Friday, October 2, 2009

"Finanzkrise/Crise financière/Crisi finanziaria" - Anthony Graves - 208 E. State St.

“Finanz krise/Crise financière/Crisi finanziaria” is situated in Ithaca’s familiar and agreeable downtown pedestrian mall, The Commons. I often find myself on The Commons on sleepy afternoons, slowly strolling from store to store, lost in a retail daydream. As I stood there this past weekend, carefully studying this newly unveiled work and taking notes, I watched as locals floated past 208 East State Street lost in a similar kind of reverie. These dreamers were unfazed by the sudden appearance of Anthony Graves’ new work in the abandoned store’s display window.

Upon further reflection, I think the installation went undetected for two reasons, the first of which is the work’s resemblance to the other casually arranged window displays that line the Commons’ walkways. In Graves’ version, mock-neon script spells out something on the display wall (it’s difficult to parse without some investigation and the “To Let” didactic) as a sculpted, stylized dog and an unused work lamp peer out at us from atop a small shipping pallet. The display itself is not unattractive, just unremarkable, due to its limited color scheme, familiar visual language, and comparatively spare composition.

But it is not just the familiarity of Graves’ display that makes it so easy to pass by. It is also the display’s explicit advertising of our impulse to overindulge. It is this impulse which we wish to repress, ignore, and conceal, and it is this impulse which has caused our current global financial crisis. One is reminded here of the two definitions of heimlich (as in Freud’s unheimlich or “uncanny”): it is both the familiar and agreeable, and, what is concealed and kept out of sight.

It is these two terms that form the crux of Graves’ intervention. The uncanny is deployed through the work’s conflation of symbols of global and local capital (with Bank of America representing the former and American Crafts representing the latter). The effect is not unlike that moment in which a dream unexpectedly turns into nightmare: it has the power to stop us in our tracks.

— Nathan Townes-Anderson

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