Seeing Now Explores Visual and Psychological Perception
New exhibition opens at 21c Nashville with discussion, performance and reception on Friday, March 2
Nashville, Tenn. (February 7, 2018) -- “We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice,” said noted critic John Berger. Seeing Now, the latest exhibition at 21c Nashville, opening on March 2, explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st century.
Artist and musician Paul Rucker will join 21c Museum Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites on Friday, March 2 for a discussion and performance. This event is free and open to the public.
The multi-media selection of works by more than two dozen artists explores the power of visual perception to shape human lives, revealed in thought-provoking works by Hank Willis Thomas, Ken Gonzales-Day, Travis Somerville, Paul Rucker, Sam Nhlengethwa and Marguerite Stephens, Graciela Sacco, Terence Hammonds, and others, addressing the legacies of 20th-century racial, social, and political strife.
The degradation of the environment is laid bare in Nick Brandt’s photographic elegy to Kenya, The Ravaged Land, while Hans Op de Beeck’s lyrical animation, Night Time, mixes nostalgia and desire in both praise and mourning for the unseen worlds of darkness and dreams.
Steve Mumford’s monumental Empire invokes the tradition of Western history painting in recreating an image that has appeared frequently in the media since the early 2000s: jumpsuit-clad prisoners being boarded onto a U.S. aircraft. The prisoners are blindfolded, and the soldiers look askance, neither gazing directly at their captives nor at the viewer.
“The global pervasiveness of conflict has engendered the normalization of shock and numb; wanting to look but not to see, we lose sight,” said Stites. “As many of these artworks reveal, we are disturbed by violent, unjust, or tragic incidents, yet accustomed to their regularity, and may be blind to their causes and costs.”
Inspired by historical images of violence, both Travis Somerville and Ken Gonzales-Day’s installations focus on the mechanisms surrounding violence rather than the victims, requiring viewers to ascertain what is missing. Somerville’s Crowd Source is based on a photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, two African-American teenagers. Far from a simple meditation on past oppression, the work suggests the persistence of racial injustice in the 21st century: Crowd Source is a contemporary term for gathering wisdom, insight, or support from large groups of people—often via the internet. Gonzales-Day derived his Erased Lynching series from found lynching postcards and archival source material of Mexican, Native American, and Asian lynching victims in California from 1850-1935. Gonzales-Day digitally removed the victims from the historical postcards, and Somerville drew only the faces of the onlookers; in both works the absence of the body illustrates the erasure of these events from public memory. Both Somerville and Gonzales-Day shift the gaze from the corpse to the mechanisms of lynching itself: the mob, the tree, the spectacle of the event, and the role of flash photography in memorializing a tragic moment and perpetuating myths about “frontier justice” in American history.
Using retro-reflective screen printing technology, Hank Willis Thomas obscures archival press photographs of public events that resolve only through flash photography. To the naked eye, the images appear as white-washed scenes devoid of any perceptible narrative; through the augmented gaze of the camera’s lens and flash, the images document instances of racial and social injustice. With All Deliberate Speed both obscures and reveals the Pulitzer-Prize winning, 1976 photograph of a white man assaulting a black civil rights lawyer with a pole bearing the American flag. In transforming the use of a cell phone camera from an option into a necessity in order to view his work, Thomas gives contemporary viewers a choice: to see and engage with history, or to avoid it.
About Paul Rucker
Paul Rucker is an iCubed Visiting Arts Fellow embedded at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a visual artist, musician, and composer who uses visual images and sound to render powerful reflections on racial injustice in America. A native of South Carolina, Rucker’s work investigates the long-term social and economic effects of slavery in the United States, drawing parallels to racially motivated violence, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of African Americans. Rucker has presented performances and visual art exhibitions across the country and has collaborated with schools, prisons, and policy institutes to address issues of mass incarceration. His awards include Creative Capital, MAP Fund, Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant, Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and a residency at Maryland Institute College of Art as the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation research fellow in Baltimore, MD. He was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017, and a TED Fellowship in 2018.
ABOUT 21c MUSEUM HOTEL
21c was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors and preservationists who are committed to expanding access to thought-provoking contemporary art. A multi-venue museum, each 21c property features exhibition space open free of charge to the public, combined with a boutique hotel and chef-driven restaurant. 21c presents a range of arts programming curated by Museum Director, Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites, including both solo and group exhibitions that reflect the global nature of art today, as well as site-specific, commissioned installations, and a variety of cultural events. The organization collaborates on arts initiatives with artists and organizations worldwide, including North Carolina Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, The Barnes Foundation, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Creative Capital Foundation, and others. Since opening in Louisville, KY in 2006, 21c Museum has presented nearly 100 exhibitions, including Cuba Now!; Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea; Hybridity: The New Frontier; Aftermath: Witnessing War, Countenancing Compassion; Seeing Now; Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs; Dis-semblance: Projecting and Perceiving Identity; Albano Alfonso: Self-Portrait as Light; Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art; Labor&Materials, Fallen Fruit: The Practices of Everyday Life; The Future is Female; and Truth or Dare: A Reality Show.
For more information visit 21cMuseumHotels.com