I didn’t do any previous research about the exhibition before going to the Whitney because I didn’t want to have any predisposed ideas of how I might feel about the work or topics addressed. First I have to say, that I was really blown away by this entire exhibit. This was my first Biennial, of the 78 that have been installed. I didn’t realize that these exhibitions focused around critical discussions around contemporary art with a deep focus on cultural concerns of the given historical moment. This was a very impactful exhibition for me considering the current political climate.
This Biennial arrives at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequalities, and polarizing politics, and many works in the exhibition challenge is to consider how these realities affect our senses of self community.
This exhibition did just that for me— I reflected and took pause on how I felt about my initial thoughts on the subjects that were addressed.
Particular pieces that resonated with me
I really enjoyed walking into the lobby of the Whitney and experiencing the protesting banners hung against state-sanctioned anti-Black violence. I feel like these were very important pieces for all to see. I think that possibly they should have been lower from the ceiling and they might have had a greater impact. So that they were more in your face.
Real Violence (2017) – Jordan Wolfson
This installation was presented in a VR headset. Since I am interested in this medium, I immediately got in line for the VR experience, not knowing what the piece was about. I noticed the people that had taken off their headsets were not often eager to chat with their friends about what they saw, which I found this odd. I waited only about 5 minutes to be able to view the piece. Once I put it on, the VR experience was only about 2 minutes long, but it felt a lot longer than that. It’s described as, ” the viewer is transported to a nondescript urban street where a brutal assault occurs”. In the middle of a bright and sunny day, one man beats another man very aggressively with a baseball bat. Once the victim falls to the ground, the assaulter continues to stomp on and hit his head with the baseball bat. The attack was created in a game engine like Unity or Unreal Engine, but that didn’t make it feel any less real. The beauty with VR is that you are able to look around in 360 view and because this assault was so hard to watch, I found myself looking in all directions I had access to. I didn’t even notice, but read later, that the victim maintains eye contact with you. “His constant gaze rendering the viewer both spectator and victim.” At times I found myself looking away at the cars as they drove by wondering why they weren’t stoping to help. This piece really made me reflect on the Bystander Effect which refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present because they assume others will help.
Henry Taylor and his pieces on Black Identity in America were very powerful. Especially his piece, The Times They Ain’t a Changing Fast Enough, where he depicts the unarmed Philando Castile in his car shot by the Minnesota Police Officer. I think the title of this piece is very poignant and says a lot about where we are today with racial inequalities.
I found her pieces very interesting, and her reasoning for creating them even more so. Bodhidharma (2014) “were flaccid forms of furniture suggest at once an interior and exterior of the human body… Sagging against the walls or hanging loosely on them, the objects lose their identity and original purpose, taking on a state that is both abstract and visceral.” There were a couple of quotes from the artist that really stuck out at me:
When something is outside the body it becomes disgusting, but when it’s inside it’s as natural as blood
These pieces from our home that are put to the sidewalk and discarded
People have to project the other outside of them and create hate, and the fact is that the other is inside
It is interesting that there have been protests to one of her paintings the depicts the mutilated body of Emmett Till, the teenager who was lynched by two white men in Mississippi in 1955. The protests were as a result that Dana is a white female painting about race and violence. The full story of the protest was covered by New York Times. The artist’s response was the following: “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. Their pain is your pain. My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother.” She added: “Art can be a space for empathy, a vehicle for connection. I don’t believe that people can ever really know what it is like to be someone else (I will never know the fear that black parents may have) but neither are we all completely unknowable.” For myself, I am constantly trying to learn to be a good ally. This was an interesting situation to take pause on because sometimes good intensions are not always taken the way the were intended.