Re: Exhibitions

Lisa Parola

Politically motivated violence, the political use of violence, violence as agitation, precarious violence, wide-spread violence, subaltern violence. Stressing that there cannot be a single interpretation to any of these phenomena, Fatma Bucak creates works that require a timely ethic derived from the relationship between the political, the poetic, and those who watch. The artist’s recent works evokes themes such as oppression, censorship, grief of disappearances and political violence.

Considering the complex tangle of facts and narratives around issues of political violence, this ethic is particularly evident in Remains of what has not been said: a series of photographs chronicling the collecting and processing of Turkish newspapers over 84 days beginning on 7 February 2016. This date marks the Cizre basement killings in south-eastern Turkey, a moment of fear and contradiction that typifies emotions still present across Turkey and Europe. The newspapers collected over the course of 84 days are visualized first as a video performance entitled Scouring the press in which two women and the artist wash the newspaper pages until they are opaque and devoid of content. Accompanying this video performance is a photographic series in which the artist is seen holding 84 glass jars containing the resulting blackened, spoiled water.


Fatma Bucak, Detail of installation view of Remains of what has not been said, 2016. Eighty-four digital archival pigment prints. This work was made possible through the generous support of the Fondazione Sardi Per l’Arte, Torino.

Questions arise. How do you put art in conversation with current affairs, not just in Turkey, but across the world? And perhaps more pressingly what is the role of art and the artist in recent decades of violence and serious violations of human rights? In the first decade of the millennium, these topics have become the subject of much research by artists and curators who for various reasons have intervened on issues such as politics, communication, violence, and censorship. They approach political violence from specific cultural contexts that are increasingly market-oriented, investment-centric, and obviously embedded in spectacle, which diminishes the function of civil and political art and culture.

By contrast, Bucak’s recent work proposes artwork and the exhibition as a space for debate and reflection. In Europe and internationally, such interrogation has centered on two lines of research: the re-reading of parts of history and the documentation of facts looking forward. Bucak’s works engage both of these themes through a dialogue between art and current events. Her projects interrogate what is happening in Mediterranean countries and the surrounding region, poetically demand changes in perspectives, practices, and policies—exploring that fragile relationship full of gray areas between what has been, what is, and what will be.

The horizons in Remains of what has not been said gesture towards the boundaries and geographies that are increasingly difficult to define, and they challenge the rationalism of cartography. History has frayed, geographically speaking, and it is no longer possible to represent it as a closed geometry. Dismissing rhetoric and clichés that all too often accompany reflections on culture and art—especially regarding marginalized groups—Bucak deals with specific situations that bring out unexpected perspectives, suppressed facts, liminal places, inhabited borders, flexible time, and narrative geographies. Immersed in this tarnished landscape of political violence, her works do not merely present the public with a depiction of a temporary event, but they also provide a glimpse of what violence conceals. This prompts new interpretations and the opportunity to reexamine history, the present, and our place in it.

Bucak’s work reminds us that art and culture are transversal concepts that address memory, identity, testimonies and collective experience. Art can be a medium for questioning the past, but it must be able to establish a critical distance. Linear understandings of cultural identity promote simplicity at the expense of the very real complexity of what is happening around us. If we understand art as a space for political discussion, never before have images had so much potential as conceptual “resignification tools” to respond to crisis and failing paradigms of modernity. Art as political action during this global transition cannot simply represent what is. Art must also challenge reality and the power structures that underpin it, and ultimately art must challenge its own borders.


This weekend, visitors to the Gallery joined artist John C Gonzalez for a sculpture workshop to participated in Installation Box, Version 4, 2016 as part of the exhibition Works well with others. Participants worked with Gonzalez to assemble new sculptures from the boxed sets of standardized materials. Completed sculptures are on display in the Gallery through June 12th.

Thank you to all the participants for joining and for sharing your work with us for the remainder of the exhibition.



John meets participants of the first Installation Box workshop.



John brings boxes to Lee and Devin.



John works with Mary to organize components from the box.



Completed sculptures on view through June 12, 2016.



Gallery assistant, Amato Zinno, dips his roller to finish painting the gallery wall near Damien Hirst’s “Away from the Flock,” a piece from Hirst’s Natural History series that features a lamb in formaldehyde solution.

Kris Craig, The Providence Journal, January 21, 2016

The preparators at the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University were busy Thursday afternoon installing the gallery’s upcoming show, “Dead Animals, or the Curious Occurrence of Taxidermy in Contemporary Art”. Jo-ann Conklin, the director of the Bell Gallery, has taken about 3 years putting together the exhibit that concentrates on the use of taxidermy in the work of various contemporary artists. The show opens to the public on Saturday, January 23 and on Feb 5th features a lecture by English artist, Polly Morgan, followed by a reception.

View the full slideshow here:

On November 19th renowned painter Glenn Brown will be joining us to talk about his practice. This exhibition is organized in conjunction with the exhibition SHE: picturing women at the turn of the 21st century. The lecture takes place at 5:30 pm in List Auditorium. A reception will follow.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 10.36.29 AM

Glenn Brown, Filth, 2004
Oil on panel, 52 3/8″ x 37″ x 1 1/8″
Private collection
© Glenn Brown, Image courtesy Gagosian Gallery

On November 21 sculptor Orly Genger, known for her whimsical yet powerful public installations will be on Campus to discuss her latest public project, YOU, created specifically for Brown University’s front campus. The discussion takes place at 5:30 pm in List Auditorium. A reception and viewing will follow.


Orly Genger, YOU, 2014
Recycled lobster rope and paint, 230′ long

Finally, the internationally acclaimed artist Glenn Ligon will give this year’s Gund Presidential Lecture on November 25th at 5:00 pm in Martinos Auditorium. Ligon was recently the subject of a widely praised mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.


Glenn Ligon, Untitled (America), 2008
Neon, 24 x 168 inches

Molly Booker has been a Providence residence for 11 years, and is an embed in the Olneyville arts community.

“Going Nowhere: Alumni Artists in Providence,” currently on display at the Bell Gallery, actually feels like the artists have been in conversation with each other — perhaps visiting studio spaces, or going to the same shows, or, maybe even, somehow ending up dating the same people.  The works in the exhibition, curated by Jori Ketten with Alexis Lowry Murray, are an Armillaria ostoyae of Providence; a many-headed fungus with a single deep-running root.


Looking at Jenny Nichols screenprints

Breathe in, for instance, the absolute love of line in David Udris’ compact and complex prints, then wander over to the works of Kevin Hooyman for a much more narrative take on the theme.  Or, remember the texture and playfulness of Tatyana Yanishevsky’s installations as you absorb Xander Marro’s quilts… and from there, riff off of Xander’s colors, patterns, and the placement of individual elements within the compositions as you peruse over to Jenny Nichols’ “Crash’s Law,” “Blues Dogs” and “Green Dogs.”


García Márquez would have agreed with Hooyman’s larger pieces – particularly the magnetism of the mutedly colored panels. Foster Wallace (if you’ve read anything he’s written about Kafka) would have dug Peter Glantz’ Chronos-inspired tale of pending fatherhood.  In fact, there is something grandchild-of-Kafka-like in the root of this whole big mushroom: something unspeakably magical happened to me, then I discovered how small and insignificant I am. But hey – guess what? I am still unspeakably magical.

Kath Connolly ’89, is an educator who lives and makes in Providence, RI.  She was a founder of New Urban Arts and Card Carrying Liberal, an activist greeting card company.  She still reads news in print. 

There are so many of us Going Nowhere.  When Providence was fondly known as The Armpit of New England and the pedestrian route from the east side to downtown involved an area known as Suicide Circle, there were people who said, “Oh yeah, this is a place.”  If you fell more in love with Providence than the Ivy League you might hide your Brown affiliation a little in the neighborhoods where you chose to live and work and create. For the first time I’ve seen, Going Nowhere invited the Still Here artists back to campus.


Checking out Xander Marro’s Quilt Movie/Fabric Theater (2014), at the opening of Going Nowhere: Alumni Artists in Providence

While Providence’s “art scene” is now touted in glossy magazines and has an office in city hall, what makes it work is the less alphabetized quality it has retained.  Going Nowhere captured the in-between-ness, color, and edge that I saw when I arrived in Providence in the 80s and that keeps me here paying taxes.  Hooyman’s water color / ink narratives alone made me want to sit quietly for another hour or so. David Udris’s digital prints (wasn’t he or his brother in that Marxist literary theory seminar I got lost in?) encouraged my mind to swim.

I loved that this show popped up the second the campus emptied of its officialness.  After the pomp, the Going Nowheres wandered over to campus for their own pomp, which included free hummus on the lawn outside List.  When I was a first year, registering for the intro studio class meant sleeping on that lawn.

Perhaps it is the open nature of the curriculum that attracts/ breeds people willing to fight through bureaucracy for an idea (or to register for intro art), but many Brown grads are organizers.  Many alumni artists who are Still Here have enabled festivals, spaces, film series, parades, non-profits, bike rides, protests, noisy things, and things that happened only once under the cover of darkness.  Those are the things that make Providence a community.

Anya Ventura, Arts Writer at MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology 

The slender loop of the noose is gone. The trees are gone. The crowds are gone. In Vincent Valdez’s life-size paintings of lynched brown men, all that remains are bodies. These men are lit like angels: their Caravaggio-like flesh glowing with the kind of pink holy light found in Renaissance paintings to illuminate the bodily distress of religious suffering. As they hang in poses at once beatific and disquieting, there is something strangely buoyant about these floating figures; there is a lightness to them as if they were already called up to heaven, shook loose from their mortal coils and ascending to some brighter, golden place.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hundreds Mexican-Americans were lynched in the American Southwest, victims of a ritualized brutality executed outside of but often in collusion with representatives of the law. Men were often yanked from jailhouses and courtrooms and carried off into the streets, where their bodies were hung in front of cheering, angry mobs who believed themselves to be enacting a form of vigilante justice. These were men whose violent fates have been largely forgotten by history, kept alive only through Spanish folk ballads and dailies – laments sung at parties and funerals – passed down through the generations. [1]


Vincent Valdez, Untitled from The Strangest Fruit, 2013, oil on canvas, 55 x 92 in.

But these historical specificities are vacated in Valdez’s paintings. Instead, the men he paints with such painstaking realism are those from his own life in San Antonio, Texas. Each is rendered in tender exactitude, as if in documenting every mundane detail Valdez could pin these men to earth for a little bit longer. They wear rumpled blue jeans and cowboy hats, sports jerseys and Nike gym shorts, Hanes briefs and crew socks rolled up to mid-calf. One has an elaborate back tattoo of two hands clasped in prayer with the words “In Memory” etched below. A kind of historical transference takes place as the sins of the past are meted out in the present. The precise methods of racial violence may have changed, Valdez suggests, but the underlying prejudices are the same. Like Valdez’s other illustrations of soldiers, gangsters, and boxers, these works depict an embattled masculinity, the male body under assault. Valdez is most interested in men lost to war and violence, men whose survival is precarious at best, creating small memorials in paint as part of the process of bearing witness to loss.


Vincent Valdez, Untitled from The Strangest Fruit, 2013, oil on canvas, 55 x 92 in.

The men float sceneless against a backdrop of white — the color of erased histories, of the dominant culture, and also of a certain spiritual transcendence. In leaving this negative space, Valdez does something more expansive than merely restage a lost scene for the history books: it is a meditation on suspension in all its forms. To be suspended, after all, is to hover in that fraught zone between the earth and the sky. To suspend is also to delay, to pause the steady flow of time. What forces — social, historical, bodily, spiritual — hold these men in such limbo? With their bound wrists and entangled feet, the men hang in that liminal space between the past and the present, between life and death, in a state of physical, historical, and metaphysical tension. In painting these men, Valdez attempts to speak across that short breach between the living and the just barely gone, to souls only recently departed from still warm bodies. In none of the works do the men look directly at us. Their faces are obscured, or else they stare glassily into the unknowable distance — seeing what we, the viewers, cannot.

[1] Carrigan, William D., and Clive Webb. “The Lynching Of Persons Of Mexican Origin Or Descent In The United States, 1848 To 1928.” Journal of Social History 37, no. 2 (2003): 411-438.

Blake Ruehrwein, Air Force Veteran and Curatorial Intern at The Drawing Center 

On April 5, 2013, the List Art Center at Brown University hosted a one-day symposium titled Art and War in Iraq. This year marks ten years for our most recent involvement in Iraq, and although the importance might seem like a given, if you really look at the number of events, exhibitions, and articles, about this and related topics, the frequency may be far fewer than you think.  In a culture whose technology and international prominence has lead us to describe ourselves as globalized, what could be the reasons for these marginalized issues? One plausible answer came from a discussion with one of the speakers at the symposium, Israel-based historian and photographer Meir Wigoder, over some aptly provided humus and falafel in the lobby following the day’s events.

Wigoder lamented what he perceived as the lack of venues in the U.S. that tackle such heavy topics as the interactions between two countries at war. Given the highly visible commercialization of the art market domestically, it is easy for those outside the U.S. (or those in the U.S. who are not aware of the activities on the front lines) to conclude that exhibition spaces in the U.S. only show work that sells, and that we stay away from art that might be deemed political. It is unfortunate to admit that events like the Art and War in Iraq symposium are not as high profile as the latest billion-dollar auction at Sotheby’s.  On one hand, if you are looking for them, the interested parties are out there, however, on the other hand, Wigoder is right. Considering the controversy and ongoing struggles, the responses seem disproportionate, which is what Brown University has attempted to address.

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Wafaa Bilal, Chair, 2003-2013, archival inkjet photographs, 40″ x 50″

The symposium accompanied two concurrent exhibitions at the Bell Gallery, Wafaa Bilal’s The Ashes Series, and Daniel Heyman’s, I am Sorry It is Difficult to Start. The five presenters and the panel moderator offered glimpses of a complex world so much under the radar of everyday American consciousness that it is nearly an alternate reality. The work of Wafaa Bilal brought up great questions. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Bilal observed, more and more people can be described as “finding freedom through exposure.”[1] The current modus operandi in the art world, Bilal went on, is to encode ideas in a new (or technology-based) media; a practice he labeled as remediation. This chosen vessel for our ideas can also tell us about the people behind them, and would seem to apply to Bilal as well. In his 2007 work, Domestic Tension (also known as Shoot an Iraqi), Bilal lived in a gallery for 30 days, with a remote-operated paintball gun, allowing people all over the world to log on to the Internet and shoot at him by controlling the gun. By the end of the 30 days, over 65,000 shots had been fired, however the turning point of visibility was not a major media outlet, but a social news website,[2] Bilal depended on his own exposure to the Internet-watching public to carry out this marathon performance, exposure as well as technology. Bilal’s use of cutting-edge computerized equipment is reminiscent of the work of Krzysztof Wodiczko, who is known for working with those who have experienced trauma and providing them with a platform to speak out on their own behalf, often in digitized videos.  In fact, in Bilal’s classes at NYU, he includes Wodiczko’s work in his curriculum.

Heyman - There Were Three Interogators There 2 WEB

Daniel Heyman, There Were Three Interrogators, 2007, watercolor and gouache on paper, from the Istanbul Accordian Book

It is not just Iraqis who are worried about the ethics and human rights that may be transgressed, but Americans are also questioning our own practices. Another speaker at the symposium was American artist Daniel Heyman. In 2006 Heyman traveled to Jordan and Turkey to witness the testimonies of former detainees of the Abu Ghraib military prison, who were in many cases tortured, and in all cases released without being charged. As the victims gave statements to lawyers, Heyman sat in the room painting their portraits in watercolor and gouache, and scribbling their words onto the paper with their likenesses. Heyman’s efforts were in cooperation with an American lawyer who is building a case against those responsible for the controversial treatment of the prisoners.

Susanne Slavick, also an American artist, echoed this concern. At Brown she presented from her research for the book Out of Rubble (2011).  In the book and exhibition she featured the work of over 40 artists and architects, including herself, that have reacted to past and current wars. Her presentation on the work of Syrian-born and Brooklyn-based artist Diana Al-Hadid and American Adam Harvey, relate the extent to which artists are delving into such sensitive subjects as the fleetingness of life and lack of privacy today.

Top theorists and thought-leaders agree that the aesthetics of the recent interrelations between Iraq and America are worthy of interest. At the symposium, Wigoder shed greater light on Bilal’s work, The Ashes Series (2003-2013), and linked it to ideas such as simulacra and the representation of reality and meta-realities. Other critical analyses came from the evening’s panel moderator, Nada Shabout. As one of the foremost art historians writing, presenting, and curating about Modern and Contemporary Arab art, Shabout’s example lends credence to entire careers based on these issues.

Finally, the issues in question are not one-sided. As Americans question our actions over the past ten years, so should Iraqis. Rijin Sahakian, the final speaker at the symposium did just that. Founder of Sada, a non-profit organization that creates opportunities for education and artistic practices in Iraq and elsewhere, Sahakian pointed out the constraints of a Muslim society on studying the nude form, as well as those targeted by street artists in Iraq.


From left: Rijin Sahakian, Wafaa Bilal, Nada Shabout, Meir Wigoder, Daniel Heyman, Susanne Slavick

The big-picture does actually look hopeful though. At Art and War in Iraq, people saw the differences in perspective and opportunities for expression between Iraqis and Americans. The contemporary tendency of self-exposure does not always translate into seeing eye-to-eye. This non sequitor is why both sides of any issue need to question their own motives and ethics, and encourage leaders in relevant fields to devote their attention to these challenges. In the end, each participant brings his or her individual background and responses to bear on the shifting ground of a history that has linked the United States and Iraq; a history that is still being written.

[1] All quotations taken from the symposium.

[2] That averages out to Bilal being shot at about once every 40 seconds for a one month time period. However, the first half of the month was much less than this, and many times in the latter half of the month shots were being fired almost continually for hours on end.

Videos of the presentations from the Art and War in Iraq symposium can be viewed here.

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