Viewing the exhibition Fractured Narratives at the Cornell Museum
Sorry for the delay since my last post. I have become an adjunct teacher and find that it is taking time away from my art making or anything related to it.
I went to the Cornell Fine Art Museum several weekends ago and was very impressed by their latest exhibition. Out of all the museums in Central Florida they have maintained their degree of excellence, putting on exhibitions to educate the public about contemporary art, and it’s free.
They have curated a part of the Alfonse Collection of Art dealing with the aspect of narrative, which leaves the viewer enough room to construct their own conclusion while addressing modern issues plaguing our current society, including warfare, racism, and climate change. This show is not a “feel good” exhibition. Don’t get me wrong, there is beautiful art on display, but it makes us aware of things we are ignoring that need to be dealt with eventually; it makes you leave with a conscience regarding issues that need to be addressed not only by citizens of the United States of America, but as citizen of this universe and our survival as a human race.
The title of the show is Fractured Narratives showing the works of Dawoud Bey, Omer Fast, Eric Gottesman, Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jarr, Amar Kanwar, William Kentridge, An-My Le, Maya Lin, Goshka Macuga, Israel Moreno, Rivane Neusenschwander, Trevor Paglen, and Martha Rosler.
The thought that kept popping in my head is how as a country we have changed our mentality to overlook certain actions for the price of security either from terrorism or more recently from a deadly disease. The world has changed since 9/11 and this show reminds us how. I will be starting off with the strongest piece in the show, which is a video titled 5000 Feet is the Best, by the artist Omar Fast. I have never heard of this artist. The video is thirty minutes long, high quality by Hollywood standards in production and filmmaking. There is an interviewer asking the question “what is the difference between you and someone who sits in the plane?” The man he is asking this question turns out to be a veteran drone pilot. He gets agitated about answering this question; he suffers from headaches, and then changes the subject by telling a story. The story he is telling is then depicted in the video while the man narrates the scene, once the story is told we are back in the room again, the man excuses himself for a break, goes outside for a little bit, then comes back in and the scenario plays out almost identical like the first time but the story he tells the interviewer is different, this happens several times overall. The conversation and experiences about being a drone pilot, the stories being told, the metaphors, and in particular a story that replaces a typical scenario that can occur in a high-risk conflict area in the Middle East, where a Middle Eastern family is trying to go on a weekend family outing, but is replaced by an American family, in an American landscape, relating it to our lives, the suffering of innocent people caught up in all these conflicts.
Martha Rosler’s photomontages also deal with the same issues, where she juxtaposes advertisement imagery with imagery of war. The title of this series is House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series. The combining of images makes you compare, war and daily life, consumerism and ignorance. This simple act using images that are readably available in publications to denote what is wrong with act of war and the reasons behind it leaving the viewer wondering what is normal in this world.
Jenny Holzer’s piece is very simple, a painting titled water-board. It’s a nice surprise since she mostly works with LED lights. The painting simulates an official government transcript, but on a larger scale, 55 X 44 inches, that was released to the public that has been censored by the government blocking out sensitive material, because it deals with water boarding. At first glance from far away it emulates a minimalistic painting with its blocks of black on white background, but upon seeing the words, you start to try and fill in the parts that have been hidden from us; reasoning why the government used this torture technic. Is it to protect us from the truth and to what lengths the government goes to give us security or to protect their interests. What justifies torture?
The next three artworks that got my attention were photographs. I tend to favor the medium of photography when it comes to art. The ability for the photograph to be realistic, but at the same time anti-realistic has always fascinated me, maybe because in reality there are two sides to every story, eventually we decide what side to believe in.
Trevor Paglen’s presents a beautiful image of pastel hues with almost minimalist sunset or sunrise colors, depending on how you want to interpret it. But upon viewing the title, Untitled (Reaper Drone) and paying more attention to a small detail at the bottom right hand corner the reality of its reference shatters the beauty of it, making you wonder how something so beautiful can reference the ugliness of surveillance.
An-My Le’s work references war reenactments and Timothy O’Sullivan’s Civil War imagery. I have heard of military training that emulate the terrain to prepare a soldier for combat, which she captured in one of her images, taken during a desert training for recon, but what surprised me was her other photograph of a Vietnam War reenactment. I have heard of Civil War reenactments but not of the Vietnam War, a war that America wants to forget. From what I learned people who participate take this very seriously, down to every detail of the battle, to keep it genuine. Looking at both images it becomes hard to tell between the fantasy and the real.
The last set of photographs deal with the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the killing of the 6 children in Birmingham, Alabama. Just like An-My Le’s images reflect history, Daewoud Bey does the same. In the show there are two diptychs titled The Birmingham Project: Janice Kemp and Triniti Williams and The Birmingham Project: Fred Stewart and Tyler Collins. In the massacre 4 girls were bombed in a church and 2 boys were murdered that same day. In Bey’s images he selected children as stand-ins to represent the age the children were killed and he then selected adults who are the age the children would be now, had they lived. Using a church and a museum as a backdrop for their significance to the history of the Civil Right Movement, he took the portraits of these people in almost the same posture as if they were mimicking themselves as a young version against an old version of themselves. Viewing these images made me sympathize with the innocence lost, and think, had they lived, what their potential could have been to society. The reasoning of racism and hatred has no validity when compared to a loss of human’s life.
Art has changed over the centuries, from simple story telling cave drawings, to sculptures representing deities, to religious interpretations, to burst of vivid colors of an artist interpretation, to questioning what is art, to now. Art nowadays is not a thing of beauty that hangs on a wall. Art now makes us think, question, reflect, etc. By the time you leave this exhibition you question how does humanity keep on functioning, and still be able to make sense of it all.