The dominant question on my mind after leaving damali ayo's playback had nothing to do with racial tensions or anti-Black caricatures, but instead with the relationship between artists and viewers, and what audiences hope to get from their participatory relationships with art. If moments of beauty, transcendence of the mundane, and novel gestures and notions are what we crave when we search out and commune with art, beware of playback, which is intensely negative, accusatory, and wallows in its own thematic problems rather than searching for answers.

ayo's (the lowercase spelling is intentional) third exhibition at Woolley is dominated by a series of digital prints loosely based on iconic Norman Rockwell paintings. ayo blanched out Rockwell's entire scenes, save for their titles, and inserted a golliwog (a racist doll) into each blank canvas. Dialogue has been added in cartoon bubbles emanating from the now-invisible Rockwell figures. The text is taken from conversations ayo has had about racism or gleaned in chat rooms. The transcripts range from head-shakingly ignorant to seemingly benign ("I like this light because it makes our skin look like it's the same color.") One invisible character states that with the limitless set of social issues we're confronted with, battling racism can't always be their top priority. This perceived offense is held up for self-righteous judgment, effectively insuring that almost no earthly human being is free from ayo's machine-gun scatter of rock casting.

A monitor in the back of the gallery displays blacklight, a six-hour loop of the most offensive, horrible racist jokes I've ever encountered, which ayo pulled from the internet. I wouldn't stand around listening to this evil from a co-worker or stranger; why should this setting be any different?

Things lighten up with greetings, a literal play on the race card. A series of 10 generic greeting cards offer sympathy and guidance to heal racial wounds. Phrases like "Thinking of youÉ I heard you had a hard day, once again, due to people's racism and ignorance" are glimmers of hope and humanity that the rest of playback sorely lacks as it points fingers and traffics in the ugliest alleys of human nature. CHAS BOWIE

Support The Portland Mercury

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30