Artillery Magazine, July-August 2011
There is something fascinating about encountering urban blight in the desert; piles of trash and graffiti become an event, breaking up the endless vistas of light and sand. The city of Coachella, located in the desert east of Los Angeles, is an interesting hybrid of the urban and rural; gang tags scar the trunks of palm trees while not far away outlet malls sell high priced junk to bargain shoppers.
Coachella also happens to be the home of The Date Farmers, an art duo consisting of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez. Gathering materials from street trash, yard sales and even Target, The Date Farmers make art that reflects their urban tinged desert environment. Their show at the Ace Gallery includes work from 2007 up to 2011 and consists of paintings, installations and videos, some of which were made in the gallery this year. The work illustrates their fascination with the interface between sophisticated urban street culture and rural naivete, a rich vein that has led to a show displaying the best and worst of American and Latino culture.
The Date Farmers present Disney cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Pato Donald in drawing styles that range from the oblique sophistication of prison tattoos to the crudity of porno on bathroom walls. The sinister treatment that these American icons get invites the viewer to replace their clean appeal with a dirty fascination. Mickey has been subjected to twisted interpretations since the sixties, but what freshens the Date Farmers roast is the horror they promote. These are cartoon characters in search of a disaster, reminding us that even in the Magic Kingdom the sweet smell of shit occasionally overwhelms Mommy’s perfume. The other icons of Western culture in evidence need no punking up: Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wicked Witch of the West are rendered in The Date Farmers seductive yet vaguely sickening drawing style, somewhat reminiscent of Twist’s sad faced beautiful losers.
Other paintings in the show reference Latino culture, exposing the dark side of Aztlan, the mythic homeland of the civilizations conquered by the Spanish. In the piece “Triangle Hand”, Pre Colombian figurines are disfigured by cruddy contemporary tags, transmogrifying Chac-Mool to Cholo in one easy step. Even the magnificent jade calaveras unearthed in archaeological digs fare no better as The Date Farmers decorate plastic human skulls like lucha libre wrestling masks, mocking Aztec death culture. Other paintings appear to be street advertisements for marijuana, party DJs or stolen goods and have the creepy sheen of coked up folk art. Some of these are distressed even further by the addition of tags and idiosyncratic scrawls, just the sort of wear and tear that would accumulate in the streets.
By far the best piece in the show is Date Farmers Theatre, a large video installation that resembles a beachside kiosko, constructed of corrugated tin and weather beaten scrap wood. Inside the dark interior, a four minute animated video titled A Volta shows repeatedly on a scarred flat screen television, like some bootleg porno cinema set up for Spring Break revelers partying down south. The Date Farmers made the video for music composed by NASA, a collaboration between producer Sam Spiegel and DJ Zegon. A Volta follows the saga of a drug deal gone bad and is shot, animated and edited as if everyone involved in its creation was tweaking on speed. The camera jitters from one angle to the next as the action reels from one frantic environment to another; it’s “Enter the Void” on Oxi instead of DMT. The edits are so fast that A Volta seems to be a different video each time it repeats and its impossible to tell if a scene is CGI or stop motion animation as it whips by. Each character appears to be lifted from some Date Farmers piece and their transition from the flat paintings to 3D models is beyond successful; it’s fucking terrifying. The cartel boss is a freakish Mickey Raton, his rough-hewn head of splintered wood foully animate as he urges his coked up thugs to commit unspeakable acts of cruelty. It’s as lurid and fascinating as witnessing certain death, which in a way we are.
The Date Farmers have managed to create a show that confirms any thinking person’s suspicions that the world is in a moral and aesthetic decline. Fortunately they do so with a sense of dark humor that lessens the desperation. So rest easy, when Los Angeles burns to the ground you can always move to Coachella.