Double Dialogue press release

Opening October 4th, 2017

On View October 4- November 15.

Sometimes you hear a person speak the truth and you know that they are speaking the truth. But you also know that they have not heard themselves, do not know what they have said: do not know that they have revealed much more than they have said. This may be why the truth remains, on the whole, so rare.”

-James Baldwin

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This multimedia exhibition features the work of artists Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Paul Gagner and is curated by Kristen Racaniello.  Although these artists work in different primary mediums, each has created installations dealing with archiving and history, and their work generally attempts to unpack the monolithic views of history, truth and reality that dominate culture in the United States. Through examining the subjective narratives of our culture, Rasheed and Gagner confront post-truth in their work by crafting personal histories that ask their audience to question the meaning of truth and the status quo.

Humor pervades both artist’s work, which often uses oxymoron to point out hypocritical or dualistic thinking.  Language, as a vehicle for ideas, is primarily responsible for conceptions of the singularity of truth and for the social rifts created by differing versions of truth.  Rasheed and Gagner recognize this aspect of language and exaggerate it in their works, thus giving their audience a momentary glimpse of realities alternative to their own.  Double Dialogue seeks to draw connections between these two artists’ through their critical analysis of the cultural ironies surrounding them.

The location of this exhibition in the Silberman school of social work necessitates a consideration of exhibition as education.  This show is a space for students and faculty to reconsider the parameters used for education and information dissemination. A monolithic approach has become the methodologic choice of many public and private educators in the United States.  Rasheed’s work mines the archive as a collection that can tell multiple narratives. She questions the construction of history and the perpetuation of inherent biases in society, which are often sustained through education. Gagner’s work deals with the psychology of the art world and the conflicting social suggestions generated by the clash of separate philosophical value systems in art.  Together, these artists highlight the malleable nature of truth in our contemporary moment.

 

A Brief History of Post Truth:

This exhibition is a response to the surge of interest in the “post-truth” era. The Oxford Word of the Year (WOTY) for 2016 was POST-TRUTH.

Post-truth privileges emotion over objectivity. The collective notion of a post-truth nation can be traced in part to the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, with its theatrical emphasis on and fetishizing of war. This theatre of war has roots in the Gulf war where the first live news was broadcast from the front lines of battle. The Gulf war was subsequently nicknamed the “Video Game War” because of the surreal images broadcast daily from atop US Bomber planes during Desert Storm.

The word “post-truth” first appeared in 1992, when the effects of the late 80’s and early 90’s weighed heavily on the minds of Americans. Watergate, the Iran-Contra Scandal, and especially the Gulf war were sculpted through multiple filters of media and politics, resulting in the cultural conception of the term “post-truth” and its subsequent publication in an essay in ’92 by Steve Tesich. According to the Oxford English Dictionary post-truth describes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The founders of modern science expressed doubts about the human capacity to transcend the individual and emotional to discover objective, or universal, truths. Science is indebted to Francis Bacon for establishing the foundations of its current methodologic approach to assessing the world and generating information, laws, axioms, facts, and, some say, truth. Bacon believed that before any philosopher could employ his scientific method of inductive reasoning they must first free themselves of false notions that might distort these empirical truths. These were the Idola Mentis, or the Idols of the Mind: psychological barriers that Bacon believed would become blockades in the path of correct scientific reasoning. Even before our age of post-truth, scientists predicted the human tendencies that might distract from the pursuit, or even the possibility, of an objective truth.

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Word of the Year (WOTY) is an exhibition project hosted by Hunter East Harlem Gallery, inviting emerging curators to activate the wall at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work using Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the year” from the previous year.

Using a word culled from mass media as a prompt, the exhibition space acts as a site for artists and curators to engage in a month-long dialogue about collective consciousness and understanding how semantics can play a crucial role in shaping public opinion.

 

 

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Zabar Artist Lecture: Robert Barry & Non-Material Art

On a wednesday night Hunter College students and staff packed into a crowded lecture hall on the second floor of 205 Hudson to listen to the words of Robert Barry, which are physically plastered to the ground level gallery walls below.  Barry is famed for his work using invisible media, performance, and word based “suggestive artworks;” a term coined by Barry himself at wednesday’s lecture.  The exhibition in the 205 Hudson gallery downstairs and in the room adjacent to the lecture hall is a retrospective of fifty impressive years spent making immaterial artworks.   

The exhibition consists of work from the 1960‘s onward and includes a variety of media, from video to painting, drawing, exhibition catalogues, and even to a student run performance which continues throughout the duration of gallery hours.  The physical manifestations of Barry’s work are minimal and word based.  Performers in the gallery are instructed to project words out into space as if these words are objects.  Time floats around each word, cushioning it like the ephemera of air, gas, and light which construct and simultaneously disassociate object/things from space.  Barry has proven himself, time and again, to have a profound interest in the intangible; should he phrase his flippant explanations differently, his work could signify religion, the sacred, and the ineffable.  Yet Barry strives not to place this emphasis on his work.  He is profoundly grounded in nature and the physical. In keeping with many other conceptual artists, Robert Barry rejected outright the label of “conceptual art” (a term supported by critics and the internet at large: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Barry_%28artist%29) when a student put the term forward during the lecture.    

Robert Barry adopted the persona of an artist who easily navigates the art world organism.  He presented his ideas vaguely making statements such as “(I hope) that people might get lost in my work,” and indeed Barry stated that he “kind of liked” when people did not understand his creations. These vague allusions to meaning and viewer impact created intrigue among his audience and made him appear detached and sometimes disinterested in his own work.  This act (if it was one) does no justice to the essence of the ineffable power that his work evokes. 

For the past month, I myself have performed Barry’s timed wordlist once a week.  The experience is gripping in its ability to transport the actor out of themselves through careful, meditative focus on one specific word/object/thing which is then projected outward into the space of the gallery every thirty seconds.    Barry’s categorical explanation of each piece in the retrospective of his career did no justice to the experience of his work; it successfully portrayed him as a likable but detached artist. In my experience, and I suspect many others, the work of Robert Barry speaks for itself.  It is provocative, it has gravity, it creates thought.

The words of Robert Barry are best when left on the wall.