“It looks like two women fighting, don’t you think?”
This stranger and I looking at “Blonde Embrace” — on display at Artspace’s latest exhibition, “hello, world!” — or, a set of fans propelling two flailing blonde wigs that are suspended in the air. Perhaps the most bizarre piece in the room, the work acts as a conduit for the viewer’s emotions or a lived human experience … like women fighting. At first, the wigs almost appear as though they’re battling one another, but then, as the fans lose energy, the wigs seem to calm. Not long after this, the fans whir up again, and the cycle continues.
“hello, world!” explores how queer identity asserts itself within a larger heteronormative culture, while resisting the notion of one hegemonic queer identity. According to the show’s mission, each of the 10 artists’ work counters the idea that people should conform to one behavior. In other words, their work promotes individuality and refutes the idea that there is only one way to look, act or feel. With a focus on queer identity, the exhibition works against the traditional notion of queerness — the “sparkle and rainbow” aesthetic — and shows the fluidity of being.
Viewers are asked to consider traditional ideas of gender. Through its displays, it claims that queer individuals are similar to computer programmers and “create new code-based language systems that are fully legible to some readers and only partially legible to others.” The title, “hello, world!” references the first phrase that programmers use to test their code. If the code has problems, the sentence is illegible.The exhibit uses this formula to claim that language is static — it can be created, learned and even redone. The art showcases a host of techniques to challenge this normative language and views around gender.
The various media on display — which ranged from paintings to a movie to a TV exhibit — infused thought-provoking images with humor. Frankly, each left me confused, though to various degrees. Almost the entire 5,000-square-foot space is devoted to the exhibit, and one is never more than a few feet away from a piece.
Housed in a former civil war-era furniture factory, the local nonprofit Artspace retains a factory-esque feel, with white walls and gray floors — a contrast to the novel art it displays. Immediately upon entrance, I felt this juxtaposition. The first exhibit, a row of four TVs with headsets, caught my eye immediately. Each television ran a short film and followed the same character, a Muslim woman in a golden burqa, in four unique situations. Titled “Visiting Thanab,” the piece draws attention to the dichotomy between isolation and community and makes the viewer question what assimilation means in the modern age. On a lighter level, the accompanying headsets allow the viewer into the work, which is a welcome change from simple observation.
My favorite collection was three images from artist Genesis Baez, which displayed Puerto Rico’s landscape. In creating the image, Baez developed the image, buried in the ground of its original site and later unearthed it. The image had completely transformed. Baez’s method links the transformation of the image with humans’ perceptions of places, and shows the malleability of memory. It also contests the traditional modes, such as the American impact or the effect of rapid industrialization, in which Puerto Rico is represented.
Artspace’s “hello, world!” requires the viewer’s attention; it is not an exhibition for one to wander through leisurely. That attention, however, is well-deserved, and the works are a puzzle for the viewer to solve. The show will be up until March 2 — hopefully enough time for me to understand it.