OUTRAGEOUS PLANS FOR SENSIBLE IDEAS
Trying to capture the collective spirit of a show is outrageous in and of itself. The Curatorial Team identified distinct themes for this exhibition, and chose to elaborate on them individually. Altogether, our show is a reflection of a year of thesis development by a cohort of extraordinary creatives, emerging in the midst of planetary mayhem.
History is a process of making, not a series of events laid out backwards through time. It is made through writing, photographing, singing, it is made to serve a purpose, and its structure leaves a lot to be desired. There are three distinct forms of history at work in this exhibition: generational, structural, and personal. Across these categories, the work is united by an urgency to make visible what has been hidden. The artists who deal with the past, directly and indirectly, have stories to tell that are incongruent with typical ways of thinking through the historical. Much of the art in this exhibition does the heavy lifting of reworking the past, either unraveling it from its neatly tied bows or trying, for once, to sew the pieces back together. Z Lober makes and performs to sift through traumatic events that disrupt our sense of temporality. Aidan Huntington, Margot Mitchell-Nockowitz, and Halley Sun Stubis dive into archives to grapple with family history. Jhona Xaviera brings the displaced Afro-Caribbean past together with utopian images for new futures.
I see us asking, who would believe the archive? Why believe the stories we’ve been given are the only ones out there? Why keep building as if those stories are true? In thinking about the role of history in art, I always think of Carrie Lambert-Beatty’s essay on the parafictional, and Michael Blum’s piece Tribute to Safiye Behar: a fictional house museum dedicated to a fictional historical character.1 It wasn’t displayed as fiction though, and people believed it. Lambert-Beatty asks, “Why would anyone believe it in the first place? After all, it wasn’t in a history museum, archive, university, or any other site even putatively dedicated to the pursuit of facts and truthfulness. It was in an art show.”2
Many of the histories we dissect and build upon are not considered in the lexicon of history proper; they are lost, forgotten, and eventually end up on the edges of fiction. We try to hold onto these, the ones that get lost from the world and that die in ourselves. From traumas experienced and inherited, to the joys of illegal vehicles, there are important lessons to learn from building upon alternative histories to make sure we tell, and live, new stories from here on.
1 Blum, Michael, A Tribute to Safiye Behar, mixed-media installation, 2005.
2 Lambert-Beatty, Carrie. “Make-Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility.” October 129 (2009): 51–84.
The artists of this exhibition grapple with an incommensurable feeling of silence. Silence has many meanings. For these artists, silence is a space of the utmost intimacy, where one expresses their innermost affections. I’ve seen the artists of this exhibition mutter words to themselves, or hide-out in fortresses of their own design, close their eyes, and breathe. For hours without end, I’ve seen them lovingly tinker with fabrics, metals, pigments and paper. As we make, we draw into our own silence. The French philosopher and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot wrote that “poetry expresses the fact that beings are quiet.” He adds, “beings fall silent, but then it is being that tends to speak and speech that wants to be.”1 There is a silence to our own contemplation. This is how we experience the world; working in our own mental coves, quietly placing ourselves in relation to the globe.
For many, silence is not a choice. Entire communities are made silent, unable to speak for themselves or for those they love. Their histories are withdrawn into silence, ignored or forgotten. At times, silence is even a prison. Thinking in this way, our artwork responds to the silence; do not mistake the work as silent itself. As a cohort, we answer our own silence with a shout! In doing so, we share our intimate experiences with one another, and our community grows as a result.
1 Blanchot, Maurice, and Ann Smock. The Space of Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
The nature of a thesis exhibition is that the work is conceived of by separate artists, yet brought together to be presented in a unified way. Identifying the shared themes of emerging and individual creators, and layering these to offer a deeper collective meaning, then becomes a sizable curatorial challenge. While working to identify overlapping concepts in this show, we found ourselves considering the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. It is a familiar tale of friendship and devotion, yet the more we reflected on the story, the more absurd it became. A spider who spins words into her web until her last breath to save her dear friend, Wilbur the pig, is as far from “natural” as one can get on a farm. Take into account that Charlotte’s plan, executed with her own kind of silence, is successful at dissuading the farmer from slaughtering Wilbur, and the story becomes an even more eccentric tale.
Even so, Charlotte’s unconventional portrayal of empathy also reads as playful and intimate. She is dedicated to her work and does not stop until it’s just right. The same relentless commitment has been demonstrated by the artists in this cohort, approaching a fixation at times that might veer into the absurd. Badger Antoniou and Ariel Akumanyi tirelessly face the macabre and the uncanny in order to find a sense of common ground and tell us intimate stories. Dan Fisher-Berger reaches ever deeper into our conceptualizations of social consciousness, striving to deconstruct the very ways we view ourselves and prompt us into awareness and action.
Being an artist requires a certain amount of absurdity, of willingness to obsess over the mundane and to turn things on their head. The artists in this show have dared to name the world, define and over-define it, to hyperbolize its relationships and shine spotlights on what has not been seen before. We invite you to experience the intimacy of these works, to accept their invitations to play, to listen, to partake. Who knows, you may find that their ideas about the world aren’t so outrageous after all.