A visit with artist Jevijoe Vitug and his project about youth violence
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“You can tell some are missing,” says artist Jevijoe Vitug, nimbly picking his way around an installation of shoes covering the concrete in a graffiti-splashed alley next to the “new genres project space” called Momas and Dadas. Each with a lace tied to another, the shoes form a web of footwear — except for a couple of places where a shoe has been taken. Vitug seems more intrigued by the missing shoes than troubled; being carried away on the feet of a new owner extends the shoes’ web out into the community with invisible ties.
The shoe installation is just one project among many he’s worked on during his two-month artist’s residency at the alternative project space, and during our meeting we talk about the many subtle links tying all the works together.
The tied laces of shoes bring to mind the common sight in low-income communities of a pair of sneakers dangling from the power lines, and they are essential wardrobe of adolescents traveling by skateboard around their neighborhoods. Titled Flipside — referencing skateboards, cassette tapes and the flipsides of personalities — the project explores the duality of communities and people, and at the same time reaches out to at-risk youth. As part of the project, Vitug worked with the Winchester Skate Team, doing art workshops; last First Friday he invited them to bring their boards for a DIY skate park, complete with ramp and metal railing. At the event, the young skaters rolled past wheat-paste portraits of themselves hanging on the chain link fence. Made on recycled board, on the reverse side of each portrait were sleek models advertising Channel and Revlon, the contrast underscoring the divide between upper and lower class.
The portrait of each skater displays two faces, one a calm, blank expression, the other “the flipside” of the personality, preforming a range of activities — grimacing, smiling, sticking a tongue out, bringing an invisible joint to the lips.
“I was thinking about those kids,” Vitug explains. “Sometimes [they] have that normal look, but [they] also have that kind of different mood. But I was also iconizing them. What if you iconize yourself? Like yourself is your own icon?” It’s a compelling concept for a population chronically low on positive role models.
As we move into a shaded alley, we pass by a long form covered in a black cloth. It looks like a body. Catching me looking, Vitug explains that it’s a fake corpse installed as tribute to Trayvon Martin.
“That one was killed just wearing a hoodie. The one who shot him said [Martin] was just walking suspiciously,” says Vitug. “With that kind of simple gesture you can really, literally, be in danger. The project is all about the issue of youth violence.”
Stepping inside the house, Vitug shows me the wheat-paste portrait he created of Martin, a serious young man haloed by a hoodie, with the second expression capturing the look of confusion at death.
The grim portrait is countered by more humorous flipside portraits nearby. One shows Prince Harry painted on a hinged cabinet door, wearing a pair of sunglasses mixed with the visage of a tiger, literalizing the party-animal side the prince let loose during his notorious visit to Las Vegas.
From underprivileged youth to British royalty, eventually all the works link into Vitug’s explorations of change, transformation and perception, which for him all tie in with the city of Las Vegas itself: “Las Vegas is about reinvention and changing faces.”
MOMAS AND DADAS 926 S. Casino Center Blvd., http://momasanddadas.wordpress.com