limited edition invitation to the exhibition
Review by Kevin Bouchard for Art Lies
Seizure is the central theme of Pedro Vélez’ exhibition at Plush Gallery: epileptic seizures, seizures of property—both literal and conceptual—and the seizure of sex and empowerment from others. On the gallery’s website, Vélez offers a detailed account of his personal experience with seizure (the ailment), musings and communications, additional works and an interview with a porn star. This wide range of expression fits together very well, making the virtual exhibition feel more comprehensive than the work display in the physical gallery.
Vélez’ works on display are clearly based on reproductions. They are collisions, like the synaptic chaos that characterizes the neuropathology of a seizure. Central images—often pages torn from a book or magazine and then photographed—serve as the ground upon which the artist applies grandiose drawings of words—distorted graffiti cut out and stuck onto appropriated images. This pegatina may be thought of as the vandal’s form of collage.
Indeed, piracy and actual pirates recur in an ongoing storyline filled with old engravings and familiar tales. In one piece, we see an engraving of two ships blasting cannons at each other in close concert—broadside mayhem. Stuck onto each image are words that double as titles: Spew, Happiest People, SFRAPuit. Vélez’ word play is often inscrutable, but his repeated depiction of coercion is not.
Calamity at sea is also evident in Exon, misspelling deliberate, which portrays not an oil spill but a photograph of a cruise ship engulfed in flames. In Gut, a ship miraculously stumbles upon survivors of a sunken vessel with text reading “Davy Jones Locker” stuck onto it. All this intrigue and swashbuckling is entertaining; what it means for the artist, however, is unclear, and given his primary role as provocateur, one is cautious about assigning specific symbolic meaning to these works.
The most provocative images are Vélez’ staged photographs of young women made up to look like they have been beaten. In Lamb, a professional model looks directly into the camera with a black eye. The color photograph is composed with the care a fashion photographer would employ, portraying brutal sexuality as fashion. Thirty-two years ago, the Rolling Stones’ promotional materials for the album Black & Blue managed the same high-tone ugliness. Theirs, however, was an attempt to unsettle an audience that had been stoned a little too long, while Vélez’ images of abused igénues play to the virgin/whore dichotomy even though their titles imply Old Testament sacrifice.
The most intellectually engaging piece is debts, a collage that includes a photo of naval cadets, a nun teaching a class of adolescent girls and a Madonna. In this case, the title steers the content of the piece to contemplation of the burden of received wisdom. The primacy of institutions weighs heavy, but the open, willing faces of the boys and girls do not reveal any sense of burden. The gender segregation is in keeping with the alienation between men and women in Vélez’ other work. One is left to wonder what form debt will take and what price will be demanded.
The web component of the exhibition contains an interview with a porn starlet that is noteworthy in its banality. This could be an interview with any young entrepreneur struggling to meet market demands and cope with the daily trials of work, which are, in this case, overcome by a lot of vodka. If this interview and related images are hip, that is a shame because they come across as puerile, projecting standard-issue adolescent male bravado and sexual insecurity. But to his credit, Vélez has produced a body of work that cannot be readily categorized as purely polemical. It has both comic- book appeal and skin-trade creepiness. It shoves the chaos of competing impulses in our face with no hint of the possibility of reconciliation.
Review by Joel Weinstein in Rotund
From where we’re sitting, Myspace appears to be a cheesy cyber parlor of idle chatter where the point is to accumulate “friends,” announce a variety of vainglorious aspects of your person such as astrological sign, whether or not you’re dating, your fave bands, grooming habits, drugs of choice, how you stand vis-à-vis tattoos, and so forth, and express something of your innermost being by way of stuttering animated graphics that run the gamut from hard-core to kissy-face. There are a slew of photographic mementos recording extreme, well-dressed arriving, departing, and standing around. Myspace also facilitates instant messaging and commenting, so that the air around any given page thrums with whatever twenty-first century variations of “Dude!” prevail among the pretty vacant, and one sees a lot of put-on luridness that tries very, very hard. There are, we admit, some very cool concert and exhibition posters, and we’re convinced that if you’re in a band Myspace probably beats total obscurity.
Judging by what we’ve seen, Myspace belongs perfectly to our increasingly dark ages, in which preening, aggressively knotheaded weblog punditry is ascendant and expressions like “Bite me” stand in for reasoned discourse.
But herein lies the rub. This is a view of Myspace that you get as you move a little outward from San Juan artist Pedro Vélez’s Myspace pages. If there is one thing we’ve learned in our brief, fraught acquaintanceship with the magmatic Vélez, it’s that he makes a lot of things up. As we’ve pointed out before, his exhibitions include flyers for fake art shows, performances, concerts, and miscellaneous other supposed events and entities, and the tableaux on his posters and banners depict a kind of pained adolescent demimonde to which Vélez, at the age of thirty-four, is not likely to belong no matter how arrested his development. Ditto, his involvement with mainstream artists like Jorge Zeno, a painter who has allowed Vélez to “intervene” on some of his canvases by attaching pieces of paper in the form of almost illegible language, leaves all of us scratching our heads and wondering who is getting what from whom. And why.
So what is it with the artist’s Myspace pages, called “Hell in LAMB UC”? Is he squirrelier than he looks, happily indulging a skanky fashion du jour? Is he in it for the virtual nookie? Is he putting us on once again? Vélez describes his online exertions as a proposal for an exhibition, but after a more or less painstaking examination of the site—a whole lot less than more, to tell the truth—we’re convinced “Hell in LAMB UC” is the exhibition he’s always wanted.
Vélez’s description is, as usual, rife with baloney, especially the earnest yammering about Hunter S. Thompson and William Kennedy, although who knows, he could be serious about this. But more to the point is the artist’s ready willingness to lie:
Hell in LAMB UC is a faux over faux multimedia piece housed in the popular web host of My Space.com that investigates the fate of characters, joints and publications found in Hunter S. Thompson lost novel THE RUM DIARY . . .
Just like Thompson managed to capture the idiosyncrasies and atmosphere of the hot hub in the Caribbean, Pedro Velez has developed . . . an intricate and non-linear narrative lead by four main characters: Hell in LAMB UC, Ann Lee, Huntergodfs and Staged Metal Party. The four characters introduce the viewer to a web of connections, images, false characters, text and profiles that rips thru the My Space sphere like a manic Gonzo reporter burned with the hot rums of Puerto Rico.
“The hot rums of Puerto Rico!” Well. The prose may be purple and the idea overwrought, but “Hell in LAMB UC” is stranger than it looks. For starters, not everything is fiction. Vélez did indeed meet and start dating the woman in the photograph below, during a party at the house pictured. Perhaps the dewy nectars of mutual attraction got uncorked by that very shutter’s click.
But by and large, the pages of his so-called “friends” have that distinctively opaque, quasi-sordid Vélez look, with the notable difference that the author is beginning to show something less than complete indifference to graphic niceties. Staged Metal Party’s “adult REPUBLICANS in jFK” suggests a mouthful, all of it rude, while saying nothing you can put your finger on. It’s as exasperatingly voyeuristic as ever, but considerably more readable than usual, attaining a kind LetraSet piss elegance.
One of Hell in LAMB UC’s own postings is downright elementary Photoshoppy. Good going, Pedro! You have to hand it to Vélez. Even if by happy accident, his suggestive phraseology, compacted and splintered almost beyond verbalization, touches on any number of actual undercurrents of resentment seething at different levels of Puerto Rican society, from sullen youths, to alienated bohemians and would-be bohemians, even into the pained civic consciousness of this conflicted neverland.
What we like about “Hell in LAMB UC” is the way its blog entries and the comments of its “friends” create a convincing, if unwholesome, world of confessional cheap talk, reflexive argumentativeness, and flirting gone wrong.
Hunter S. Thompson
6/23/2006 8:24 PM
I'm completely confused. For a while it seemed that you wanted literature to be like heavy metal. Heavy metal isn't usually all that smart, but it's passionate, aggressive, sincere, honest, and lacks irony. I could more or less get with that. It seemed right for our post-ironic post 9/11 times. But now you want art to be more like sports? Have you lost your mind?! Sports are all obsessed with competition, corporate sponsorship, advertising, consumerism, and steroid abuse. And you are quoting Nike in your directive to just [fucking] do it? Brother, you have really gone astray.
Ann Lee Lives!
6/21/2006 7:30 PM
It was very lame, easy and childish of you to give me the 1am, Burger King drive-tru, five minute tops, “I'm so busy and gotta move on,” easy break up and dissappear on the fuckin phone.
I would have prefered a letter with you creative use of words, something tangible, and at least, respectful to me, I think I deserved that . . .
As you wend your way through the nerve system of Vélez’s semi-fiction, clicking on the friends of friends and their friends, you find an exponentially bigger pool of actual strangers, whose narratives, though not Vélez’s, are no more or less reliable than his. Could anything as deeply weird as the flag-waving Republican Freelancer be made up?
Vélez seems to have found, at relatively little expense and bother, a way to have the full- blown exhibition that the art world is always denying him—or so he likes to complain—a show in which he can be as cantankerous, opaque, foul, unhappy, and inventive as he wishes, both enjoying the fruits of an anonymous, profoundly untrustworthy medium while giving it the finger for its superficiality and basic dishonesty. It’s vintage Vélez, only more so. See for yourself at