An exhibition about broken symmetries and confusion

In the midst of the war that is unraveling in Iraq, an art exhibition at the DESTE Center for Contemporary Art could not offer a more appropriate cultural occasion for reflection on issues of power and politics. «2-0-0-2» (meant to be read as two-zero-zero-two) which actually opened in late December, well before the war, is not an anti-militaristic exhibition or one with an overtly ideological stance. More speculative and probing than directly critical, it encapsulates a combination of ambivalence, restlessness and cold numbness, which is more or less what the current mood often feels like. Its intention is well expressed in a single page, which is the only guide to the exhibition. «2-0-0-2» is «about hidden tensions and broken symmetries… it describes a state of confusion… it outlines an atmosphere of uneasiness.» The exhibition is small, sparse and tightly woven. It features the work of just five artists, a well-chosen economy which makes for an elegant, subtly imposing and visually lasting display, also allowing the viewer to better absorb the effect of the art shown. All the works shown belong to the art collection of Dakis Ioannou, who has made the selection for the particular exhibition and come up with its concept and arrangement. Although a group show, it is not meant to be understood as a feature on five different artists but as a whole that captures a mental state. The core is political and the main thrust of the exhibition lies in challenging the ownership and exercise of power and showing the relativity of authority. Perhaps the most overtly political work is «1+1=1» a double-projection video by Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman. Styled after a documentary, the video shows the simultaneous narration of two different but related stories told by the same woman, a Turkish Cypriot living in the southern part of Cyprus. As each story is told from a different perspective, it becomes difficult to define who is the victim and who the victimizer; as ambivalence builds up, distinctions are challenged and political labels fall apart. In contrast to Ataman’s work, which requires the viewer’s time listening to the narrator speak (the work also works visually), Maurizio Cattelan’s is immediately eye-catching. «Frank and Jamie» shows the dummies of two New York policemen standing upside down. An inverted image of authority, it is meant to be the third part of a trilogy on politics and institutional power; the first was the image of Pope John Paul II pinned to the floor by the meteorite (the work was shown at the Royal Academy’s «Apocalypse» show, raising much controversy) and the second was a diminished effigy of a supplicant Hitler. Although outright and often brash, Cattelan’s work ridicules contemporary values and symbols of authority, but the attack often feels distanced, blasé and, because of his use of sensationalism, rather dubious. From one perspective his works arouse only an immediate excitement, but from another they can be appreciated for triggering some more profound criticism. It is this in-between quality that accounts for his work’s ambivalence and helps illustrate the exhibition’s aim at describing «an atmosphere of uneasiness.» In contrast to the immediately gripping quality of Cattelan’s works, the photographs of Israeli soldiers by Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra work more subtly, playing with hidden meaning and exploring the psychological depth of her sitters. Dijkstra’s works are penetrating portraits of people taken in real situations but isolated from their surroundings to draw attention to peoples’ gazes and inner life. Spare but implicitly intense, Dijkstra’s images offer thoughtful and compassionate portrayals of people and leave the context in which they are taken a mystery. Next to Dijkstra’s work, the exhibition juxtaposes the more unemotional work of Tom Sachs, the models of two Boeings 767s which are part of an installation that interweaves notions tied to consumerism, technology and the symbols of mass culture. Resembling toys and models of aircraft at the same time, Sachs’s planes seem both playful and ominous, a duality which, again, enhances the exhibition’s notion of uneasiness. Gregor Schneider’s exhibit also plays with ambiguity and the hidden aspects of reality. From the outside his installation seems like an ordinary, large wooden container, but its interior is a projection of the artist’s domestic environment. «Totes Haus Ur» is in fact part of an ongoing project in which Schneider constantly changes the interior of his home in a German, provincial town and reconstitutes it in galleries and museums to show how a house becomes a projection of our thoughts and the documentation of events in one’s life. Like the rest of the works, Schneider’s installation alludes to the unstable, changing nature of reality. It portrays a world in which values are constantly being reshuffled and in which convictions are shaken, a world of imminent danger in which, in varying degrees, confusion occasionally threatens to supersede logic. At the DESTE Foundation (8 Omirou, tel 201.672.9460) through April 30.

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