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Adam Helms: Hinterland

New York artist Adam Helms experiments with masks in his latest show, Hinterland.

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.