The power of the mask has always
been transformative. From intricate Mayan creations to Native American
Coyote masks and those worn by the Samurai of the Ming Dynasty, all
have transformed their wearers into shamans, warriors and even gods. In
modern media, a mask has arguably made no more furiously spectral a
transformation than in the television footage captured at the 1972
Summer Olympics in Munich. By the bloody end of those few days, the
stark silhouette of a man in a balaclava would be etched into the
consciousness of millions worldwide.
Through dark statements of intent ranging from high-dollar heists to
low-level larceny and even through to the currently unfathomable unrest
in the Middle East, masks have essentially become analogous with evil.
New York artist Adam Helms routinely experiments with a fascination
with the mask as a way of defining its wearer. In his latest show
"Hinterland", masks are silk-screened over the faces of regal portraits
of past proud generals and scrappier shots of more timely insurgents.
Stripping the found images of their original intent, the figures are
more or less equalized, isolated from bureaucracy and glory and leveled
in the shared fate of war.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, Helm's themes are devolved further. One
piece, an elaborate wooden fort easily calls to mind adolescent
battle-play and, after a brief wash of nostalgia, the misguided notions
of those youthful games. The less transparent devolutions occur in the
moody, epic landscape works. The charcoals of dark forests and looming
mountains give a sinister charge to the words "this land is your land,
this land is my land" and could very well be a cutting meditation on
ever-encroaching hegemony. All of a sudden, the hinterlands look like
the safest place to be.