In place of what would have been SITE Santa Fe’s 9th International Biennial, the exhibition More Real?: Art in the Age of Truthiness is mounted as a question. Through cumulative stagings, illusions, virtual worlds, and fictional archives the exhibition creates a circuit of “truthiness”. The term coined by the venerable pop icon Stephen Colbert essentially means truth through gut feeling or desire rather than fact. The survey of works, from the playful to the disturbing, left me with questions like: Is deception in art even possible? Do strategies of subterfuge and ambiguity offer the viewer new possibilities anymore? Aren’t we already swimming in the hum of a falsified reality?
The exhibition includes works of well-known master illusionists Thomas Demand, Vik Muniz, Ai Weiwei, Pierre Huyghe, Walid Raad and others. In Raad’s I Only Wish that I Could Weep we are informed that the high-speed archive video of nightly sunsets at a popular Beirut promenade is footage recorded by a Lebanese intelligence agent who, in his youth, yearned to experience the western sky, but because of war was isolated from it. The piece masterfully reveals genuine complexities of war through a dubious archive.
Video and photography are material that has come to possess an inherent stickiness with the veracity of truth. An-My Lê’s documentary photographs in Small Wars and 29 Palms depict staged warfare training and reenactments located in the US while recalling foreign lands. Johan Grimonprez, in I May Have Lost Forever My Umbrella, uses passages from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa to narrate a collage of YouTube imagery, from chandeliers swaying to distressed deer fumbling in supermarkets and floating in gray waters. Here, the devastation of the 2011 Japanese tsunami is a residue mediated through computer screens and iPhones – heartbreaking in the most lovely way.
Perhaps the two most polarizing pieces are of a singular prankster entity, Eva and Franco Mattes. Catt (Fake Cattelan sculpture) is a taxidermy cat and bird sculpture which was presented as a piece by trickster artist Maurizio Cattelan at a Huston gallery. In the same year, 2012, No Fun was produced. Using the social media video chat site Chatroulette, the artists staged a suicide scene which unsuspecting site participants would happen upon. Encountering the work in the gallery, the viewer is confronted with a computer screen displaying the hoax suicide along with documentation of the response to the scene, the laughter and stunned faces, of the Chatroulette video partners – a rough swing from lighthearted to cruel.
As a survey, More Real? gathers and arranges works to point out or create phenomena within a historical context. From the get-go, by way of the blunt exhibition title, we are asked to ruminate if fictive qualities might be more true somehow to the revealing of a nuanced and faceted reality. Truthiness is a slippery construction where sincere experiences can be the result of a ruse.
More Real?: Art in the Age of Truthiness is up at SITE Santa Fe through January 6, 2013. The exhibition will travel to Minneapolis Institute of Arts March 3 through June 9, 2013.