When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “The Medium is the Message” in 1964, the theorist and author was specifically referring to the media of communication. But the saying could easily apply to works of art – in at least two ways.
The first is the object itself: an oil painting or assemblage or photograph conveys different information about the artist’s tools and skills. Second, the content – what the artist is saying.
“Are you here?” expresses both components in an intelligently blatant manner. Jonathan gitelsonThe exhibit in “Exposed” – the annual outdoor sculpture exhibition in Stowe – is actually a billboard. To be precise, this is an 8 by 16 foot white painted rectangle with the question “Are you here?” »Centered in black Helvetica bold type.
Located near the Main Street entrance to the Town’s Recreation Road, the Brattleboro Artist’s Sign is impossible to miss. And his query – a spin on many sitemaps “You are here” indicator – puts receptive viewers in a thoughtful state of mind for this provocative exhibit. He basically asks, Are you paying attention?
Every entry in “Exposed 2021” – 11 works by 10 artists – has something to say, and the best way to appreciate them is to be open to reflection and learning.
Of course, this is usually the best way to approach any art. But most importantly now, artists and curators around the world are grappling with delicate issues – political, social, racial, environmental – not to mention the very raison d’être of artistic institutions. For Rachel Moore, Executive Director and Director of Exhibitions at the stream, which organizes “Exposed”, presenting artists who speak of this moment is essential to the mission.
“It is important for us as an organization,” she said. “Part of our plan is to engage with specific issues and provide a platform for those voices.”
With a chuckle, Moore admitted on a phone call that the introduction of a verboten billboard in Vermont “feels a little rebellious.” But more importantly, she said, “I love that during this busy time there’s this big sign asking where you are. It can be interpreted in so many ways.”
The same can be said for “Arrow Sculpture”. It is the pragmatic title of a play on the lawn of the gallery made up of two arrows: one pointing upwards and the other downwards. Tony Tasset’s full-scale 3D piece is constructed from aluminum and each plane is enameled in a different, vibrant hue. It’s a striking pop-art object, a universal symbol that could suggest anything from the stock market to the human capacity for deep disagreement.
In an audio statement, the Chicago-based artist gives her own explanation: “Everything is in a state of constant evaluation: trending up or down, what’s in, what’s out, what’s hot and who is not.” His iconic piece is, suggests Tasset, a “monument to this perpetual state of success or failure”.
The exhibit clearly shows that success and failure come in many forms. On the other side of the lawn, a sort of invitation is emblazoned on the building which houses the Courant and the municipal library. The textual installation, titled “Inspired by ‘What Is Left’,” consists of three lines of large capital letters affixed to a metal fence above the porch. They read: “Come celebrate with me / that something everyday has / tried to kill me and failed.”
The lines are from a 1993 poem, “Do you want to celebrate with me,” by Lucille Clifton. The artists who enshrined his words call themselves Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine. Mildred Beltre, associate professor at the University of Vermont, and Oasa DuVerney founded the collaborative project in their neighborhood of Crown Heights and uses art as a tool for community development.
In Stowe, viewers of all ages were asked to analyze the meaning of their installation, according to Moore.
“I love to hear from people who are trying to figure it out,” she said. Even a group of sixth and seventh graders on a recent visit understood “this is about social justice.”
Based in New York Daniel Béjar Also incorporates poetry in his sculpture titled “Monument for Immigrants (in Advance of an ICE Raid)”. Without the exhibition plan, the visitor could miss this work, located on a point of grass near Black Cap Coffee & Beer. The city’s seasonal adornments of mums, straw bales, and pumpkin-headed mannequins distract from the room – essentially a faux boulder – and thus inadvertently encourage Bejar’s theme of obscuring.
Artificial rock, like the cast type used in landscaping, represents a sanctuary space and secret shelter for migrants fleeing immigration and customs enforcement, the artist claims; its hollow interior contains necessities such as water and a telephone burner. However, what sets the sculpture apart from any old piece of stone is a false bronze door / plaque printed with Rupi Kaur’s poem “Immigrant”. Its resonance with the Statue of Liberty is eloquent.
The intersectionality of language and art carries over to this year’s “Exposed”, but in some cases the message is cryptic.
Two installations per Lynn sullivan consist of long banners of black fabric suspended between the trees; the words are cut into the fabric, forming a kind of negative space through which the landscape can be seen. One of the pieces contains the word “If”; the other, a sentence: “Long Time No Ocean.
In her audio statement, the Vermont and Brooklyn-based artist says she finds inspiration in protest posters, street signs and celebratory messages. Noting that her banners evoke an uncertain environmental future, she is content to “let gravity and the wind pass the message from readable to obscure”.
Unfortunately, Sullivan must have suffered another form of degradation: vandalism. “She actually saw people destroying her room trying to take a selfie, sticking their heads through the letters,” Moore said. “She said just leave him in tatters.”
While this kind of behavior is just thoughtless, other violations of the artwork in “Exposed” appear to be intentional.
Cuban-American artist Gabriel Sosa created three variations of “Take One,” a receptacle in the familiar shape of an outdoor newspaper box. In the front “window” of the painted gold box on Main Street, Sosa displays a piece of paper printed with the word “free.” The boxes invite passers-by to take from inside a poster on which are printed the questions put to the defendants within the framework of the system of “criminal injustice”, he explains in his audio statement.
According to Moore, some of these passers-by instead put things in the boxes: trash. It would be charitable to suggest that people mistook the artwork, despite its clear labeling, for trash cans – except that Sosa’s “Take One” box on the Leisure Path was so vandalized it must have been. withdrawn.
This lack of respect for public art certainly sends a different kind of message.
Aptly named, “Exposed” celebrates both the vision and the craftsmanship of the artists and shows us where we stand.