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You'll never quite be the same after viewing 'Chronicles of a Disappearance' at DHC/ART

The horror. Oh, the exquisite horror.

In these modern, jaded times, it is quite an accomplishment for a formal gallery exhibit to provoke such a deep, lasting sense of terror and disgust. And yet, this stunning group show of five internationally acclaimed artists does just that, far better and stronger and smarter than any recent psychological thriller or slasher film of note. Hand to swiftly beating heart, you’ll never quite be the same after viewing Chronicles of a Disappearance, the new exhibition now on display at the DHC/ART.

Taryn Simon, White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Starting off with Taryn Simon’s unflinching photographic suite, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007), we begin our descent into…madness? Sadness? It’s hard to put into words the creeping sensation one feels when confronted with such disfigured underpinnings of the American Myth. A single glance at the slickly composed photo White Tiger (Kenny) will tell you something’s amiss, but it is the wall text beside it (figured in the smallest, least intrusive font possible, so bring your bifocals) that gives context and support to your growing unease. It is the exhibit’s wall texts, in fact, that tell a good measure of the story, and are in constant conversation with the image, your perception of the image, and your preconceived notions at large. Continue on, past pictures of glowing nuclear waste capsules and caged death row inmates, past perfectly rendered still lifes of rotting, maggoty contraband and studies in CIA-approved, communist-subverting artwork. Simon’s seemingly all-access pass to America’s foremost bastions of science, religion, government and private industry gives further pause for thought—how did she do it? How was she allowed to capture this all? A slip around a corner on the gallery’s second floor will answer at least part of that question (and reveal the one place that even she could not infiltrate). 


José Toirac’s Opus (2005) leads us down a much more auditory path of perversion and obfuscation. Featuring an edited speech of the famously prolix Fidel Castro (played alongside a corresponding display of white numbers), this work is quite notably the weakest of the group showing. What starts out as a clever nod to endless political polemicizing and baseless promises and projections, ends up feeling slightly gimmicky after 30 seconds (the pared-down speech goes on for about four minutes.)


Moving on quickly to Omer Fast’s 5000 Feet is the Best (2011), we’re whisked into darkness to bear witness to modern warfare. Based on interviews conducted with an American Predator Drone aerial vehicle operator, this film probes the deep, psychological scarring of a man who drops bombs on people from half a world away. All you desensitized videogame aficionados? Take the half hour and watch this. 


Philippe ParrenoJune 8, 1968 (2009) // Credit: Photograph: Philippe Parreno/Courtesy of Pilar Corrias Ltd.

Picking up steam (but now heavy with baggage), we’re cast back in time to June 8, 1968. Artist Philippe Parreno takes us on a lush cinematic train ride, from New York to Washington, re-creating the journey assassinated Senator Bobby Kennedy’s body would’ve taken on that very day. This seven-minute film, projected largely to scale from the viewpoint of the train (and the corpse within), plays wantonly with our attempts to gain distance from despair by aestheticizing the moment.

Teresa MargollesPlancha (2010) // Credit: Exhibition view "Frontera", Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, 2010 // Photo: Nils Klinger / Courtesy the artist & Gaerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

The last two pieces—Teresa MargollesPlancha (2010) and Taryn Simon’s Zahra/Farah (2007)—are so disturbing, so harrowing, so respectively pitch-perfect, that I will only comment briefly on them (so as not to give too much away). In terms of Plancha, what at first appears to be an innocent, minimalist sculpture will have—upon reading the wall text—most hypochondriacs running from the room. Wheeling around the corner to view Zahra/Farah might send the rest of you running too—in the direction of your sister, your girlfriend, or any other woman you’d want to hug safe to your chest. 


Chronicles of a Disappearance
January 19th to May 13th
DHC/ART | 451 St-Jean | dhc-art.org

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