Court of Public Apology [#1]
Court of Public Apology [#1] (Exterior View)
Court of Public Apology [#1] (Exterior Right View)
Court of Public Apology [#1] (Entrance View)
Court of Public Apology [#1] (Interior View)
Court of Public Apology [#1] (View from CAC's front window)
Court of Public Apology [#1]
Feeling is Mutual by Steven L. Bridges
From the study of the natural sciences we learn that there are a number of different ways to describe how living organisms relate to one another. Symbiosis, for instance, is an umbrella category that includes a variety of relational sub-categories: from mutualism and commensalism to the more sinister parasitism. The sliding scale by which these different relationships are defined, is, of course, determined by who benefits and how. Unsurprisingly, these different ways of relating largely structure life as we know it, and this carries true from the simplest of organisms (like protozoa) to the most complex (like humans). However, in our natural human proclivity as social beings to create relationships that do not specifically revolve around competition for food, shelter, or water, room is also created for the breeding of hope, desire, and longing; for malice and manipulation; and a whole host of other emotional states that inflect the very experiences in which we might find ourselves implicated, passively or not. And so, animals though we may be, our intentionality is only ever just a part of the story, and there is always need for another - a participant, an audience, a public - to help write the remaining lines, to complete the narrative arc.
The exhibition, Feeling is Mutual, explores different strategies of relating through three intersecting yet divergent artistic projects, all of which approach the idea of mutuality but in terms that are very much left open-ended. As the title itself conveys, the very fact that “feeling is mutual” does not necessarily articulate what that feeling is, and, in leaving this door slightly ajar, does not presuppose to know how participants, audience members, or the public will re-relate. Even the subtle yet poignant dropping of an article - the “the” before “feeling” - is an important acknowledgement of the complex and difficult-to-account-for chain of events that encompass the creative act. As described by Marcel Duchamp in a lecture late in the artist’s life, “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” While this insight stands true for the field of art in general, it is of particular interest in the context of this exhibition, especially in the careful consideration of the audience and in the crafting of unique modes of address that lie at the core of each of the different projects.
Fellow Chicago-based artist Latham Zearfoss also carved out a unique space within the gallery for his installation Court of Public Apology [#1] (or COPA). Taking cue from the Gacaca court system established in Rwanda after the genocide that took place there in 1994, Zearfoss’s work takes the form of a public forum wherein recordings of both publicly addressed and personal apologies are presented for visitors’ consideration. The system from which this work is modeled, the Gacaca court, serves a type of community justice intended to facilitate the collective healing of a country devastated by internal strife. The court was established in 2001 and provided a public space for the delivery of apologies by those accused of having partaken in genocidal acts, the goal of which is geared towards reconciliation, rather than the issuance of further punitive measures. At its very core, the system - and by extension, the installation COPA - is founded on the human capacity for empathy, an important distinguishing characteristic of our species. For his contribution to Feeling is Mutual, Zearfoss focuses our attention on this potent though often latent capacity, presenting the audience members with evocative questions as to the limits of our abilities to connect with one another, to identify ourselves in others, and to understand how one person’s failures, mistakes, struggles, and triumphs, are also our own.
For the recordings, Zearfoss solicited personal apologies alongside those culled from history and popular media, and committed them to audio files that are amplified in the gallery. The audience - invited to sit on one of the many tree stumps arranged to create a sort of amphitheater-like configurement - bears witness to this public issuance, and assumes the role of the jury in weighing the sincerety and merits of the apology. In setting up this situation, Zearfoss too creates a public space and collective experience that, while initiated under the auspices of art, bring people together in the imagining of an alternative justice system founded on the principles of asking for and granting of forgiveness. What happens when an institution so engrossed in assessing punitive damage instead focuses on the restorative impact of eliciting empathy and understanding? By creating such a physical space within the gallery, Zearfoss also creates a mental space for the consideration of other models, of other ways of relating to one another, and, most importantly of all, room for hope.
The organization of an exhibition such as this offers a wonderful opportunity to think more concertedly about the multifaceted role of art and how creativity supports and solidifies social bonds. While the notion of mutuality is deeply informative to each of the projects in this exhibition, it is also fundamental to the ways that each of these projects and the artists - along with the curatorial team of the Happy Collaborationists - all come together in the shared space of the gallery. Underlying and informing the entire working methodology of this exhibition is the very recognition that the work, the exhibition, the process, and the engagement with visitors are all infinitely more interesting and potentially profound when embarked upon together. Divergent as they may be at times, and involving different strategies in how they address their various interlocutors, there still persists a connective and collective understanding between them. Left unspoken, but ringing true is the lasting sentiment: without you, I am nothing.