A group exhibition confronting anxiety in contemporary art, Uncertain Spectator asks individuals to cross a threshold — to place themselves in situations riddled with tension, confront deeply charged emotional content, and grapple with feelings of apprehension. The works presented deal with a general mood of uneasiness arising from recent political and economic events that frames a future rife with imminent threats. Uncertain Spectator not only responds to these unsettling situations, but also creates them by challenging individuals to step outside of a place of comfort both physically and emotionally.
The exhibition incorporates media works in the broader context of contemporary art landscape through the work of 10 artists spanning the genres of video, installation, sculpture, and interactive media. Occupying EMPAC's lobby, Marie Sester's commissioned installation Fear consists of a seating area with a table that pulses with a warm inviting light, until the viewer attempts to approach it. Anthony Discenza creates street signs that do not communicate a set of rules for public space, but instead convey doomsday predictions and poetic reflections on doubt. Jesper Just's black and white film, A Vicious Undertow, presents an enigmatic and open-ended narrative, which never allows the viewer to achieve closure.
Uncertain Spectator is contextualized by an exhibition catalog that considers the role anxiety has played in philosophical discussions of existentialism, psychoanalysis, and ethics. An accompanying blog, Uncertain Spectator(s), invited select philosophers, cultural theorists, and artists to focus on the prevalence of anxiety in current events, as well as its expression in philosophy and contemporary art.
Without the work of the artists who have generously contributed their reflections on anxiety, Uncertain Spectator would not exist. I am deeply grateful to the artists who lent their work, time and thought to this exhibition: Graciela Carnevale, Anthony Discenza, Claire Fontaine, Kate Gilmore, Tue Greenfort, Susanna Hertrich, Jesper Just, Marie Sester, Scott Fitzgerald, SUPERFLEX, and Jordan Wolfson.
The curatorial team at EMPAC was a tremendous resource for realizing Uncertain Spectator. I would like to extend my gratitude to Kathleen Forde, curator, time-based visual arts, who provided unparalleled guidance and enthusiasm throughout the planning of this exhibition. My sincere thanks goes to Johannes Goebel, EMPAC director, for his support of this exhibition, as well as to Hélène Lesterlin, curator, dance, and Micah Silver, curator, music, for their valuable feedback.
Enormous thanks is due to the galleries that lent work to the exhibition, including 1301PE Gallery (Los Angeles), Catharine Clark Gallery (San Francisco), Johann König Gallery (Berlin), Metro Pictures (New York), and Galerie Neu (Berlin). I am indebted also to Armelle Pradalier from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States for their support of Marie Sester’s commission, FEAR.
The printed catalog would not be possible without the contributions of the following individuals: Max Hernandez-Calvo, who wrote the catalog’s commissioned essay; Andrew Rarig, who found an elegant resolution to a difficult design problem; Barbara Stubblebine, who thoughtfully edited its texts; Shannon Johnson, who shepherded its texts onto the page; and Julia Alsaraff and Johnny Goett, who contributed crucial editorial feedback.
Uncertain Spectator was meticulously installed by Shawn Snow, Jack Schaffer, and Michael Wells, and I am truly appreciative of their efforts and care in stationing each of these works at EMPAC.
This exhibition has drawn on the expertise of many EMPAC staff members, and my heartfelt thanks goes to them all for their tireless work in realizing this exhibition.—Emily Berçir Zimmerman