The University Art Galleries premiered three new exhibitions on Jan. 13 which will be open for visitation until Feb. 10. These exhibitions explore a variety of topics and themes and provide immersive elements to place you into the artist’s world. The exhibits are as follows: “Painted Lady,” a solo exhibition by Ariel McCleese; “Do You Want to Quit? Intimacy, Site, Self” curated by Erin Gordon; and “Matters of Time” curated by Brianna BakkeBest. Each exhibit seeks to challenge and encourage visitors to reconsider preconceptions of abstract concepts such as time, self-consciousness and the internet as a flimsy site for discourse, among others.
Ariel McCleese’s “Painted Lady” provides an immediate, immersive experience. The room, with the exception of a projected video and a single spotlight on a line of text, is nearly pitch black. As one enters the exhibit, the sound design provides a feeling of dread and hauntingly escalates until it loops back to the start. A set of benches sit in front of the sole video playing in the exhibition space. The exhibition depicts an immersive exploration of Hegelien thought, particularly self-consciousness. It provides a view of a life-and-death struggle — a trial by death which ultimately fails in terms of providing either side recognition. McCleese frames a sidelong view of a few golden chrysalises. A pair of black-gloved hands (belonging to a female) starts to assert itself onto a chrysalis. It prods and makes cuts at the chrysalis which shudders and jitters about –– this is the life-and-death struggle of Hegelien philosophy. If the chrysalis stops resisting, does it mean it recognizes the female perpetrator as the master? The way to be self-conscious is revealed to be recognized by another entity. The exhibition is wonderful in setting the intent outright with a spotlit message from McCleese upon entry. “Painted Lady” is much more than a representation of humankind vs. nature.
Curated by Brianna BakkeBest, “Matters of Time” challenges viewers by trying to deconstruct perceptions of time. It fights the notion that time is a linear progression. There’s a wide assortment of pieces to explore within the exhibit. One can even leaf through a book or pamphlet on a shelf that’s part of the exhibit. There’s a screen that shows what looks like a plant suspended in time while the camera silently glides around it. Other videos that provide headphones are used to full effect. “Cascade” in particular creates a sense of perpetual falling by stitching together clips and pictures of seemingly variant things. While the tilt downward continues, random objects fall in another layer of the video, giving the effect that they’re 2D objects being dropped in front of the camera adding to a sense of disorientation. Two film projectors play cuts of videos which together create a cacophony of sound. The whirring and clicking of the two sync with the visuals which are disparate and jump from one movement to the next without reservation. The sense of a linear progression in time is shattered. It’s an exhibition of three parts, which serve as the past, present and future breaking down. Context is stripped away and what’s left are suspended moments. As I left the exhibition, I thought of an instance of Doctor Who, where the titular character explains a misconception of time — it’s not linear, rather, “it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
Following the impression of being immersed in a videogame, “Do You Want to Quit?” puts the viewer into multiple environments varying from the inside of an empty gay bar to the shoes of a woman on her night out and allows further interaction. There’s a lot to unpack from the exhibit as it contains several videos (headphones provided) and interactive elements. A 360 degree soundscape envelopes you as you stand and watch the footage unfurl onscreen. The lighting is muted, but not as dim as the “Painted Lady” exhibit. Videos like “She Who Sees the Unknown” make use of intermittent lighting to reveal different parts of a monster like its limbs and heads before showing the whole body. The audio accompaniment builds upon the mythos of such monsters and the instrumentals prickle both ears as the final element is lit. The visual is reminiscent of Kanye West’s 2013 music video for “BLKKK SKKKN HEAD.” Another memorable piece was the Tell Tale style text-based video game that places players in the position of a woman encountering men at a bar who’ve been trained online by pick up artists. The sound design and uncomfortable conversations are unfortunately all too real as in the contemporary context, these are the waters that women have to navigate when they want to spend the night out.
A sense of unease lives throughout the exhibits. In creating a certain environment, all three provided a sense of being caught in a video game. Exhibits like “Do You Want to Quit?” explores the idea of intimacy and relationships in a digital sphere and how feminist empowerment is challenged by certain groups in society. “Painted Lady” places one in the position of watching a power struggle, how a woman imposes her will to become self-conscious. “Matters of Time” deconstructs time as a linear progression and dismantles past, present and future through its individual components like film projectors. When dissecting the intent and content of these immersive constructed atmospheres, it becomes clear that the art resonates the emergent property of contemporary society as a whole. All three succeed at presenting such ideas and letting them stick.