Turn on the bright lights 2014
Curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates
Hessel Museum of Art
New York

Artists: Kajsa Dahlberg, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Lamelas, Jason Mena, Trevor Paglen

Depending on how bright it is, a light in the dark can either help us see or completely blind us. And if darkness is conventionally understood to obscure vision, it also makes manifest spaces that cannot otherwise be represented. Drawing on these contradictions in the intricacies of seeing and not seeing, Turn on the bright lights examines how artists use abstraction as a conceptual device to materialize that which remains elusive, indeterminate, and invisible. The exhibition has two parts, emphasizing first an embodied experience of forms, where sculpture, photography, video, and painting speak to the complexities of seeing counter-spaces. It then leads to an increasingly dematerialized environment in which the perceptual limits of meaning are themselves rendered opaque, difficult, and abstract.

Abstraction in the visual arts has often been understood through the lens of the historical avant-garde and high modernism, whose utopian ideals of universality and humanism were intertwined with the totalizing ambitions of the social and political projects of Western modernity. By contrast, the artists in this exhibition deploy abstractions—such as indeterminate geographies, image negation, and the monochrome—as a formal strategy for advancing a nuanced understanding of power relations, a strategy of localized resistance.