“Terrorvision” at Exit Art

Installation of Terrorvision at Exit Art; courtesy Exit Art

* * *

Before learning that Terrorvision is a “multidisciplinary arts project that examines how definitions of terror are shaped by individual and collective visions,” you know the exhibition concerns itself with big, big themes.

The sounds reverberating through Exit Art’s cavernous space in Hell’s Kitchen set an immediate, ominous tone. Upon entering, the viewer hears muffled martial rhythms, an ambient drone, a hectoring voice and evenly paced footsteps. The lighting is dim, probably to accommodate a handful of video projections, most likely to set a serious mood.

If exhibitions of art were judged on atmosphere alone, Terrorvision might be considered a persuasive embodiment of post-9/11 angst, a marker of, as the artist Peter Kruper has it, “a world that grows more Kafkaesque with each passing day.” Papo Colo, the show’s “cultural producer,” hits a Kafkaesque note when he writes in the accompanying brochure of “transnational languages in transitional countries with permanent gods.”

Or maybe he just writes badly. The anxiety that New Yorkers have been living with since 9/11 is real and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Yet when Mr. Colo states that “after death what you become is art” or “we are at war again, and we don’t even feel it,” he downgrades honest confusion and pervasive apprehension into nonsense. The artists included in Terrorvision rely on words just as desperately, which should alert you to where their priorities lay: in the rarefied realm of the conceptual.

Objects are secondary to the explanatory wall labels; visitors to Terrorvision spend more time reading than looking. In doing so, they learn that the artists are so busy “referencing,” “re-contextualizing” and “commenting” on political situations that they’ve failed to make objects with an inherently compelling logic. What you get is standard art-world boilerplate: an American flag constructed from Molotov cocktails; a sink filled with blood and a bust of Hitler with his mustache bitten off.

One piece invites the viewer to pick up a gun and shoot the artist. It’s the only thing you’ll remember-if only because it sets up a punch line no reasonable person could hope to resist.

© 2004 Mario Naves

Originally published in the July 18, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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