Caught the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) exhibition Dispatches this weekend. Dispatches was mounted just before the 2016 election; in its own words it “includes a survey of works from 2010 – present and launches a series of commissions, or “dispatches” on current events and the critical issues of our time.” Works exploring environmentalism, the war in Syria and the 2016 election were particularly potent.
As you enter, performance artist Stacey L. Kirby invites you to fill out an application form for permission to use the bathroom. In an amusing and thought-provoking way, the form asks you to identify the exact location of your sexuality, how you perceive sexuality in yourself and others, and who should have the rights to determining your identity. I filled out the form, but I confess I hurried off before the 2nd part of the performance, which seemed to entail a personal guide through the facilities. What can I say? I’m shy.
Another provoking exhibit involved two works by Doug Ashford: Bunker and Next Day. Bunker was a video collage of New York Times photography from the 1980s to the 2010s, a dizzying reminder of catastrophes and conflicts spanning 30 years. Next Day lays out the first 28 pages of the New York Times on September 12, 2001, with colors and patterns superimposed that both obliterate and draw attention to various elements of the reports immediately following the Al Qaeda attacks. I had forgotten about the $20 billion the US spent on the so-called Star Wars defense system, satellites that were supposedly going to protect us from missile attacks. It was also sad to see the headline, “Horror Knows No Party As Lawmakers Huddle” – does it take an epic disaster to stop the constant finger pointing?
Ashford’s work invokes a world seen through New York Times reporting, an experience I share, and particularly poignant at a time when that type of journalism is being forcefully denigrated.
As you leave the exhibit, Beverly McIver’s paintings offer a welcome contrast to the politically volatile work within: giant portraits of faces, some with enigmatic clock faces in the background, pull you into the many colors that make up skin tone, and the many shapes that emerge from the human visage. Though far less overtly political, they have their political impact nonetheless, inviting us to look more closely at the faces around us, familiar and unfamiliar.