Friday, January 9, 2009

Those Quiet Moments

Harry Shearer, better known to the public as Mr. Burns (or perhaps Ned Flanders - or even Waylon Smithers), is also an artiste. Not in that he actually puts pen or charcoal or paint to paper or canvas or anything else, but he is a modern artist. His newest exhibition is called The Silent Echo Chamber, and it is video and images of individuals in the moments before the television camera roll and we see their public facade. John McCain, Barack Obama, and Chris Matthews are all present in this exhibit. I heard about it from Talk of the Nation, and it seems like a fairly cool and inventive idea. We all know what these people look like and what they personify once the cameras are hot, but what about in those moments - those sometimes terrifying moments - before? The question of whether or not we can see anything from these public-private snippets is an interesting one; can seeing John McCain stare unerringly into the camera really tell me anything more about the man, or even myself? Or is the exhibition just a reprieve from the countless jaunty, somber, "personable", funny, and almost always vocal. In our world made up of a cacophony of sounds, it is those silent moments that are most rare. Like most modern art, The Silent Echo Chamber is probably more of a human Rorschach test than anything else. We probably only see bits of what we already assume the various people to be like rather than who they actually are, because the silence before the talk grants us very little conclusive evidence. But it still seems like an interesting venture - and it is being presented at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so I may actually be able to go see it.

Another exhibition, though this one easily accessible due to its on-lineness - is, which occupies a perpendicular angle to the the first exhibit in that these are photographs of private citizens in public places. Which, as the name suggests, are images of sleeping Chinese. I discovered this on Racialicious, and at first I was horribly appalled at the idea, mostly because I - in my Americentric way - thought that the pictures were being taken here. If they had been, it would have been entirely Othering, and more like a weird safari than any really meaningful work. But since the pictures are being taken in China, it becomes both less problematic and more problematic in a different way. The artist says,  
“They talk about ‘The Sleeping Giant’. About ‘The Birth of the New Super Power’ or ‘The Awakening of the Red Dragon’. Often with a strange kind of undertone, which is supposed to frighten us. The reality definitely looks more peaceful.”
It sounds as though the photographer is attempting to demystify the Chinese populace to the outside world to me. It sounds as though even while mentioning the Othering stereotypes, he's pulling from a common ground in an attempt to connect us all. No matter what our idea about China and the Chinese are, we should be able to take something from the fact that we all have to sleep and that we all look fairly similar when we sleep. There is a common humanity in sleeping by that virtue alone. Whether or not someone recognizes that when they look upon the images - or whether it is ethical to utilize a population for the intent of going beyond and behind the rhetoric - is something else entirely.

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