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

doubledialogueinstall.jpg

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.

doubledialogueinstall2.jpg

 

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Identity, the Institution, and Street Art

New Yorkers know: graffiti is everywhere. It is both controversial and comforting; a reminder of humanity and of the desire to smear one’s self-identity across the film of architectural skin which coats this city and shapes our everyday experiences.

Recently my life has been impacted by two different artworks which I have not been able to escape thinking about day or night. The first is an anonymous white rectangle in the uptown ACE subway at Canal street, and the second is a Banksy, deemed Hammer Boy, on the wall of the upper west side DSW.  According to various articles, the Banksy piece went up during his artist residency in New York on October 19, 2013. As of yet, I believe there is no writing about the white rectangle which has made it’s home in the bowels of the subway system and it’s evolution has undoubtedly taken place over a large period of time, which justifies my fascination with it.

rectangle on the uptown ACE at Canal St.

Enamel rectangle with graffiti on the uptown ACE at Canal St.

The first work, an enamel house paint, sharpie marker, spray paint composite piece was originally intended to be a space for posting fliers and advertisements. Today it sits unadorned, bare of its original intentions, fulfilling a new role in the world as breathing room within the subway system’s overwhelmingly maximalist aesthetic of general grunge and capitalist advertisements which coat nearly every other inch of space. Beneath the lacquered top layer of thin white paint various tags and drawings can be discerned, undoubtedly scrawled over a previous layer of paint. The work is placed dramatically in the center of the wall on the opposite side of the stairs, at first glance a beautiful contemporary homage to Malevich’s 1918 White on White. But the sexy, fashionable shine of the smooth white surface represents much more than a reference to bygone minimalism; it represents the gritty conflict for power between individuals and institutions.

In the photo that I took last sunday on my way to the cloisters (you can see my feet and a taxi reflected in the Zabar approved plexiglass which protects this work) a black silhouette of a child brings a hammer down in typical Banksy-esque style. This work has also been covered by authorities but with two crucial differences between this covering and the previous one. First, this cover does not obscure the hand of the individual but protects it. Second, the authorities responsible for coving the work are not anonymous, but proudly state their name and intention with a card in the upper lefthand corner which reads “Help Zabar protect this unusual artwork.” This work, although put up illegally by an anonymous tagger just as the work covered by the white rectangle was, is sanctioned by an institution simply because the individual is identified as an artist.

Hammer Boy, 2013, Banksy on a Wall near the uptown West Side DSW.

Hammer Boy, 2013, Banksy on a Wall near the uptown West Side DSW.

Why bring these two works together? One is an acclaimed, recognized artwork by a well known artist, the other, a totally unnoticed object with multiple contributors to its creation. Yet the connection that I feel for the white rectangle in the uptown ACE subway is inexplicable and far greater than my feelings toward the Banksy Hammer Boy, which represents the stagnation of the artist’s aesthetic evolution due to pressures from the market and Banksy’s subsequent need to be identified as Banksy. This aesthetic flattening renders the actual work on the wall rather inconsequential and instead draws attention to the institutional frame which is around and over it. Yet neither of these works exist within a traditional gallery space and therefore should lack the sacred atmosphere associated with that white cube. The Hammer Boy, however, has regained some of this sacred nature through its institutional plexiglass protection which designates the work as more valuable than any other stretch of wall space.

Both works have political connotations. Banksy’s oeuvre is pointedly political through it’s imagery and its medium. The ACE white rectangle is political because of the imposition of authority over the individual. There are layers of this struggle going back deep into the object’s skin; a layer of graffiti, a layer of paint, another layer of graffiti, another layer of paint, ad infinitum. This one object represents an eternal struggle which has happened throughout time and which will continue to happen simply by nature of societal structures and public spaces.

The shine of institutional material coats both of these pieces in glamour; one concealing, the other revealing. The hand of authority presents itself through this reflective surface, rejecting grime in one even as it glorifies it in the other. These works are embedded with a question that cannot be answered easily:

How do we decide which individuals are allowed to be seen and heard? And who deserves to decide this fate?