Exhibition Spaces and Public Issues
(MANIFEST: Armed, Exhibition)

Original image by Renee Alfonso

Whether they are part of a museum, commercial gallery, or specific to an event, exhibition spaces have started to have an increasingly important role in discussing current issues in the public sphere through thought-provoking yet visually intriguing methods.

More and more exhibitions these days, particularly in the realm of contemporary art, provide an avenue for dialogue, discussion and examination of the very real issues that are present in society today. Most of the time certain issues are overshadowed by other concerns that are given emphasis by the government or activist groups. For some artists, especially those in the realm of contemporary installation art, these topics can be discussed openly and considered carefully with art as a medium and vehicle for active consideration.

Image by Renee Alfonso

The inaugural show of Corcoran Gallery of Art’s new exhibition series entitled MANIFEST seems to take off where conventional political discussion leaves, and continues the discussion where common political discourse has left off. The exhibition series’ description says that it “investigates art, technology, and the role of exhibition spaces.” While this is a broad description, the first exhibit in this new series certainly highlights the intersection of political issues, technology, and art, which creates a unique, resonating voice in the traditional political landscape of the US’s capital.

The exhibition consists of a series of installations of art objects derived from weapons. Each of the three installations is by a different artist or group, and discusses themes surrounding weapons culture in the United States as well as the role technology plays in it.

Arsenal by Sarah Frost. Photograph by Renee Alfonso.

Immediately grabbing your attention from the minute you walk by the entrance is an installation of paper firearms entitled Arsenal by Sarah Frost, which were handmade using instructional videos from YouTube posted by adolescents. Still frames of the videos flank the installation from one side, with paper maquettes of bullets shells on the other.

Original image by Renee Alfonso

Original image by Renee Alfonso

The second installation is by Julian Oliver, called Transparency Grenade. The grenade itself is an allegorical bomb, collecting fragments of data and network traffic and “detonates” it on a digital map, exploding the information from the site and exploring the breadth of connectivity today.

Transparency Grenade by Julian Oliver. Photograph by Renee Alfonso.

Artist group SmithBeatty created the third installation in two parts, which explores constitutional rights, digital fabrication, and the decisions we make when confronted with issues that could quite frankly be a matter of life and death for some.

Installation by artist group SmithBeatty. Photograph by Renee Alfonso.

Aside from the loaded imagery and themes in the exhibition, its impact also came from the fact that there was hardly any color in the objects or space. The starkness of the white walls and the dominantly white objects in the space created a sense of uneasiness that communicated the overall atmosphere and tone of the show.

Even if exhibitions such as Armed are on view for only a short period of time, they have the opportunity to create awareness and to make an impact on the issues that sometimes are difficult to discuss publicly. As the role of art, exhibitions, and creative spaces continues to evolve, they also continue to challenge our perceptions and provide dimensionality – literally and figuratively, to the issues that affect our lives today.

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