Academic journal article Afterimage

Participatory Politics

Academic journal article Afterimage

Participatory Politics

Article excerpt

THINK AGAIN: Actions Speak

Worcester Art Museum

Worcester, Massachusetts

October 30, 2008-October 17, 2010

While wandering through a little maze at the Worchester Art Museum, something that looks like a large-scale rendition of a human femur appears through a glass door down a hall. A closer look reveals Actions Speak, a 67 x 17-foot, context-specific interior mural and exterior projection by the artist collaborative THINK AGAIN (David John Attyah and S.A. Bachman). The piece is part of the "Wall at WAM" series, organized by Susan Stoops, the museum's Curator of Contemporary Art. Central to the museum's contemporary curatorial mandate, the Wall is, according to museum literature, "a laboratory for participating artists and visitors alike.'" A laboratory in which "monumental scale, ephemeral nature, and moving juxtaposition of past and present" come together to delight, solicit, and challenge an audience initially drawn, presumably, to the museum's substantial and well-established historical collection.

The left side of the mural depicts a somber mass of dry bones, hand-drawn, enlarged, and collaged into a pile. The paper bones are intertwined with masses of black microphone cable and float on a field of black ash. The right side of the picture is dominated by two enormous microphones on a bed of salt. Each microphone is rendered useless--one is covered in a red condom--a limp, translucent, glistening sheath and the other is covered in the chopped heads of countless smashed and smeared lipsticks. Each element of the image exists in perspectival tension with the others, leaving the viewer to choose between the logic of the bed of coals or that of the paper bones that hover in front of it. The same happens with the bed of salt: the lines of text cascade down the far right of the image, recalling some bizarre tele-prompter. The words solicit:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

  Raid. Violate, Shame. Scar. Occupy. Embed. Obliterate. Explode.
  Smear. Gloss. Whitewash. Exile. Scapegoat. Pander. Sugarcoat.
  Humiliate. Bruise. Discredit. Misquote. Deny. Debase ... New words
  constantly emerge. Quarantine. Deport. Harangue. Cluster-bomb.
  Sanitize. Censor. And in red--Silence. Stigmatize. Brutalize: Actions
  Speak.

The last two words are set apart from the others. If actions speak, are words, here, actions? The words should not be read as a propagandistic call to action an "Uncle Sam Needs You" address to the various audiences who wander the halls of the Worcester Art Museum, and, during the hours of the outdoor projection, the streets that surround it. Rather, the "action" is in the very perspectival activation of the encounter solicited by the piece itself. The mural takes time. …

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