ARTLIES / JENNIFER DAVY, 2006, winter.


By Jennifer Davy

From science to politics, fear has not only become a dominant strategy for wielding power and influence, it has become an institution. Playing upon and inciting fear is now a standard marketing tool—whether based on fact or fiction—generating anxious, paranoid, paralyzed societies with angst and without resolve. Imminent danger is what curator and participating artist Basim Magdy seeks to address in Threat Zone. Rather than focus on obvious, proscribed fears that populate our media landscape, Magdy considers real and/or perceived threats that occupy both individual and cultural consciousnesses.

Frances Goodman’s sound installation Voice of Reason reveals the psyche of a neurotic, germ-phobic individual that effectively fosters individuated anxieties in return. In a soft-spoken voice, Goodman monologues on the possibilities of contamination that seem to lurk everywhere. In intimate and perverse detail, she charts the perils of sharing space or actions with others—beds, meals, floors—slowly drawing our attention to the chair we’re sitting in, the headphones were listening to, the people beside us and our own, corporeal bodies. Combined with her text piece DO NOTS—sanitation tips installed in public restrooms throughout the city—the artist propagates perceived threats underlying our “civilized” society, presenting the world as a Petri dish and, consequently, of the “other” as a real and constant threat.

In the four video projections included in Threat Zone, danger lurks; for some, it is presented as a personal dilemma. The least successful of the group, Ed Young’s Killing Teddy, employs stuffed animals—a trope of innocence—as victims in juvenile and random acts of video taped violence. Although the action and content of Young’s fifty-one-second video seem too conspicuous, quick cuts, a fast pace and the accompanying soundtrack help play off the work’s conceptual shortcomings.

Projected on the opposing wall is My Way by self-declared “adult juvenile” Carlos Amorales. The video documents one of the artist’s lucha libre performances starring a masked and costumed Amorales (the artist’s alter ego) and his cohorts, Los Amorales [the amoral(s)]—two fellow wrestlers clad in identical powder-blue turtlenecks, gray suits and masks.

Up against El Santanico and El Guerreo, the “Dutch” wrestlers (Holland is the artist’s “alter habitat”), Los Amorales are challenged “to fight to finish evil…to finish with Los Infernales.” In the ensuing three rounds, the artist and his multiples defeat and subvert the artifice of violence that ingratiates the spectacle.

Video projections by Gülsün Karamustafa and Arthur Kleinjan exhibit cinematic qualities, both visually and structurally. Karamustafa’s Witchcraft infinitely repeats a climactic moment in a tightly framed, three-minute loop of a curio cabinet being opened by a young girl. Suspense is enhanced by music from Peter Mahajdik’s Witchcraft, perpetuating the possibility of danger in opening Pandora’s box.

Kleinjan instills a similar aura in the wide-screen projection of his narrative video Traverse. A man drives along an open and empty highway, confronted with his own image as foretold in the piece’s brief narration. Like a mirror, which the artist uses both conceptually and visually, this character appears alternately lost and trapped, witnessing his image in the rearview mirror—watching his reflection watch himself.

Real and imagined threats are cultivated in Basim Magdy’s installation of drawings on paper. In seemingly childlike depictions, Magdy manipulates common elements of visual culture by isolating images, in one instance, the silhouette of a military helicopter juxtaposed with an alienlike figure in an astronaut helmet. In each witty combination we see a larger, subversive project unfolding, such as ET drawn in multiple under the banner “UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED.”

Evincing a real threat zone of political and cultural instability, Emily Jacir and Anton Sinkewich mirror the tension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their collaborative installation. Sandwiched together in a state of suspension, a series of books bridge the gap between two freestanding walls. Authored by—or about—Palestinians, topics range from history to identity, politics to poetry.

Through this indeterminate passage, bridged by books that cannot be read, the artists address the depth of one region’s cultural history and identity and the precarious balance of political reality. While immediate threat here is only a model, Jacir and Sinkewich poetically illuminate the density of the Palestinian issue and the ignorance that propels it.

Jacir and Sinkewich’s piece and Goodman and Magdy’s works tend to the exhibit’s theme most succinctly, while videos by Amorales, Karamustafa, Kleinjan and Young are more tangential. Whether real or imagined, evoked or invoked, the exhibition successfully produces a looming sense of the traumatic—a real and imagined condition and consequence of contemporary society.