Oil spills, grenades, volleys of bullets. The stifling of protest, the double-speak that flattens meaning out of language and renders it impotent. Weapons of mass destruction and the dangerous, hot red impulse in every human heart.
How do I destroy you, world? Let me count the ways.
That’s exactly what TEMPEST does. Organized by David Borawski, it’s a quiet, one-room, six-artist bombshell of an exhibition, currently on view at the Gallery of the Institute Library on Chapel Street until Jan. 17.
When I dropped by Wednesday in the late afternoon, the furnace had temporarily broken and the heat had been off most of the bitterly cold day. That somehow was an appropriate preamble to walking up the slightly creaking stairway to the library’s third floor.
In the center of the installation sits Redding-based artist Margaret Roleke‘s light box, on the floor like a tombstone.
To examine it more closely, however, you need to cross and stand on Borawski’s own conceptual piece. It’s called “Great Society (Today Gone)” and is comprised of foot-high letters spelling out words in red and black gaffer’s tape.
They overlap, so one’s first impression is confusion, a breakdown of speech. Then, when you decipher the messages on the way to the tombstone, the black letters spell out this message: Blood in my love in the terrible summer. The red letters spell out: Blood will be born in a birth of a nation.
Looking at the Roleke piece more closely, you see tiny holes in the metal backing of the marquee warning about WMDs. You look still more closely and notice these could not have been made by proper bullets. They’re too small. The jagged openings suggest a pellet or even a BB gun, a kid’s dangerous toy. Viewed from a distance, though, there’s something positively glowing and Christmas-y about it, thanks to the warm red back-lighting.
An apocalyptically inclined viewer—and one who needs an antidote to the holidays—might think the message here is that the real weapon of mass destruction is the individual human heart and what happens to it, especially when that heart is young.
On the right wall, Alyse Rosner has two deeply black and foreboding canvases.
One features what the artist terms a grenade, although it feels more like an ice crystal, or a molecular structure under the microscope that is beginning to fall apart. It’s off center, with the blackness predominating. Perhaps the weapon, when it detonates, can explode an already existing darkness?
Its twin on the wall is another black acrylic canvas, with a dripping and oozing painterliness that evokes the yuckiest of oil spills.
On the left wall Gil Scullion’s boxed sculptures of disintegrating black images of protest marches suggest that the powers that be have boxed or contained protest so much so that the effort is already affixed to the wall in a kind of sarcophagus.
If you want a bracing alternative to the happy, anodyne nostrums of the recent season past, this discomfiting exhibition is it.
Borawski’s statement explains that “TEMPEST reflects upon our culture of repression and violence, our indifference toward it, and a complicity which has perpetuated if not exaggerated this situation over the years. Major events over the past year have only highlighted the problem, the divides, and pent up anger, resulting in mass demonstrations around the world.”
The exhibition at the Institute Library coincides with Borawski’s “You Can’t Jail the Revolution” at ArtSpace, just one chilly block away over at Orange at Crown.
His own full one-room installation, part of the provocative and entertaining CT (un)Bound exhibition, is a tough satirical take on the Black Panther trial of 1970 in New Haven; with its black-draped columns of Justice and graffitied statues of Law, it is downright hopeful compared to TEMPEST.
But as I wound up my visit at the library, I began to feel pretty good. Protest art in many ways is all in the timing. TEMPEST suggests that the horsemen of the apocalypse have pretty much already left the barn. We viewers, we protesters, we might-have-been protesters, can now come and pay our respects to what might have been.
As I descended into the wintry cold, the Institute Library’s repaired radiators began to percolate, and toasty warmth filled up the building.