It seems like at the movies these days, it’s hard to avoid reboots and sequels. Our cultural vocabulary includes a plethora of intellectual properties, pithy one-line pop culture references and an endless warehouse of sounds and styles that all gleam with the candy coating of pop culture.
With the availability of smart phones and the internet, pop is now basically liquefied and injected straight into our brains, and more often than not, it’s done so by a corporation looking to feed you something comforting — and make you pay for it.
KMAC’s newest exhibition opts to take a different approach.
Instead of aiming for your comfort zone, “Poems for Every Occasion,” a set of works from New York-based artist Jibade-Khalil Huffman, aims for your guts and your brain, challenging you intellectually and emotionally while pouring so much stimulus into you that you may find yourself literally stunned as you take it all in.
Huffman started as a poet. He attended Pinellas County Center for the Arts, an arts magnet high school in Saint Petersburg, Fla. He received a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s from Brown University before publishing two well-received books of poetry, “19 Names for Our Band” and “James Brown is Dead.”
Then he went back to school for another master’s, this time at the Roski School of Fine Art and Design at USC.
He lists his high school experience as an origin point for some of the themes he’s still working with.
“It was this amazing magnet program within a horrible Florida strip mall, very typical high school experience,” he says. “That generic American thing, that still figures into my work.”
Huffman sees that exploration of the idea of America in the works of a broad range of artists.
“Lydia Davis and Steven Spielberg are two of my biggest influences in how they are dealing — in different ways — with the banal,” he says.
The differences between those two favorites — a ubiquitous block-busting movie maker and an experimental fiction writer barely known outside the literary world — illustrates the clash at the center of a lot of Huffman’s work.
His pop-centric visual and auditory vocabulary smash into his willingness to ignore the easily digestible art he could make with that vocabulary.
The exhibition takes its name from the central installation, “Poems for Every Occasion.” It’s a set of a couple dozen visual poems, and each poem is a series of images, short film clips, sounds and prose. Images include plastic Army men, a Michael Myers mask, cartoonishly red dynamite and a host of other sights.
The sounds are just as powerful and varied. Some are clips with the dated sound of an analogue soundtrack, which give you snippets of dialogue. They might be pulled from an actual bit of TV from somewhere between 1968 or 1988. Or maybe Huffman just made them up.
Similarly, there is a recurring and haunting minor melody, five descending notes, that you’ll swear you’ve heard before. Maybe you have. Maybe you haven’t.
The collection is a cohesive set of work, even though it’s not in any way a cogent story. Like a good book of poems, there isn’t a narrative, but the pieces fit together and add up to a whole greater than the sum.
The smash and collision of the images in the titular work is continued throughout the rest of the pieces in the exhibit, selected through ongoing discussions between KMAC Curator Joey Yates and Huffman in the months leading up to the show’s opening.
“Working with KMAC, putting these pieces that had been from different shows in conversation with each other, has been really easy and inspiring,” says Huffman. “It made me think about what I’m doing and what I’m going to do in installations coming up.”
Some of the “conversations” these pieces have are very loud.
In the back of the exhibit, there are two video collages on flatscreen TVs and a large series of projections on the wall that often overlap one or both of the TVs. It seems like a single work, but it’s actually two previous pieces — the video collages are “The Pterodactyls” and “YOU, or, RGB, or The Color Purple.” These are combined with additional elements of the projections to create something new.
The result doesn’t even have an official name.
The conversation between Yates and Huffman often focused on what Yates calls “a disruption” to the way people experience screens and pop culture.
“It’s an strategy I’ve employed from the beginning as it relates to this idea of this overload that we’re all dealing with,” says Huffman
That overload, and many pieces of his work, come from blending video and solid objects.
“I’ve projected onto these inkjet works, sometimes just a projection of white light. So it’s just like lighting it,” he says. “It more or less looks like if you had regular lighting in the gallery.”
Then that white light projection will shift to found video, or animation that relates to the piece.
“It becomes a thing that is in between video and object,” explains Huffman. “That happens on that level and across the entire exhibition.”
There are jarrings sounds from one installation intruding into another, and there are sometimes chunky beats playing while you try to examine a two-layered depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. No experience in the exhibit happens without interruption from some other part of the show.
It makes it a spot-on reflection of the clamor and input we receive on a daily basis. When describing why he uses these disparate ideas, sounds and images in his work, Huffman’s answer is simple.
“I guess the short answer is ‘This is how I take in the world.’”
As what we all see and take in continues to include an ever-increasing amount of stimuli, works like “Poems for Every Occasion,” which leave literal and story-driven interpretation behind, will teach us new ways of interpreting and understanding our cacophonous world.
“Poems for Every Occasion” can be seen and heard at KMAC, 715 W. Main St., through Dec. 2. The museum’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.