About the Exhibition
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” ― John Berger, Ways of Seeing
This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume that visual information—how physical and psychological perception is conditioned within the pace of 21st century life. The degradation of the environment is laid bare in Nick Brandt’s photographic elegy to Kenya, The Ravaged Land, while Hans Op de Beeck’s lyrical animation, Night Time, mixes nostalgia and desire in both praise and mourning for the unseen world of darkness and dreams. The power of visual perception to shape human lives is revealed in thought-provoking works by Hank Willis Thomas, Travis Somerville, Paul Rucker, Sam Nhlengethwa, and Silvana Pestana and Sonia Cunliffe, all of which address the legacies of 20th century racial, social, and political tensions. Mateo Mate and Lalla Essaydi employ camouflage imagery to illustrate how the technologies of social and military power are embedded in domestic and public space. The formal complexity present in Wu Jian’an’s paper collage, Peter Demetz’s wooden sculpture and Walter Oltmann’s wire Child Skull offers few clues about the subjects’ identities, reflecting the mysteries and limitations of visual perception. Norbert Brunner’s alluring mirror exploits these limitations—You Are Enchanting only delivers affirmation to viewers precisely centered in front of the work—while a frontal view of Hank Willis Thomas’s portrait of Sanford Biggers blurs his image. When seen from one side only, the Baron of the Crossroads is either black or white.
The gulf between what is seen and known—between appearance and reality—is illuminated in works by Alain Declercq and Kevin Cooley, both of whom describe their photographs of explosions as “fighting fire with fire.” Declercq’s Blast series is a pictorial archive of chemical compounds used for weaponry photographed at the moment of combustion, while Cooley creates his Controlled Burn explosions in his studio, exploring the duality of creation and destruction inherent in fire, and referencing the use of smoke signals as a form of communication. The proliferation of visual information presented daily on platforms large and small—in the midst of pulsating cities and within the intimate interactions between self and screen—alters the consumption and communication of the signs and signals that describe what is happening in the world around us. How can we distinguish which city’s Rush Hour is captured by Grethe Sørensen? Rafael Lozano- Hemmer’s Zero Noon, a clock that runs on internet-refreshed statistics, conflates time and data into a screen-based experience of consumption. Drawing on hundreds of sources, the clock tells the local time based on various metrics, such as the average number of daily human breaths, the number of firearms produced in the US per day, the number of cups of tea drunk in the UK, etc. Each day at 12pm, the clock resets and the numbers all revert to zero, ever so briefly suspending the exponential onslaught of these indices of change. While Zero Noon collapses the immediate distance between what is seen and what is known, more complex connections among these randomized statistics depend upon the viewer’s participation; experiencing a heightened awareness of time in relation to visual information may generate new perspectives on how we see, think, feel, and act. Participation is also required to grasp Hank Willis Thomas’s And I Can’t Run, as the image only resolves when photographed on a mobile device, creating a pointed assessment of how we see today shapes what we see of the past and present.
Opening at 21c Durham August 13, 2015, Seeing Now features painting, sculpture, photography, video, and software-generated work, including several significant recent acquisitions to the 21c collection by Hank Willis Thomas, Paul Rucker, Hans Op de Beeck, and others.