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“Uncertain Spectator” Exhibit Presents Works Reflecting Anxieties

Anxiety in contemporary art is the subject of Uncertain Spectator, Nov. 18 to Jan. 29, 2011, at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). The group exhibition presents works by 10 artists that confront anxiety in art and in the experience of art, according to Emily Zimmerman, assistant curator.

“Our historical moment is highly conditioned by anxiety, from post-9/11 homeland security to the financial crisis, all exacerbated by the news media,” Zimmerman said. “Artists are responding to the time in which we live.”

In particular, Zimmerman said, the show draws attention to the anxiety attendant upon viewers of challenging contemporary works.

“So often, contemporary work asks you to push your boundaries, to venture into an unfamiliar terrain,” Zimmerman said. “There is a moment of anxiety that the viewer has to overcome in the encounter with a work of art, trusting that the experience may be of great value or provoke you to think differently.”

The exhibit includes:
Claire Fontaine’s 2006 CHANGE, a spine-chilling display of 12 seemingly ordinary American quarters, each modified to conceal a box-cutting blade — a play on the infamous weapon wielded by the 9/11 hijackers and the security obsession it has fueled.

Jordon Wolfson’s 2009 video Con Leche, a swirl of anxiety-inducing images and narrative touching on the trajectory of capitalism in our country — the patterns of commodity culture, and the after-effects of industrial decline.

Susanna Hertrich’s 2008 Reality Checking Device, which offers perspective on our anxieties. A graphic displayed on a mirrored box depicts the degree of public outrage a particular danger elicits — such as global warming, a car crash, or a terrorist attack — in relation to the actual risk it poses to the life of an individual.

EMPAC will post 13 of artist Anthony Discenza’s signs across campus. The signs mimic official street signs in appearance, but are worded with disquieting phrases like “This Area Now Controlled by Unseen Forces,” “Please Stand By,” and “Coming Up: Greater Horrors.”

The exhibition also includes documentation regarding a famous event in the history of experimental art which has relevance to the themes of Uncertain Spectator. Ten photographs chronicle Graciela Carnivale’s 1968 action for the Experimental Art Cycle in which Carnivale invited guests to an opening and then locked them in the gallery. An hour after Carnivale locked the doors, the guests convinced a passerby to break the storefront window. As they escaped through the broken glass, they were given a statement about the intention of the work.

Zimmerman said the works in Uncertain Spectator ask individuals to cross that threshold — place themselves in situations riddled with tension, confront deeply charged emotional content, and grapple with feelings of apprehension.

“The show isn’t an easy topic — people don’t want to dwell in anxiety. The show is asking people to sit with anxiety, and to consider the positive aspects of uncertainty,” Zimmerman said.

The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. More information can be found on the EMPAC Web site at

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 18, November 19, 2010
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