Pages

April 22, 2008

Believing and Seeing

On those days where words matter so, like the days leading up to an important primary election, for example, art takes a back seat. Or so it seems. And then...the Latrobe, PA flag-pin questioner at the democratic debate last week appears, an archetype, a woman-as-art-piece...and the artfulness of the public theater of politics is front and center once again.

For me, watching Nash McCabe ask her question of Obama was much like my visit to the art exhibition called "The Believers". I saw this exhibition last summer at Mass MOCA, and found it both repulsive and oddly familiar. For so many artists, deducing the workings of a mind is an agony. And the pain expressed in "The Believers" was palpable, not just in the subject matter (screeds on body mutilation and religion, schizophrenic musings, the essence of witch-ness, glorious imagined machines, the strange connections between all happenings) but in the artists' raw and compulsive need to categorize their own feelings, sexuality, thoughts - - and to in turn be categorized and comprehended by unseen audiences.

They strove to express and be known through symbols that formed a framed, articulated stance on Life's Important Question (whatever the artist determined that was.) Overall, the work in the exhibition seemed to me to be about the need to be identifiable, to self-describe in order to be known by the stangers who encounter these expressions of belief. To have their belief solidly seen.

On the other side of Mass MOCA, running at the same time, was an exhibition by Spencer Finch ("What Time is it on the Sun?") which conveyed the opposite. His installations explore other truths - - that light is tricky, that comprehension is subjective, and that memory (as in the hilarious and sad multi-piece "Trying to Remember the Color of Jackie Kennedy's Pillbox Hat") is specious. What you can and think you know, what you recall, even how you see color, Finch seems to say, is ever-changing.

Questioner Nash McCabe, belongs squarely in the camp of "The Believers". She knows what she knows, and it is constant. She feigned a vetted question about patriotism (and what is today's definition of that exactly?) when what was churning underneath was something else. Something about an unspoken shared comprehension she desired. Something like: "I don't want to challenge your humanity, Senator Obama, but how can you expect me to vote for...a black man? I mean you look nothing like anyone I would ever want to know, and in the privacy of my own home I say terrible things about you because you are not white like me, so how can I comprehend your mind - - but I will frame all that as a question about a symbol, since we all see a symbol in the same way, don't we?"

No comments: