Artists Óscar González-Díaz and Matthew Wead participating in Chicago Artists Coalition’s residency program Hatch Projects, juggle sports, politics, and consumerism in S-W-O-O-$-H, their year-long exploration and incubation led by curator Courtney Cintron. Upon entering S-W-O-O-$-H, viewers are met with a colorful mound of soccer balls imported from Mexico, still in their plastic packaging, piled in the gallery’s corner. The soccer motif continues in two of González’ “wooden trilateral structures this time with deconstructed soccer balls in pieces entitled “Fair Play since January 1, 1994,” and “Joga Bonito USMCA.” The soccer balls have been laid flat, restitched, and then draped from the sculpture, ultimately dismembering their purpose as a game. The imagery of the three wooden poles, intertwined, but not touching, is meant to mimic the relationship between Mexico, Canada, and the United States, all of which is explored further on the walls through a series of texts, charts, and media surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement otherwise known as NAFTA.
Red vinyl cutouts of soccer players in action outline the wall in the piece “Equipos de Maquila” (Factory Teams).” Within the silhouettes is a series of photographs of past soccer players in Mexico, Trump, shipping boxes, political cartoons, and tweets, including those from the Canadian Prime Minister in response to the current U.S. Administration’s threats to disband the agreement between the three countries and Trump’s responses. The most striking work is the vinyl lettering on the wall reading “America is canceled, Mexico esta cancelado, and L’Canada est anulee,” while there is some poked humor behind it, underlying those words are dire issues.
While González uses the FIFA World Cup and sports consumerism to display the current tensions between these three nations and engage in conversation around trade, labor, and policy through these works in a deconstructed way, Matthew Wead, explores these same themes through the lens of Black Americans in a series of woodblock prints and a pop-up fashion installation.
In opposing intricate woodcut prints, Wead explores current racial tensions, the historical implications of cotton production through images of slave labor, Black consumerism, and the pandering tone of advertising campaigns for cotton-made products. In exploring its racial roots, and his own familial roots, the work’s meaning runs deep through his grandmother’s history as a sharecropper. The print “Sun Up/Sun Down” illustrates plantation workers picking the cotton, the hands of those workers appear in “With These Hands (Irma)”, and a “modern-day king” adorned with a tall high-top fade like crown inhabits “Cotton is King.” The most prolific motif is that of “the hoodie,” which has not only become an emblem of Hip-Hop culture but of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of Trayvon Martin.
In Wead’s pop up shop, the display includes a black hoodie scripted with white paint saying “Are we meant to be feared?” or “You’ve taken our names and our spaces/Now you’ve taken our lives,” and hung from a single hanger. It also includes a play on the controversial “Make America Great Again” hat, only this one says “Fuck That America,” along with black and white hats that say Black Matters and t-shirts of Ida B. Wells, all of which are for sale next to a neon sign, reading “We Have Just Begun.”
In this day and age, as nations unearth the implications of racial injustice in the public sphere, this might just be the beginning of a long road of discourse and action for art to dismantle as well. These two artists explicitly demonstrate that art is, and always has been, a sign of the times. As more and more artists respond to the social upheavals of our time and current political landscape, what S-W-O-O-$-H has done well to deconstruct these ideals and map them out for the viewer to take in, sit with, and piece back together using history and our connectivity as the threadful lining to the truth.