Today’s blog post was written by William Patterson, staff member at SVACE:
The SVA Summer Residency Program hosted a panel discussion on the Residency alumni exhibition, Concerning Human Understanding, recently on view at SVA’s Visual and Critical Studies Gallery. All three exhibiting artists were in attendance to discuss their work, along with art writer Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, who posed a number of thoughtful questions on the themes of communication, madness and the strategies common to all of the artists’ work.
The panel was preceded by a brief introduction by the three artists. Sandra Erbacher was first to present, and spoke about her evolving interest in Institutional Critique. Erbacher felt that the practices of Institutional Critique from the 1970’s had become narrow and limited in the way they critiqued the structure of power. She decided to rethink “Institution,” exchanging the term for the more far reaching “bureaucracy,” and replacing “critique” with “humor.” This change in terms allowed her to explore new ways of commenting on the context, history and effects of “bureaucracy,” with strategies that could be more immediate or insightful than traditional commentary.
Works from the show, such as Ctrl+Alt+Del, 2015, are evidence of her thinking. The image de-familiarizes a computer keyboard by erasing off the letters, leaving only blank keys and the plastic frame. This act interrupts the purpose of the device as a means of communicating and forces the viewer to see it as a blank object, a product of plastics and modernist design, in all its genuine strangeness. It no longer seems like a means to communicating human thoughts, but a series of blank and impersonal cells through which nothing can pass.
Marianna Olinger discussed the documentary film she was working on, about a corrupt and abusive mental health institution in Rio de Janeiro. She interviewed and shadowed mental health workers who had been working to rehabilitate the institution’s patients. Marianna spoke of how inadequate normal, verbal communication was when attempting to understand these victims, and how the mental health workers had to place a much greater emphasis on their body language and tone of voice than we usually do in order to communicate. Marianna decided to reinterpret the idea of a documentary with this in mind. In following the cues of these patients, she sought to tell their story with that same emphasis on nonverbal language, and to understand what is often dismissed as “madness” as a form of language. It was this attempt that resulted in Wearing the Inside Out, her contribution to the Concerning Human Understanding exhibition. The video piece acts as a study in the structure of madness as a language, and as a precursor to the film she will ultimately create.
Tim Roseborough focused on a unique visual font that he invented called Englyph. Tim uses Englyph in a variety of ways to both conceal and redirect statements written in conventional language. Applications range from building visual puzzles out of the names of Tim’s friends to organizing a list of racial slurs in an Englyph pyramid by their frequency of use online. This form of data visualization is always in negotiation with its own immediate aesthetic value, as it conceals a message behind an almost impenetrable code.
Nevertheless, the Englyph system can be read, and that possibility, if not always acted on, remains an important aspect of the work as it is written. For Tim’s piece in the exhibition, he used Englyph to pattern a wall of the gallery with the message “Everything but Art.” At center he placed a blank canvas. Words are Stronger than Art was the name of the installation, which served a potent irony within the context of the show, as the work of all three artists, each in their own way, proved just how untrue that really is.
A video of the complete panel discussion is available below: