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A Synchronous Feeling: United Through Anxiety Virtual Exhibition curated by Jackson Haskell ('23)

2020 will be a year defined by the triumphs and tribulations we as a society collectively faced. That being said, 2020 has been the hardest year specifically, for young people to date. For my generation, it has been a time mired with anxiety caused by doubt and uncertainty for our individual and collective futures. Rates of anxiety in teens and young adults as a Hartford Health summarization of a CDC issued report provides us with a staggering insight into the drastic effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our mental health.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of more than 5,400 American young adults age 18 and older revealed more than 60 percent reported feeling this way. The results – three times as high as the same time in 2019 – also include a reported increase in suicidal thoughts and substance use. (Hartford 2020)

Due to the tumult of the times, we have had an abundance of time for introspection and reflection of the uncertainty of our times. Through this reflection, we have been making leaps and bounds to normalize and destigmatize mental health issues. We now know, comfortably and broadly accept, that anxiety is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human. Everyone has, or will, experience and face anxiety in various ways throughout their life, hence the title of the Exhibition A Synchronous Feeling: Unified Through Anxiety. Anxiety is a defining feature of the human experience and one can not comprehensively define what it means to be human without including anxiety.

Yet, it was not too long ago that mental health issues were heavily stigmatized and widely misunderstood by the prominent thinkers and physicians we often designate as the founding fathers of medicine. Anxiety was “discovered” by Greco-Roman philosophers, among the ranks of those who “discovered” anxiety included Hippocrates, Cicero and Seneca. Each had different explantions but all misexplanied the phenomena as either a disturbed mind or an acute phobia but diagnosed as a medical disorder (Crocq). Anxiety continued to be misunderstood by even the founding fathers of Western psychiatry. Sigmund Freud, throughout his career, posited three distinct theories of what he perceived anxiety to be. Freud’s first theory assumed that anxiety was a result of libido that was not physically released, in turn this pent-up libido released itself through anxiety. His second theory built on his first; that anxiety was a caustic by-product of libido by surmising that it was not from the physical blocking of libido, but rather, psychological inhibitions (Freud 2018). Freud’s final theory attributed anxiety “...he had posited anxiety as a result of repression, he now understood it as preceding repression and giving rise to it.” (Freud 2018). With this final understanding he differentiated automatic anxiety and signal anxiety which provided the foundation of our understanding of anxiety. Automatic anxiety was a traumatic situation where your helpless ego is overwhelmed and signal anxiety is a warning of an imminent danger; with Freud being Freud, these imminent dangers stemmed from the threat of castration (Freud 2018).

While Freud attempted to grasp what anxiety was in three drastically different theories, to varying degrees of accuracy, his third theory provided one of the first modern explanations of what anxiety was, and what it stemmed from. Freud’s explanation paved the way for the widely accepted, contemporary definition of anxiety provided succinctly by Gary Vandenbos in the APA Dictionary as “An emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune...” (Vandenbos). This broad and at times, all-encompassing definition, provides us with the foundation of this exhibition where anxiety can not be limited to a defined criteria. This has been the guiding mantra when selecting my works in this exhibition. Certain works of art I have selected provide an overt homage to anxiety; works like Andrew Moore’s “Birches Growing in Rotting Books, Detroit” or Mona Hatoum’s “Over My Dead Body”. While other works may not instill a direct feeling of anxiety, but upon reflection by the viewer, cause introspective feelings of anxiety unique to each viewer. Some of the works I selected to elicit a feeling of anxiety through a pensive self-reflection are Sun Xun’s “The Time Vivarium-81” and Do-Ho Suh’s “Who am We?”. Both works present a question of identity and how do we answer them, with each answer being distinct to the viewer; that is, if they can find an answer. Each and every work I have selected is different and at a cursory glance, have nothing in come. After all, the works I have selected cover a wide variety of mediums and subject material with artists from across the world experiencing drastically different circumstances when creating these works. Yet, that is precisely the point. At a glance these works have no common denominator. How is Jasper Johns’ “Flags” related to Richard Mosse’s “Man-Sized”, if at all? They are all bound together by the broader theme of the exhibition: anxiety. Anxiety is a unifying and defining feature for everyone, but it affects each of us uniquely. It is both familiar to everyone, while also being unique to anyone. To me, Jasper Johns and Richard Mosse both portray a struggle for national identity, while manipulating or depicting factors that make us deeply uncomfortable. A misportrayed American flag and a child depicted with an assault rifle. While you may not agree with the similarities I see, I encourage you to explore the similarities that you can find in these works through the unifying factor: anxiety.

The Time Vivarium-81, Sun Xun, 2014, Acrylic paint on paper

Sun Xun, Chinese (born 1980)

The Time Vivarium-81, Sun Xun, 2014, Acrylic paint on paper

Sun Xun “grew up in the period immediately following the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The lingering aftereffects of this movement continue to have a profound impact on his work, which often explores the themes of global history, culture, memory and politics.” (Kelly 2020) Through this historical context we begin to understand critically the political meaning of his work The Time Vivarium-81. Xun’s use of an animal instead of a human figure, allows us to objectively view the question his work presents. Xun grew up in an era where one could not have thoughts of their own, or at the very least, were not able to voice them. With Xun’s depiction of a beautiful goose he then gives it a head of clouded, or obscured, thoughts and indirectly asks the viewer, what is the point of having a body which is uniquely or own, if we are then deprived of the ability to think for ourselves?

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Who Am We?, Do-Ho Suh 1999, Graphics on somerset paper

Do-Ho Suh, Korean (born 1962)

Who Am We?, Do-Ho Suh 1999, Graphics on somerset paper

Do-Ho Suh in Who Am We? took individual portraits from his high school yearbook and arranged them in a sea of hundreds of thousands of faces to form a joint community (Artis 2020). Suhs mantra approaching art is one fascinated with created identity and how it is tied to a space.

Suh is interested in the malleability of space in both its physical and metaphorical forms, and examines how the body relates to, inhabits, and interacts with that space…For Suh, the spaces we inhabit also contain psychological energy, and in his work he makes visible those markers of memories, personal experiences, and a sense of security, regardless of geographic location. (Lehmann 2020)

In this case, Suh artificially manufactures a community of faces from his past school years, but Suh challenges the viewer with what happens when we single a face out from the crowd, when they are removed from being a part of the community, and examined on the micro level. The title of the work provides the challenge that the viewer must answer, in a sea of thousands of faces we belong to an identity larger than ourselves, but, upon closer examination and introspection we see thousands of unique faces. When we single someone, or ourselves, from a group can we ever really know who we are?

Reproduced with permission of the artist.

Song of Sentient Beings #1600, Bill Jacobson, 1995, Silver Gelatin Photoprint

Bill Jacobson, American (born 1955)

Song of Sentient Beings #1600, Bill Jacobson, 1995, Silver Gelatin Photoprint

In Bill Jacobson’s 1995 photograph Song of Sentient Beings #1600, Jacobson confronts the viewer with a monochromatic photograph of a barely distinguishable male figure. Bill Jacobson in his early works was fascinated with the idea of blurring subjects to achieve the effect of “...underline the futility of capturing a true human likeness in both portraiture and memory.” (Jacobson 2018). Through this blurring, the human face which is often our first impression of a person, is distorted. The face is what we base our most subliminal judgements of a person upon, yet, when stripped of these defining characteristics and left only with a silhouette, what can we do? We are forced to address the reality that a person is more than just their appearance, Jacobson’s photograph deprives us of this creature comfort that is so often taken for granted, but shouldn’t be.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Over My Dead Body, Mona Hatoum, 2005, Print on Paper

Mona Hatoum, Palestinian (born 1952)

Over My Dead Body, Mona Hatoum, 2005, Print on Paper

Mona Hatoum provides an incredibly nuanced duality of what the phrase “over my dead body” means. As a woman she has been told what she can or cannot do since the day she was born, a woman born into a male dominated society. Yet she is living in the world as a Palestinian woman. She was born 4 years after the creation of the state Israel and has never experienced what it means to have a permanent home because during a family trip to London her family, who had already been exiled from Palestine to Lebanon, war broke out in Lebanon and she was never able to return home providing a permanent source of wandering in her works (Antoni 1998). Hatoum has been told what she can, or cannot, do since birth. Over My Dead Body is a piece of protest art, where an empowered female with a gun to her head, can overshadow the most fearsome soldier that any nation can pit her against.

© Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York (photo: Bill Orcutt)

Jesus at the Temple, Herbert Singleton, 1992, Painted wood relief

Herbert Singleton, American (1945-2007)

Jesus at the Temple, Herbert Singleton, 1992, Painted wood relief

Herbebrt Singleton’s life was defined by violence, incarceration, and racial injustices. He spent 14 of his 58 years incarcerated, yet, he left his mark on the world not through crime, but his valuable contributions to the folk art community in America (Haardt 2020). Yet, the Bible to Singleton was a book of making something out of confusion “That's why the Bible scenes help and are in the middle of my bag of tricks of my trade forgetting out of confusion.” (Antippas 1995) Singleton presents the viewer with an iconic narrative from the bible; Jesus at the Temple. Yet, Singleton manipulates a factor many people inherently would assume as constant, the complexion of Jesus, to confuse and create strife. Many readers inherently associate Jesus as a white messiah, when that in all likelihood, is not the truth. Singleton forces us to confront a reality: the reality all that we know could entirely be built upon a white washed lie. It is fitting that Singleton picked this narrative of Jesus at the Temple to present this conflict, a literal cleansing of the white washed presentation of the bible and Jesus.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Flags, Jasper Johns, 1967-1968, Color lithograph

Jasper Johns, American (born 1930)

Flags, Jasper Johns, 1967-1968, Color lithograph

Jasper John’s in Flags confronts and confuses the viewer, much like Herbet Singleton does, by manipulating factors we so often take for granted. The American Flag to many is a sacred object and tarnishing it is equivalent to sacrilege, but instead of tarnishing, John’s manipulates. He asks the viewer, does the flag really have to be in red, white and blue? Even if the colors are altered, does the meaning of the flag stay the same, or is it drastically different? This was precisely the point of his series, challenging the conception of the American flag as a tangible object “abstraction of an idea and a symbol, but what does the flag become when it is painted? Is it an image of the object or the object itself?” (Broad 1999)/ John’s reimagination of the American flag forces the viewer to grapple with these questions, asking if something can change, while still remaining the same?

© Jasper Johns and ULAE /Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Man-Size, Richard Mosse, 2011, Photograph

Richard Mosse, Irish (born 1980)

Man-Size, Richard Mosse, 2011, Photograph

Through the use of a discontinued infrared reconnaissance camera, Richard Mosse photographs changes dramatically alter the verdant greens you would expect to find in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to a shade of crimson that predicates violence (Shainman 2020). Mosse, about his philosophy when taking photographs, told the The British Journal of Photography “...I wanted to confront this military reconnaissance technology, to use it reflexively in order to question the ways in which war photography is constructed." (Shainman 2020) Mosse captures two child soldiers against this seemingly violent background, holding assault rifles that are almost as large as they are. Through this juxtaposition, Mosse challenges the sacrosanct notion of childhood and innocence by placing a weapon of war and destruction into the hands of an age group we consider to be wholly innocent. Mosse provides no context as to their conflict or struggle, he only depicts them as children filling the shoes of grown men in a senseless conflict.

© Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Birches Growing in Decayed Books, Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, Michigan, Andrew Moore, 2008, Photograph

Andrew Moore, American (born 1957)

Birches Growing in Decayed Books, Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, Michigan, Andrew Moore, 2008, Photograph

Andrew Moore, in his 2008 photo series Detroit, portrays Detroit as the physical manifestation of mistrust and leadership gone awry in society. Andrew Moore recounted to the New York Times for his series about the guiding mantra of his work:

I have a perpetual fascination with certain kinds of decayed spaces that have been reappropriated or reused or where the evidence of people struggling to keep their dignity lingers, places that have been abandoned but retain the ghosts of what they were… (NY Times 2011)

Moore captures this sensation of lingering dignity and mistrust in his photo Birches by displaying the former Public Schools Book Depository as a derelict hulk, no longer fit for use. This portrayal of the Book Depository as a decaying giant left to waste by government mismanagement is so important because it shows books, often an item regarded as the building blocks of our education and our society left to waste, no longer nourishing the minds of school children. Instead, the books have literally gone back to their roots, only providing sustenance for the trees.

© Andrew Moore, Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery

Based on a True Story #12: Mass Hypnosis: Rodney King/LA Riot, Carter Kustera, 1992-1993, Latex paint on canvas

Carter Kustera, American (born 1962)

Based on a True Story #12: Mass Hypnosis: Rodney King/LA Riot, Carter Kustera, 1992-1993, Latex paint on canvas

Carter Kustera in Based on A True Story #12 “...gives physical form to a story that purports to be “true.” However, these stories vary widely in their credibility: Based on a True Story #12: Mass Hypnosis: Rodney King/L.A. Riot, 1992–93, deals with a story that most would agree to be “true,” although open to interpretation.” (Seward 1993), Through this question of a story purported to be true, Kustera sows the seeds of doubt in the viewer, by insinuating, what if they aren’t? The title of the work Mass Hypnosis indicates that the media manipulates the public's perception of the beating of Rodney King and through this manipulation, instigated the L.A. riots. Kustera’s dubious title indirectly asks the question, in a society where the majority of our news information is second hand, can we ever think for ourselves or truly know what happens in the world?

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Untitled (Four Etchings), Glenn Ligon, 1992, Ink on paper

Glenn Ligon, American (born 1960)

Untitled (Four Etchings), Glenn Ligon, 1992, Ink on paper

Glenn Ligon takes excerpts of texts from arguably the most influential African American laureates of the 20th century and turns the excerpts from Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “How it Feels to be Colored” and Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” into statements of power on black identity through repetition (UAC 2020). The excerpts of text used are commentaries on the struggle of being African Americans in a society that collectively is not accepting or welcoming like it should be. By using these excerpts in a contemporary setting, Ligon asks, what does it mean to identify as African American in society today, or, what steps have we taken as a society to remedy these persistent issues that Ellison and Hurston felt compelled to write about, and Ligon felt motivated to use?

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

A Synchronous Feeling: United Through Anxiety was curated by Jackson Haskell ('23).