N.Y. Journal: Anxious art


Volta NY, a New York art fair for "emerging solo artists," chose an angsty theme this year: "The Age of Anxiety." If viewers weren't anxious about decay, corruption, and emptiness before they walked into the show, they were by the time they walked out.

Heather & Ivan Morison are anxious about the decay of nature and the planet as a whole. Their art is not about beauty but about its corruption and its dissolution, so in their still-life parodies of the Dutch still-life paintings, they let flowers and fish fall into decay instead of capturing them in their bloom.

Regina José Galindo, a Guatemalan woman, is anxious about institutions and systems that "hurt, prevent, suffocate, exterminate." A performance artist, she undergoes the mistreatment she protests and creates videos that are shocking and raw. In Confesión, she undergoes waterboarding as a burly man drags her into a room with walls of rock and repeatedly submerges her head in a vat of water. In Limpieza social, she cowers while someone blasts her naked body with a fire hose---something protesters and prisoners endure.

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Marilyn Manson is anxious about the self-mutilation of the human person. One painting depicts an emaciated creature with hollow eyes and gnawed-off fingers, titled The man who eats his fingers. Manson echoes the theme of the whole show: The human race, as a collective body, is gnawing at itself---destroying the planet that gives it life and destroying its fellow members through exploitation and cruelty.

If it's the age of anxiety, what are the answers? The Morison's solutions to decay are merely theatrical---a flimsy wooden dome that will provide an "escape vehicle" for a doomed planet. Galindo's solution to the anxiety is art---the act of subversive creation: "We, in the meantime, don't conform to but survive, act, resist, and create." But this anxiety goes deeper than art can answer. Another artist, Dmitry Gutov, captured the desolation in words, in a neat yellow cursive on a red background: "From nothing, through nothing, I have come to nothing." Artist John Strutton said the same thing when he asked, "My Void or Yours?"

This art asks the questions that should be asked, in the graphic ways that these artists ask them. But this art only asks, and that's why the anxiety grows. Not because of the questions---"My Void or Yours?"---but because the answers aren't there.


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