Bailey Scieszka: One Arm Bandit

June 1 - July 20, 2019

Opening Reception
Saturday, June 1
6 - 9 pm


“[The] real conspiracy is the idea of the American Dream—because the house always wins.”

-Old Put

AA|LA is pleased to present One Arm Bandit, a collection of new works by Bailey Scieszka. Combining painting, video, and sculptural works, Scieszka explores the optimism and fear that perpetuate the American Dream. One Arm Bandit is a theatrical and grotesque view of American identity that is bound in mythology, exploitation, and failure.

Scieszka draws on nineteenth century American portraiture, reimagining a longstanding tradition in art history by incorporating contemporary iconographies. Scieszka reproduces the head of George G. Hartwell’s “Child Holding Grapes” in Beanie-Baby face-paint. In another work Scieszka crops Rufus Hathaway’s “Molly Wales Forbes” and re-patterns the fan with “blazing 7s” slot machine jackpot symbols while the cat in the background morphs into a colorless American flag. Flags reappear when Scieszka magnifies the dog from Joshua Johnston’s “The Westwood Children,” plastering his body with the battle flag of Oliver Hazard Perry aboard the USS Niagara. Kitsch meets horror in these paintings that are simultaneously whimsical and unsettling.

In “Old Put Scared Stupid Podcast,” Scieszka’s alter ego Old Put, fashioned after WWE wrestling-clown-drag, thoroughly dissects The Girl Who Cried Monster, a book from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Old Put converses with an anthropomorphized slot machine to tell the tale of a girl who is both afraid of and obsessed with monsters—only to discover that she belongs to a family of monsters. Scieszka’s alternate persona capitalizes on America’s craving for a protagonist with whom to identify, knowing that the desire to be entertained outweighs our desire to know the truth about our country or its history.

Old Put and a slot machine also appear as life-sized sculptural objects in One Arm Bandit, heightening both the implicit terror and the artificial optimism surfacing throughout the exhibition. The use of this persona and performativity allows us to face the darkness and cruelty lurking within the American Dream, which requires that we keep trying to win even when the odds are against us.  

Bailey Scieszka lives and works in Detroit. She holds a BFA from the Cooper Union in New York City. She has recently shown with MOCAD (Detroit), Stems (Brussels), Larrie (New York), Maria Bernheim (Zürich), and What Pipeline (Detroit). Her puppet dramas have been performed at Paris Internationale and NADA New York. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Forbes, The New York Times, Mousse, Cura, Cultured, The Los Angeles Times, and The Detroit Metro Times. Much of Scieszka’s work emerges from the mind of her alter-ego Old Put, a demonic-shape-shifting-clown whose works across performance, video, painting, and drawing are layered with popular reference.