Borrowing its title from the historic speech given by vice president Dick Cheney in the wake of 9/11, where he referred to the increased security and surveillance as "the new normalcy" of contemporary life, this exhibition features the work of thirteen artists that touch upon a number of issues regarding the shrinking boundaries between private and public spheres. Though this theme has been well explored in recent past exhibitions, what saves The New Normal from triteness is the diversity of the work, which not only touches upon the political but also the personal, and the ways in which we purposefully disclose aspects of our private lives.
Both Hasan Elahi and Sharif Waked directly confront heightened security measures through an exaggerated voluntary method that critically deconstructs such procedures. After being stopped and interrogated by the FBI at an airport in 2002, Bangladesh-born and U.S. based artist, Hasan Elahi, embarked on a project obsessively chronicling his financial doings and geographic whereabouts, with accompanying photo documentation, in order to create an indisputable alibi that would prove he was, in fact, not a terrorist. Elahi continues to periodically mail the U.S. government the gathered intel on himself and archives the material on-line at www.trackingtransience.net. In a similar absurdist manner, Sharif Waked's video Chic Point depicts a spoof runway show of men's haute couture, designed with the aggressive search procedures of the Israeli-Palestinian checkpoints in mind. Each garment exposes the chest and/or abdomen of its wearer, making the violation easier to perform during these frequent hostile strip searches. However, the poignant humor behind Chic Point dries up when the video ends with juxtaposed stills of actual Palestinian men in the act of experiencing such bodily humiliation.
Jumping to a less political and more sociological themed piece, Guthrie Lonergan's contribution to The New Normal is in the form of appropriated short videos taken from the social networking website MySpace, where a user records her/himself giving a brief introduction to their page. When presented in an art gallery decontextualized from their original source, what is revealed is the influence of reality television on a society that now more than ever has an urge to make public its private lives, as if we were the star of one of these programs. It is common in these MySpace intro videos for the user to ask its "audience" to leave messages for them on their page, even if they do not know who they are, which can be read as a plea for interconnection. This longing for interconnection in a digital age is something that this work shares in common with Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher 's Learning to Love You More. First initiated in 2002, Learning to Love You More asks the public via its website (www.learningtoloveyoumore.com) to submit their visual/textual/audio responses to a number of assignments that, in strange and peculiar ways, gets to the heart of what it is like to be human. On view in The New Normal are one of these assignments and a selection of its entries, which asked people to take a snapshot of the space between their bed and floor.
What becomes evident throughout The New Normal is that for a number of political, technological, and social reasons, the boundaries between the private and the public - whether it be our bodies, our identities, or the spaces in which we occupy, are rapidly shrinking and that we play a complicit role in this process. The public disclosure of the private is not only a ramification of the Patriot Act, but also a desire for celebritydom, or interconnection; a weighty topic that makes for a timely exhibition and sparks rumination on the social and political fabric of society today.
Images: Guthrie Lonergan, Myspace Interviews; Sharif Waked, Chic Point. Courtesy Artists Space.