A single 8 1/2 by 11 inch page in the Conturbatio series from Richard Kraft’s solo show “Something with Birds In It” presents an intricate collage of disjointed text with an illustration of a black and white nude figure in the foreground. His right arm extends outward, pointing a gun at the viewer. The gesture encapsulates the feeling one gets when surveying Kraft’s body of work–we are stripped naked and our only defense (language) may or may not adequately describe what we see or perceive.
The Conturbatio series (Latin for a physical, mental or emotional disorder) is one of four chapters in Kraft’s narrative that plays with the fragility of language, revealing the tension between the denotation and connotation of the written word. Tacked directly onto the walls, the black pages of Nocturne RS appear in stark contrast to the milk-white pages of Conturbatio on the opposite wall; however both works investigate the presentation of the written word and the meaning it carries. Pages from a Yiddish Primer depict upper and lower case letters with an image and corresponding Yiddish word that fails to adequately define the illustration. For instance a parrot is paired with “bris,” and “shtup” with a fedora. The “pages” are just one instance of the playfulness inherent in the exhibition, but Kraft seems to be pointing out that words borrowed from Yiddish and other cultures are often used improperly.
On a platform at the center of the gallery are a hundred cast figurines, arranged in ten rows. While each figure appears identically dressed in a bowler hat and suit, the militia of 100 Walkers: Los Angeles (for Stanley Green) each dons a different cardboard sandwich advert, promoting colorful images from the Conturbatio and Nocturne RS tacked on walls, as well the black-and-white Tube Portraits and actions inspired by kitsch comic books. In The Tube Portraits, largescale B&W photographs and film stills taken in the London Metro capture the vulnerability and honesty of strangers. Locals stare deep into the lens and shy away from it, closing their eyes intently and reflecting. The act of looking lies at the crux of the exhibition, as the artist considers the order and absurdity of the words that construct our social consciousness. The show’s title brings Kraft’s narrative full circle, as the exhibition itself is not focused on birds but does contain a bird or two. The title is a placeholder, just as the artist’s scribbles on a black page symbolize the act of writing.