Staged at Trotter & Sholer, the artist’s first solo exhibition challenges the borders of identity and artifice, dreaming of an in-between space
To be released from the hold of the superlative Self is to relinquish traces of the Other hidden within it. The performance of personhood reveals the obstructive and constructive qualities of “persona” in the social world—the essence of Brontez Purnell’s Anti-Alter Ego. The artist’s first solo exhibition, staged at Trotter & Sholer, presents a series of Xeroxed artworks, photographs, paintings, and texts that bleed the borders between truth and fiction. In fact, Purnell defines the “anti-alter ego” as the place where truth lives within fiction—the purgatory of identity and individual reality.
The Oakland-based artist’s practice spans theater, movement, sound, and the written word. Much of his work prioritizes the body as an interface for humanity, and Anti-Alter Ego is no exception. Purnell’s body is illuminated by a secord-order rendering of artifice, where the “truth” of a text is complicated by that of physical reality—taking the form of a muddied mirror scrawled with lipstick, and a nude self-portrait that reads: “It’s not going to objectify itself, unfortunately.” As a writer, Purnell is continually confronted with questions regarding the truth of his work, to which he responds: “To what end does the answer aid us?” Claiming memoir would be to indict himself; fiction, on the other hand, alludes to fraud. Anti-alter ego is the dream of an in-between space, evacuated from the anxiety of embodying something beyond ourselves.
This project began when Purnell was in grad school, as he embarked on a journey to understand “persona” as multivalent—a stage and armor. The artist explored the aftermath of self-identification, once it’d been demoted to fiction by the gaze of an audience. The Self, then, is shattered by the disparate mediums of performance, embodiment, and projection, and sewn back together through individual realities, histories, and reckonings—a cacophony reflecting Purnell’s inclinations toward the punk and the provocative. In its final form, Anti-Alter Ego unravels our desire to perform, from the roles we believe we are cast to play.
Anti-Alter Ego is on view at Trotter & Sholer through July 8.