RICHARD MISRACH: The Writing On The Wall
‘The writing on the wall’ refers to the story in the Book of Daniel of the end of the reign of the Babylonian king Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror and enslaver of the Israelites during the Babylonian Captivity) in 539BC. Belshazzar is interrupted at his impious feast by a terrifying disembodied hand writing fiery letters on the palace wall. Mene mene tekel upharsin is decrypted by the Jewish sage Daniel as a warning that Belshazzar’s reign has been divinely weighed and found wanting, and is thus forfeit, and prophecy is verified that very night when the kingdom is overthrown by the Medes. The story is the subject of religious, moralizing paintings by Rembrandt (1635), Washington Allston (1817) and John Martin (1821).
Richard Misrach, who has been documenting the environmental damage of America’s capitalist culture for decades—“these cultural manifestations in the natural landscape, ... the collision between nature and civilization”—may not be assuming the role of prophetic doomsayer per se, but the signs of incipient collapse are there for anyone to see and decipher: the government environmental-damage report asserting that climate change is real, leaked on Wednesday in order to evade death by redaction; and, of course the ongoing comic tragedy and tragic comedy in Washington. Misrach began working on this series of ruined houses in the American Southwest bedecked with anonymous graffiti during election year, and found in the swastikas and racist comments (as well as some rejoinder a compelling record of “the dystopian side of the American dream” now familiar to everyone: desperation, despair and vicious scapegoating. Misrach: “These are the hieroglyphics of our time.”
Five large photos depict abandoned houses seemingly invaded by malefic spirits. Swastika, Barstow, California presents three layers, or registers: the dry gray-brown dirt; the blue sky dotted with clouds; and, separating them, a beige wall of a building, with a sky-blue door decorated with a swastika. A similar tripartite composition structures “Trump Loves American People,” North of Reno, Nevada, with a crudely lettered. misspelled sign the only evidence of human presence. Shotgun practice, "he will return," Nevada shows a trio of cinder-clock walls crowned by rebar stems, with a crucified Jesus serving as target, all but obliterated by bullet craters, only his limbs still recognizable.
Also included are smaller-format graffiti shots taken with an iPhone, and grouped in clusters, from the Obama years: ‘premonitions’ (to use Misrach’s term) of the current culture war; and Tagged Boulders, Lucerne Valley, California, a thirty-two piece grid of medium-sized photos of rocks upon which messages have been written: $, thug life, We color the world! —DeWitt Cheng