Carmen Soth being stalked by a Walker guard. “No pictures in the galleries!”
Today my family and I visited the Walker where we saw Thomas Hirschhorn’s stunning installation, Cavemanman. Going with my daughter made me consider how much installation work is built on the model of the haunted house. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought. Last year I had to wait half an hour in the cold for my daughter to fall asleep in her stroller before seeing Mike Kelley’s scary Day is Done show. The exhibition was essentially a haunted house for grown ups traumatized by high school.
I don’t mean to be derisive in this comparison to haunted houses. I sometimes think art is best when it mimics more vernacular forms of expression.
One of the great things about photography is that it is a popular and democratic medium. This makes it easy for fine-art photography to maintain close ties to its popular usages (family snapshots, legal documentation, etc). One of the most powerful vernacular forms used to be the slideshow. The use of this form within the art world was well documented in last year’s Slideshow, an exhibition organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Kodak may have quit making slide projectors, but the medium is still alive. Years ago I bought I CD-ROM of Pedro Meyer’s I Photograph to Remember. I used to turn out the lights and show it to my classes. When I turned the lights back on there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Though my computer can no longer read the CD-ROM, the piece is available for free online.
Now, of course, there is a lot of sophisticated software allowing these presentations to incorporate video, interactivity, and so on. All of this is fine, but there is something to be said for staying close in spirit to the vernacular precedent. Installation art can be like haunted houses. Digital presentations can be like slideshows.
- see Thomas Hirschhorn lecturing at the Walker here
- see Mike Kelley working on Day is Done here
- listen to an NPR story on Slideshow here