The air is thick with coffee. A couple of stained mattresses lie on a floor littered with old blankets, used coffee filters, coffee grounds and odd pieces of furniture. It looks like a run-down safe house belonging to spies or criminals, or the grungy apartment of an addict. In actuality, it is all these things, and the drug of choice is caffeine. This coffee-filtered installation at Brett Wesley Gallery, by St. Louis-based Adam Turl, showcases the fictional lives and flophouse studio of the 13 Baristas Art Collective, a proletariat narrative invented by the artist.
“[Coffee] is the drug for working,” Turl says. “Everyone goes to Starbucks in the morning and the bar in the evening.”
Slinging java by day, by night baristas Maggie, Amy and Sidney intermittently paint, dream and rail against their constrained economic positions. Dripping black and white canvasses function as both graphic novel and propaganda broadsides plotting vengeance against Western capitalist ideals. A caption on one panel reads, “Barista B gave birth to a magpie. It cursed all her enemies.” Nearby, a Venus of Willendorf with male genitalia caters to society’s new transgendered notions of beauty. Another canvas declares, “Barista A’s grandparents were Black Panthers. They were shot by police.” And a tabletop overloaded with white paper coffee cups, each marked with a black cross, offers a miniature memorial to the working class, each cup a gravestone marking the passage of another workday.
By using the gallery as both art and theatrical space, Turl provides an art experience that transcends aesthetics and becomes a kind of instructional narrative.
Sept. 10–Oct. 31 at Brett Wesley Gallery, 1025 First St., Suite 150, 702-483-8844. BrettWesleyGallery.com.