Making Fun of Manliness

Contender, by Type A

At Contemporary Arts Forum, through April 7.

New York artists Adam Ames and Adam Bordwin are men’s men. They drink beer. They spit. They compete against each other in physical contests. Or at least that’s what you’ll see in Contender, their multimedia exhibit at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum.

The world-renowned duo, known collectively as Type A, have been exploring ideas of masculinity, machismo, and the aggressive, competitive qualities that define straight men’s behavior since their first collaboration in 1998. Their video Mead (2003) depicts three men drinking beer, feeding a fire, and belching competitively, and 4 Urban Contests (1998) features a pissing contest.

Their later work approaches the same theme with more depth, complexity, and subtlety. “Prize (Folly)” (2005) is an aluminum sculpture of a broken athletic cup the size of a dinner table, depicting not only the strength we associate with manliness, but also the inherent fragility of men — and stereotypes of them. A set of photos — “Stand (Height),” “Stand (Weight),” and “Stand (Lean)” — explores how men compete and compensate for their differences.

The exhibit’s standouts are “Push” (2004), a series of panels on which Ames and Bordwin shoved each other and then recorded where they landed in meticulous detail; “Ours/Theirs” (2004), a video installation and photo still in which the duo designate a new prime meridian in Greenwich, England, with a line of duct tape; and a set of needlepoint pieces that mimic the art of redneck bumper stickers in vernacular (“My Other Ride Is Your Mom” and “Don’t Like My Driving? Call 1-800-Eat-Shit”) and symbolism (bold colors, simple shapes).

The whimsical, yet mathematical “Push” acts as a record of aggression and its consequences. At the same time it’s a record of cooperation — both Ames and Bordwin allowed themselves to be pushed, agreed to detail their steps, and even unconsciously conspired with the other’s aesthetic vision (one piece looks like a comet, while another has a moat of blank space between two flares of footprints). “Ours/Theirs” is a great example of the way men mark territory and forge connections by rebelling. It’s also a great joke. The needlepoint work asks us that we consider both masculine and feminine stereotypes, and what we consider art.

Taken alone, however, these elements are just one-line jokes, crude conceptual videos, and OCD-driven exercises — entertaining in their own right, but also obvious and banal. Together as Contender, though, the works are an irreverent, thought-provoking, and accessible exploration of what it means to be a capital-M man.

Contender, along with David Florimbi’s exhibit Real Estate, shows through April 7 at the Contemporary Arts Forum, upstairs from the Paseo Nuevo Mall. Call 966-5373 or visit

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