These Days: Elegies for Modern Times
Apr 4, 2009Feb 28, 2010
Building 4, Second floor
PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition closed as of March 1, 2010
Featuring: George Bolster, Chris Doyle, Micah Silver, Robert Taplin, Sam Taylor-Wood and Pawel Wojtasik
In 1967 Jackson Browne penned the lyric: "These days I seem to think about/ How all the changes came about my ways/ And I wonder if I'll see another highway." As the world shifts around us in ways that are profoundly disorienting, Browne's song resonates. Bringing together six artists whose work is infused with that lyric's sense of wonderment, and with the poetic and musical tradition of the elegy, These Days: Elegies for Modern Times responds to today's changing world with installations, photographs, painting, sculpture and video. The exhibition is at once an extended lamentation, but also full of a revelatory sense of possibility and hope. Opening Saturday, April 4, 2009 the exhibition features work by George Bolster, Chris Doyle, Micah Silver, Robert Taplin, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Pawel Wojtasik. Two of the artists will exhibit works from the past year while the other four have created new installations specifically for the exhibition including two room-size works: a 12' tall, 36' diameter video panorama and a full-size chapel-like environment.
George Bolster's new installation, Reckoner, transforms one of MASS MoCA's galleries into a chapel for the 21st century. The centerpiece of Reckoner is an elaborately drawn ceiling panel depicting the Reckoning or return of Christ at the end of the world and the division of good and evil. Figures on the ceiling include martyred saints like Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake and Matthias who was stoned to death. Suspended from the Apostles is a sculpture of a narwhal, which serves as an allegory for Christ. Christ's stigmata connect to the wounds of the apostles through red ribbons, symbolizing sacrifice and blood spilled at the apocalypse. The Radiohead song Reckoner, an atmos-pheric piece of music that seems like a pleading at the end of time accompanies the installation. As they move through the chapel, visitors will notice one additional component of Bolster's work: drops of water that descend from the ceiling as each Saint weeps for the loss of faith, not just in the form of religion, but in the face of culture.
Chris Doyle's animated video, Apocalypse Management (telling about being one being living), takes inspiration from Mannerist and Renaissance frescoes of The Last Judgment merging them with contemporary disaster imagery. The video begins with a landscape and its inhabitants in the aftermath of disaster like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The particular cause is unclear, but the devastation portends a state of emergency for which the viewer is reminded to be ready. Slowly a man beneath a fallen building starts to move and then begins singing. No words are discernable but the song seems to lift up the man allowing him to transcend struggle. Additional vignettes come to life, where the wounded, lost, and dying sing and dance their way out of destruction. By turning a site of hideous disaster into an almost operatic dance, Doyle provides hope in the lost, along with the belief that the end is not here. This elegy to disaster does have a bright side, for while it makes palpable the impossibility of preparing for cataclysmic events, it endlessly strives for recovery.
Micah Silver's The End of Safari begins with Yves Saint Laurent, not in elegiac praise of the iconic fashion designer, but rather using his 1968 safari-style jacket as a launching point for an investigation into the realm of fantasy. Laurent's safari jacket signaled a shift in the manifestation of cultural fantasy exposing colonialism in the form of fashion. Laurent highlighted artifice by openly acknowledging that he never visited the places that inspired him. The lineage of fantasy can be traced to travel writings of the 1500s in which authors imagined - rather than experienced - distant lands. Once uncovered, this fantasy fell apart, and it has been disappearing ever since. Silver's installa-tion begins with a fake environment of synthetic trees and grass, a simulated "jungle" in which the story of fantasy unfolds in an elegiac libretto narrated by a fictional Yves Saint Laurent. Sound emanates from the room itself, like a type of ventriloquism. The result is a space that transports the viewer from the museum into a fabricated environ-ment, addressing the conflicted loss of fantasy.
Robert Taplin's Everything Real Is Imagined (After Dante) consists of nine sculptures, each referencing scenes from Dante's Inferno as modern allegories of political strife. Taplin's story begins as Dante's does with the uncertain sense of whether or not we are in a dream or reality. Thus My Soul Which Was Still In Flight (The Dark Wood) depicts Dante, as a modern-day everyman, rising from bed to start his journey. As Talpin's story unfolds, things become more complicated. The third canto of Dante's Inferno brings Dante and Virgil to the River Acheron in order to cross into the First Circle of Hell. In Across The Dark Waters (The River Acheron), Taplin takes this iconic scene and turns it into a metaphor for the refuge crisis, representing people trying to cross waters, unknowing, just like Dante, of what awaits them upon their arrival. Taplin's cycle ends with Dante mourning the fall of civilization -- in We Went In Without a Fight (Through The Gates of Dis), Dante stands witness to a city destroyed, mourning both life on earth and what may await down below.
Two videos by Sam Taylor-Wood are on view in These Days: A Little Death, which depicts a time lapse tableau of a dead hare slowly rotting before our eye, and Prelude in Air, in which a lone cellist mournfully plays a Bach prelude. His instrument, however, has been erased, evoking a stark sense of loss. Selections from Taylor-Wood's photo-graphic series, Ghosts and After Dark, are also on view. In Ghosts Taylor-Wood takes on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights by photographing the moors in Yorkshire, England, in the harshness of winter to speak of Bronte's themes of thwarted love and suffering. After Dark depicts clowns in dilapidated post-industrial settings, creating a sense of misery and danger counter to the idea of joyous performance. And finally, in the self-portrait Escape Artist (Primary Colours), Taylor-Wood hovers above ground with a single colored balloon tied around each limb. Her body sags in the middle showing the pull of gravity as she tries to achieve weightlessness. The act of floating here is not effort-less, yet there is still a sense of belief in the ability of those party balloons to lift her up.
Below Sea Level comes from the tradition of cycloramas, or panoramic paintings spanning 360 degrees. In Pawel Wojtasik's technological update, viewers enter the thirty-five foot diameter, twelve-foot tall cylindrical structure, and, once inside, experience a video panorama composed of a revolving, watery landscape with the skyline of the city of New Orleans in the distance. Below Sea Level engages viewers in the contemplation of elements, natural and man-made, that have made New Orleans and the surrounding wetlands such an essential site. Wojtasik's work em-phasizes water as the lifeblood of the city, and uses its fluid properties to link video and sound, history and the pre-sent, the Mississippi Delta and our interventions in it. When experiencing this unique video, viewers are immersed as well in an all-pervading soundscape by artist Stephen Vitiello. From jazz to Mardi Gras, from the stillness of the Bayou to the hum of oil rigs along the Mississippi River, Below Sea Level is an intimate picture of a city that stands strong as a nexus of culture even when the waters threaten to sweep it away.
These Days: Elegies for Modern Times is supported by the Artist's Resource Trust, a Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; Culture Ireland; and USG.
Download a pdf of the exhibition guide.
Below Sea Level, Pawel Wojtasik(2009)