Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Real Fiction and Fictional Reality

Continuing along an art-packed day I went by The Contemporary to check out the three new shows that opened the night before. This new group of shows turned out to be the most interesting and engaging exhibition I have seen at the Contemporary all year and I recommend spending some time walking through it.

To set the stage for the rest of the exhibit is a video of young male athletes dealing with their anger, frustration, sadness, just after losing a game and often being yelled at by a coach. Suddenly one gets an idea of where an interest in waging wars may stem from.

Francois Morelli, "Belt Head"

The group show "Finding Form" in the Left Gallery presents art whose "objecthood is the result of precision, performance, serendipity, disregard, and time." All I could think was, wouldn't that rather broad umbrella include just about every piece of artwork ever made or performed? And judging by the mixing of artists, it is quite inclusive.

Behold one of Hannah Wilke's "vagina-shaped chewing gum sculptures." Uh.... so she made it with her mouth and it looks like a... uh... vagina. Well, earlier today I ate a piece of fruit that looked kind of like - well it was a banana - what does all of this mean exactly? Crotch/Candy/Mouth. Moving on...

Below are a grouping of cool constructions by Jim Lee, which seem to be little studies in structure, material, and process, and I find incredibly appealing.

In the Main Gallery is the work of Harrell Fletcher with the show title "The American War". There was a giant, bill-board sized, image of books on the Vietnam War

And a collection of photographs taken my Fletcher, documenting the photographs on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City concerning what the Vietnamese called "The American War." Fletcher was so moved and disturbed by the imagery that he documented it with his own digital camera and eventually began displaying the body of work at, what the Contemporary referred to as, "several prestigious art centers."

Before even looking at the images, the idea of what Fletcher is doing could enliven a good debate. It's odd to think of an exhibition traveling around that is simply "copies" of an exhibit existing in a museum in another country. I get the impression that Fletcher's intention is to educate, to spread the word, but not without claiming to be in the role of Artist when, in my opinion, this seems more like the role of History Museum Curator. The argument would be that this exhibit is more to do with Fletcher's own attempt at dealing with what he found and was so impressed by in the War Remnant Museum than actually trying to recreate the same show - but if that is the case, how successful was he at doing that? How much of this show relays his personal struggle and how much of it simply echos the shocking tragedy another country has already presented.

After looking at the images, a new sort of inner struggle emerges. At the risk of sounding completely heartless, I had difficulty being moved or emotionally involved by the actual images despite how truly disturbing they are. Having seen similar images previously in books and magazines I have become somewhat immune to the real impact of their meaning. I wondered if perhaps had I been in Vietnam, seeing the actual exhibit in that context, would it have been devastatingly real. But seeing it in a gallery space, in Atlanta, I am emotionally removed from something I immediately identify as "art," something "unreal" or created.

Instead of the horrors of Vietnam, the show made me think more about the impact of horrific images and Susan Santog's writings on the ability of images to "anesthetize". This shows seems like a perfect example of Santog's summation that "concerned photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it."

"Waterboarding, 2007"

Far more moving were the images by Nubar Alexanian in the show S.O.P. in "Gallery Four". Ironically, these images were not documents of actual casualties of war but instead are photographs taken on the set of the upcoming Errol Morris documentary "S.O.P." concerning prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

"Man on the Box, 2007"

All of the photographs are taken of the recreations of "torture, maltreatment, and indecency." While the subject matter itself is disturbing enough for the images to haunt you for the remainder of the day, Alexanian makes these photographs all the more troubling by portraying the subjects in such a beautiful way. The dramatic lighting and charged compositions lure you into admiring what is really horrible.

"Deadman Waterboarding, 2007"

I left the Contemporary wondering if I had truly become a product of our media, or more specifically... Hollywood. Had I gotten to the point that raw documents like Fletcher's photographs bounce off my toughened skin but Alexanian's slick pieces of theater pierced me like a sword?

"Dog, 2007"

This show is definitely worth checking out. Up at The Contemporary until Dec. 22nd 2007.


Anonymous said...

i'm not sure what you mean by your post about disgruntled sports players leading to war..?

Jonathan said...

I am not trying to say that these boys are lil' Hitlers in training, but the emotions documented in this film show the shaping of aggression necessary for war.
I don't think this film is really about tennis players, its about the societal pressure for males to dominate/win and the phychological toll this can take.