installation overview

Below are a few snaps of ”˜Unseen Forces’, my installation at Southern Exposure. I’ll be going back and documenting the show properly, since these aren’t the best-quality images. Need to bring the tripod, need to bring a fancier camera, yada yada. Installations can be notoriously difficult to document, but these pics should still provide at least some sense of what the work looks like.

So what’s it all about, you may ask? I’ve got some thoughts below, but really, what’s much more interesting is how other people interpret my work. My read doesn’t have to be anyone else’s read, so feel free to ignore my version.

I can’t even begin to count how many walk-thru metal detectors I had to pass through this past year: airports, government buildings, malls, high schools, you name it. They’ve been there. There’s something so simultaneously wonderful and awful about these clunky devices: they’re situated in such highly fraught but also totally mundane environments, in situations where masses of people must be processed and moved on quickly, efficiently and undramatically.
It’s the dulling of our anxieties that gets me: how bland we allow these processes to pretend to be. The falsely-neutralized abbreviated detention, the anticlimactic moment of passing through, a certain degree of uneasy relief at being done with the process. Passing some sort of mysterious test, and being prodded on and away. As far as I’m concerned, metal detectors become much more interesting in their aspect as portals/thresholds.

The images on each of the gallery walls have specific points of reference, with two metal detectors being the objects that tie everything together.When you walk into SoEx’s rear gallery, you pass through this metal detector:
The wall directly to its left is a highly stripped-down reference to high school: lockers and classroom doors. While the school I used to work at didn’t have a detector, I’ve been at many that did, and I’ve always found that a pretty messed-up thing to contend with in an educational environment.
I had initially intended the lockers/doors to be very obvious, with clear illustrative detail, but I found the shapes much more compelling as anonymous monoliths, esp in relation to other aspects of the installation as it developed.
The metal detectors themselves are similarly basic: other than making them to scale, I wasn’t interested in making them “realistic”, wired with artsy technological doohickeys, or finish-fetish perfect. They are simply clearly hand-made, but still blandly generic, objects.
On the far wall is a jungle/garden scene, which corresponds to that illustration I shared earlier. I’ve had an ongoing fascination with the Western yearning to return to Edenic innocence, and how problematic that becomes as soon as folks arrive and start destroying stuff. These days, such issues are usually worked out on some package-vacation to Hawaii: tourism is a far-from-benign source of much environmental/economic exploitation. Also for me, the paradox of the western gaze towards the tropical other is art-historically endlessly hilarious in painted works by guys like Gauguin, Rousseau, and Charvet (among many).
This garden wall is also the wall that leads directly through to Southern Exposure’s actual garden, so it seemed only natural to double this sense of contained flora and faux verdancy. Also, I love fake plants.
The right wall is something of an oceanic continuation of the garden wall, but I wanted to convey a sense of distance and isolation, and to counter the high-school scene on the opposite wall (there are 4 blank gray objects on each wall). This is partly due to my ongoing fascination with islands in general, but more specifically references the islands of the Philippines, since that’s the country I’ve most often traveled to, and will keep traveling to, for a wide variety of reasons.

There were many power outlets along this wall, so with some low-level landscape design and some layers of 1/8″ MDF foliage, nature was restored! Given that SoEx’s back gallery had many nooks and ledges, and no two walls matched, it seemed only right to employ more layering with various panels of fake plant life and other weirdly flat-edged objects.

Lastly! This wall is my stylized homage to both the Alamanda Putrajaya Mall (near Kuala Lumpur) and the Glorietta Shopping Center (in Makati, Metro Manila). While both are attractive because they’ve had real and/or fake palm trees inside (always a plus!), Glorietta has the dubious distinction of being the host mall for a rebel soldier mutiny and a couple of different bombings in recent years.

Every mall you enter in Manila has some sort of security set-up: sometimes it’s a couple of guards who poke through your bag with drumsticks, sometimes it’s that plus a metal detector. I don’t think the U.S. is too far away from this, given how trendy it’s become to unload a semi-automatic weapon during sales events.
So that’s basically it. There’s a lot more going on in my brain regarding this piece, but really, I’ve subjected you to more than enough of this. Normally, I generate this kind of writing before/during the creation of work, but this time, I wasn’t in the mood to do it until afterwards. At some point I’ll have to edit these thoughts, and generate a more formal statement about the installation, but as far as a “this is how Wofford’s crackpot logic generates art” post goes, hopefully it’s interesting.

Okay. It’s 3 pm, and I still haven’t eaten breakfast. Or lunch. Or blunch.
My stomach’s growling like an irritable tiger, so I’m off to jump the wall and feed myself!

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