SITE SPECIFIC ART THAT SHIFTS CONCIOUSNESS / CONSCIENCE?

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto 2011.

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto 2011.

Of the approximately 20 exhibits I went to see during CONTACT this past May, the most incredible exhibit I witnessed was South African photographer, Pieter Hugo’s “Permanent Error”,curated by Bonnie Rubenstein (Artistic Director of CONTACT). It was a site specific exhibit that was installed at the corner of Spadina @ Front, (North East side); the photographs were blown up as billboards encircling a parking lot surrounded by condos and construction. The juxtaposition was brilliant – effective aesthetically as well as imposing ethically. There were a few details perhaps not planned that worked into the background to cement the message that much more solidly in place. The billboard of Two Oceans Wine with the tag “From a Very Special Place” seemed too uncanny in its incongruence not to be planed. The crane nearby was the colour of burning coals. Its hue was the perfect match to the blaze behind the children poking around in the muck of a PoMo pit of defunct computer bits- this effect was so visually impactful that the heat of the colour was searing.

But I left with this feeling that although I was moved to anger at how parasitical the Western toss-away mind set is, I am already aware of the problem Pieter is exposing. I do what I can to make changes when presented with ethical issues that expose how my luxuries have consequences. I am not perfect but I am singing in the choir and Pieter Hugo’s images were preaching to me, the converted.

I had already set aside time that day to stop, look and listen to my heart breaking at the sight of children who demonstrate such tenacity, resilience and innovation while bearing their heavy fate; their energy and talent -their very breath – wasted as they inhale the toxic smoke. We should fear the consequences of hundreds of millions of children growing up in an environment of an absence of dreams. That vacuum will be filled and what it will be filled with cannot be good for our future as a global community.

Did the others who were parking their cars in the lot, riding elevators to their condos, driving or walking by take a moment to reflect? Of course I am not the only one who did, but the others who paused were they in the choir as well? Was Pieter Hugo able to proselytize to those in the dark about what their habits here, do there?

I was reading Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” today and she put words to what I was feeling since leaving that exhibit.

“To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize. An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs…But after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real…The shock of photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings…The vast catalogue of misery and injustice throughout the world has given everyone certain familiarity with atrocity, making the horrible seem more ordinary – making it appear familiar, remote (“it’s only a photograph”), inevitable.”

My hope is that Pieter Hugo’s photographs, because of their unusual installation configured with an unfamiliar juxtaposition were able to penetrate the viewer enabling them to see (comprehend) more than just another impoverished African child.

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photograph by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

Photography by Pieter Hugo, "Permanent Error", Contact Festival Toronto, 2011.

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  1. By SITE SPECIFIC ART – The L. Project on August 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    [...] installation for the CONTACT Festival located at Spadina Ave & Front St, Toronto (I will be posting pictures soon) and the second was what I came across yesterday on my [...]