The Ackland Art Museum shows ‘More Love’
An exhibition of 33 contemporary artists exploring the political, philosophical and social landscapes of love begins with three traditional little words: “I love you.”
They are spoken by a mix of voices – some desperate, some assuring, some sweet or shy – in the first part of Julianne Swartz’s multi-site installation “Affirmation,” which plays in the entryway of the Ackland Art Museum’s “More Love: Art, Politics and Sharing since the 1990s.”
“From the beginning, we’re talking to you,” consulting curator Claire Schneider said. “I wanted to engage all the senses and create a rich experience.”
The exhibition includes 48 works of art that portray, evoke and explain love through craft, technology, audio, video, installation, texts, sculpture and participation.
To talk about love since the 1990s is to look at it through the societal changes since then: political strife, the AIDS crisis, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 9/11 and our technological shifts, Schneider said.
“Love is something we all need to talk about more, and it’s something contemporary artists have started talking about more over time,” she said.
Emily Bowles, director of communications at the Ackland, said the exhibition isn’t limited to a romantic notion of love. “It really extends the definition of how one expresses love or what love means. There won’t be anyone who walks away unaffected.”
Schneider said she wanted the exhibition to be immersive and intense, a collection of art on all kinds of love, from different perspectives.
“In contemporary art, you’re taught to take risks and explore boundaries, and it had become almost taboo to talk about love,” she said. “But the way to deal with violence or political strife has always been to bring it to love.”
Swartz’s “Affirmation” installation hides speakers in five places throughout the museum where they stream affirmations from unexpected areas such as the vents in lockers and the drains of bathroom sinks as well as via ultrasound waves as visitors walk through the gallery.
In recording the affirmations, Swartz asked volunteers to say something they would want to hear.
“People wanted to say all these things they had not gotten to say,” she said. “Talking about love is very political because it’s a way to address things like injustice and inequality in the culture.”
The unheard voices
In his project “Love for Love,” Arizona-based Gregory Sale makes a campaign for love.
After witnessing the Chapel Hill community’s characteristic generosity, he invited into the project under-represented youth, migrant workers, refugees, prisoners, the homeless and others on the receiving end of gestures like community gardens and restaurants that won’t turn away the hungry.
He worked with a small group of local poets to select a collection of the participants’ language on love that was made into text drawings on paper and printed on large aluminum signs and campaign-style buttons. The buttons, 10,000 of them, are offered to visitors as gifts.
Sale made seven visits to Chapel Hill while making “Love for Love” and said he learned a lot about “these meaningful contributions to society in a community that’s actually quite privileged.” He wondered, “Where did that generosity land and who was on the receiving end? Would they appreciate an opportunity to express their own love? Will we accept it?”
By wearing the buttons out in the community, visitors become a part of the art itself, Sale said.
“These are not closed poems, they are catalysts,” he said. “I thought, ‘How can I make this piece breathe?’ In choosing a button, the person who selects it adds their love. By wearing it, it affects someone else.”
The language of lullaby
For “Lullaby,” Israeli artists Hadassa Goldvicht and Anat Vovnoboy asked hundreds of visitors at the Israel Museum, along with museum guards and cleaning crews, to sing a lullaby that was sung to them as children, or one they used to sing a child to sleep.
The result is a 50-minute video that mesmerizes through the soothing sounds of lullabies in a variety of languages and the range of emotion on participants’ faces.
“The big surprise was how participants responded – some cried, some were very troubled for never having anyone to sing to them. Each conversation was unique,” Goldvicht said.
Goldvicht, who has been using lullabies in her work for more than 15 years, said she was fascinated by the way they contain both cultural and historical content as they expose a moment of intimacy and memory that ordinarily is not revealed in daily life.
Visitors as volunteers
The exhibition also includes the evocative Janine Antoni chromogenic print “Mortar and Pestle” of the artist licking a man’s eyeball, and “Butterfly Kisses,” where Antoni’s own made-up lashes serve as a paintbrush.
There is Jim Hodges’ “You,” the colorful, yet mournful curtain of silk flowers hanging floor to ceiling.
In Luis Camnitzer’s “Last Words,” the artist has taken the final statements of death row inmates at the Texas State Penitentiary, private moments made public by the prison’s website, and combined them into one narrative on love.
Numerous works actively engage the visitor as volunteer, growing and changing for the duration of the exhibition.
In Rivane Neuenschwander’s “First Love,” participants schedule a session with a local forensic artist and describe the physical characteristics of their first loves from memory and with the help of an F.B.I. identification book. The drawings are added to the wall, becoming part of the exhibition.
So do the candid photos taken as part of Yoko Ono’s “Time to Tell Your Love,” where visitors are photographed engaging in displays of love in the gallery.
Chris Barr’s public confessional project “No Time For Love: Worldwide Regrets Counter for Misplaced Priorities” invites visitors from around the globe to contribute regrets to an online collection. One from Nancy, age 77, reads, “I could have helped my husband with his kissing research, but instead I went off to fix breakfast.”
Patrons as participants
Melissa Kotacka, assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said “More Love” stuck with her because it zeroes in on love as the most basic emotion of human connection. Like many other visitors, she said she wanted to see it one more time before it left Chapel Hill.
“It was the interactive features of the exhibit that made it stay with me – the voices speaking to you in the coatroom and restroom, the pile of candy, the buttons to take with you. I picked ‘took up for those who can’t,’ rather fitting for an admissions officer,” she said.
In this conceptual art that engages the community, or social practice art, the artist is asking the visitor to be a collaborator, Schneider said.
“It’s one of the big things that has happened to contemporary art: Artists don’t want to just be speaking to you. The meaning is not complete in the artist telling you something, but includes how you participate in the process, and our responses are vital.” she said.
In Felix Gonzales-Torres’ “‘Untitled’ (Ross in L.A.),” pieces of brightly-colored candy fill a corner, where visitors are invited to take a piece and eat it in the gallery, symbolizing the depleting weight of his lover, Ross, as he died of AIDS. The installation begins with 175 pounds of candy, which will not be replenished.
“His art really encourages you to have your own personal experiences,” Schneider said. “In leaving parts of his works of arts untitled, he allows a viewer’s own feelings of loss or grief to add to the meaning.”
Conversations about “More Love” on Facebook and Twitter have added to the popularity of the exhibition, which will be at the Ackland through March 31, and Schneider said that building of community is a key part of the art itself.
“People talking about this continues that collaboration,” she said. “Everyone has such personal feelings about love and they bring them with them to the exhibition, and I just wish I could collect all those stories that emerge from engaging with this amazing art.”
For upcoming events associated with “More Love,” including films, lectures and family days, visit ackland.org.