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This installation takes place inside an old vacant building (“the garage”) in downtown Montpelier, Vermont that for the month of October has been taken over by a group of local artists and turned into a pop-up art gallery.  My part of the building consists of three distinct light installations.


This is an empty interior room where the only window is a long horizontal one that faces into the hall.  Green and yellow fluorescent bulbs, hidden from the viewer under the window, project their colors throughout the room, on the walls, ceiling and carpet, as well as on the ceiling in the hallway.  This is an installation where it looks like there’s not much really going on, until the viewer takes the time to look at the subtle fluctuations in color in different parts of the room, notices the color-shifting streak of light on the hall ceiling and simply becomes more attuned to appreciating light and color just for themselves.


In this installation strong yellow bulbs were put into a small closet which was then almost fully shut, allowing only some streaks of yellow to stream out of the gaps surrounding the closet doors.  Viewers who take some time will notice how the yellow looks different depending on what part of the closet doors it’s reflecting off, will see the play of light and color on the ceiling and floor and, if they venture close enough, will see how the small space inside the closet is transformed by being bathed in yellow light.


This space takes its name from a quote by the artist Hans Haacke.  I decided to make the quote a focal point of this room by etching it onto mirror glass, illuminating it with LED lights and placing it behind a two-way mirror so that it reflects into infinity.  The quote reads:




- Hans Haacke (1968)


     I wrote a hand-out to go with this installation which discusses why I find this statement so compelling. It reads:


When he made this comment, Hans Haacke was a young artist full of idealistic visions of changing the world through art, but he was starting to reassess his work in light of the Martin Luther King assassination and the broader pervasive violence of American culture.  Given very recent events, the questions it raises have taken on new relevance, both to society as a whole and to artists in particular.  At the least it reminds us, despite being written almost 50 years ago, in language that now strikes us as a bit outdated, that the harsh reality of being a young African American man in the U.S. hasn’t changed much.


When I came across this quote a couple of years ago it raised two questions that continue to resonate with me.  The first is, is this an accurate statement?  Can it really be said that the political life of any culture on the planet has been elevated in response to works of art?  Does being exposed to a piece of art have the power to change the actions of someone who is an agent of the state?  I’m skeptical.  Whatever the reasons the Ferguson police officer had for shooting Michael Brown, I’m certain that his actions wouldn’t have been any different had he recently visited a light art installation, looked at a landscape painting or held a piece of pottery in his hands.  On that level at least I think that Haacke’s statement was spot-on.  And yet artists continue to create art with a political purpose.  Haacke himself has gone on to a long career of making art with a strong and very overt political agenda.  And so the next question arises: should artists try to influence politics through their art?


My own answer, both as a viewer and as an artist, is no.  I don’t think that politics is ever elevated when it’s mixed with art.  When artists incorporate politics into their work, art just gets dragged down to the lowest levels of politics and ends up becoming a tool of propaganda and manipulation: a heavy-handed attempt at telling you what to think.  But political art does it in a more pernicious way than a speech or a written manifesto does.  Those you can critically assess on an intellectual level.  A political piece of art on the other hand tries to influence at a more basic, emotional level, manipulating the viewer in subtle, sneaky ways, attempting to influence the viewer’s worldview but bypassing his or her reason and capacity for critical thinking.  I think that is very dangerous.


I come to this point of view through a strong aversion to being manipulated or told what to think, and this greatly influences the kind of art that I’m drawn to: light art, op art, kinetic art, Abstract Expressionism, all the kinds of art that engage the viewer on a visceral level without trying to instill a point of view or put specific ideas or thoughts into the viewers head.  Even non-political representational art strikes me as manipulative.  Look at a painting of a horse and you’ve been forced by the artist to have horse thoughts in your head.  Go into a light installation by James Turrell or look at an Op Art painting by Victor Vasarely and the experience you have, the thoughts that come up in your head, are entirely your own.  This is what I want from art.


This light installation is an attempt to create some non-manipulative art.  The idea is to allow the viewer to experience his or her environment, in this case a small, empty room, in a new way by bathing it in blue light.  Take a few minutes to get immersed in the color.  Subtle differences begin to appear.  Different shades of blue and purple become noticeable, as well as different textures of the walls and carpet.  Shadows become more pronounced, people look different.  How you respond to it all, the thoughts and emotions that may be aroused, are entirely your own.  Sure, I’m forcing you to have a bluish experience.  But as an artist I have to do something; I can’t just leave the room without any intervention at all.  I’m not, however, telling you to have a melancholy experience or a soothing one or anything else that might be associated with the color blue.  It’s entirely up to you to create your own experience of the installation.


Okay, then what about that polemic on the wall, nestled among the trippy lights?  Isn’t that me trying to manipulate your thinking?  I would say no.  I’m trying to present a statement that has had an impact on me in an engaging, interesting way.   I chose to include it in a light environment since that’s the example that Haacke used.  It’s up to you to read the statement, mull it over and come to your own conclusions about it.  Bring your critical reasoning faculties to bear on it.  Or not.  If you’re simply not interested in what it says, then just experience how the letters and the LED lights look projecting into infinity.  The green color, the mirrored reflections, intimations of the infinite, these can all elicit emotional responses in you, but those responses are yours alone.   

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