Untitled Landscape

In February 2008 Adam Helms created a provocative triptych, with the support of Cole Rogers, Zac Adams-Bliss, and Studio Manager Joanne Price, he that builds upon his previous investigations of guerrilla warfare, rebellion, and radical ideology. In a statement prepared for the Walker Art Center’s 2006 exhibition Ordinary Culture: Heikes/Helms/McMillian, Helms described these investigations in the following way: “I think of myself as an ethnographer. I survey and document the iconography, posturing, and symbols of radical political groups and subcultures….I am interested in the ethos of violence, the romanticization of extremist ideology, and linking issues from our political past with contemporary events.” The artist’s Highpoint project intermingles emblems and icons from several of such groups, from past and contemporary periods of time. Anchoring the suite is a 36" x 60" screenprint that was produced on white ballistic nylon, a sturdy synthetic fiber used in the manufacture of bulletproof vests. The work’s graphic format derives loosely from WWII-era Nazi heraldry. Using the insignia of Chechnya’s national flag and separatist rebels, Helms ornamented this motif with symmetrically placed wolves, a moon, and stars. A glossy mask has been superimposed over one of the wolves, a gesture that complicates its signification and calls to mind earlier Helms projects such as his Untitled (48 Portraits).

Two photolithographs complete the set. To the right of the screenprint is an image of a Chechen rebel camp; its background is green with trees, suggesting that it exists in wilderness, clandestine and off the radar of government intelligence. To the left is an image of the makeshift housing structure of a group of contemporary hippies, or those who have spurned technology and civilization. Helms shot the photograph himself outside of Marfa, TX. Like the first lithograph, the second is concerned with people whose radical beliefs have led them off the grid of settled, civil society.

In a 2006 interview with Walker curator Doryun Chong, Helms discussed his practice of constructing “assemblages” from the printed source materials that line his studio walls. “I’ve become interested in compiling groups and seeing them as larger pieces unto themselves," he explained, “I’m interested in the issues that surround the relationships these images have to each other, as well as how they function as elements of a [larger] cosmology.” Though distinct from the assemblages in physical format, Helms’ Highpoint work operates in much the same way: it brings together and recontextualizes images of resistance from very different historical circumstances. The result is a complex and absorbing suite of prints, one that creates space for unexpected narratives, alternative readings of history, and a renewed sense of cultural imagination.