and for the moments we view his work, we too are hooked.

From Cristianne Dugan-Cuadra and Ana Machado two impressive installations work intensely, almost violently against the notion of bubble-gum pop. Machado's Chicle Mosaic of 2002 is constructed of bubble gum and miniature video monitors, referencing people along the borders who sell chiclets and other sweets. Arranged to suggest the shape of an indigenous girl dressed in a skirt and bonnet, the colorful Chiclets boxes break at the girl's midriff to expose three miniature video screens. On the two outer screens two tiny hands reach out to the viewer and in the center screen coins plink down silently. Cristianne Dugan-Cuadra's series of pencil on paper from 2002 juxtaposes eight portraits of chicleros with an example of their wares, displayed on a simple black box. The latter has an almost artifact-like quality, as if it is sitting in a museum, subject to the judgement of history.

Caleb Duarte's 2001 Untitled video piece shows footage of revivalist religious services with such poor resolution it appears to have been taped off of a television. Duarte mutes, speeds up and slows down the tape to emphasize the already frantic ranting of the figure on screen and the already apparent flaws in his medium. Like Dugan-Cuadra, Machado and Manga, Duarte has worked with the material he speaks of in his artwork to make his piece. The conflation of this notion of substance, as both medium and subject matter is what makes certain pieces work especially well in this show, as it is what drives home the very point: we are all complicit even as we are all conscious of our consumption. If for some reason you aren't compelled by any of the stand-out work in the show, I promise you that Substance of Choice will at least make you rethink the next morning's cup of coffee. Galeria de la Raza is located at 2857 24th Street. Substance of Choice opened July 13 and will run through August 31, with an artist talk on Thursday August 22 at 7 pm for $3. The Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon - 6 pm and admission is free. Call 415.826.8009 for information.