L’iat (Language is a Thing), or the Institute for Semiotic Materialism, is a recently formed multidisciplinary artist collective based in New York. We began working together as an attempt to foster a practice that is implicitly communal, where the individual ego is subverted and mocked. Revolving around an interest in strategic games, maps, sci-fi, and the ambiguity of historical narrative, L’iat humorously critiques the idea of American exceptionalism and lampoons the suburban white male. Synthesizing various media in a playful manner that mocks the pedantic, we question assumptions of how we understand the past.
Melissa Cha, David Colannino, James Falzone, Eliza Walton, & Bradford Willingham
L’iat lampoons suburban aesthetics, the “canon” of western philosophy, and the relationship of art and money. We are frustrated with the dichotomy of realism/idealism: what is often considered real is actually the most idealized. We mock the imparted wisdom of the suburban armchair general and the insipid political pundit. Mass information platforms purport to offer easy answers and readymade narratives which we disrupt, especially when they appeal to the narrative of American exceptionalism and white male privilege. By appropriating the aesthetics of suburban lawn care, the fetishization of past wars, the image of the heroic warrior, and the hyperbole of car names, we critique ego driven work that is capitalistically aspected, and thus useless as a medium of social change. We work against the egocentric auteur, whose work does little outside of perpetuating capital.
L’iat is especially concerned with mocking suburban masculinity. We use homoerotic imagery often to mock fragile masculinity. This is a response to their own scapegoating of the marginalized—an obvious attempt to deflect working class resentment, but also to point out their own fragility with their collapsing identity. Homoerotic material is often juxtaposed with illustrations of war to this effect. We are interested in the subconscious of the suburban white male and what makes them so reactionary and afraid.
What is the relationship between a man and his lawn and Napoleon and his horse? Does, perhaps, dick size matter? What color were Pythagoras’ shoes? So much of learning is actually an unlearning. Personal deconstructions of myths about identity are essential but are themselves part of class privilege. As children we are presented with pedagogical picture books and from this an ordered world is created. However, this tidy world is a fantasy. Our work often mixes imagery from children’s encyclopedias with photographs of the horrors of war. We are concerned with presenting an absurd context as a way of jarring the viewer into consideration of historical nuance. Our work uses humor and absurdity as a way of resonating with audiences outside of the art world.