Sharon Hayes: There’s So Much I Want to Say to YouExhibition By Avram Finkelstein
There is nothing as sincere as the smell of plywood, as off-the-cuff as a lawn sign, or as candid as a 2 by 4. Perhaps that's why these particular signifiers have been pulled into institutional settings by generations of artists. Sharon Hayes, however, doesn't deploy them as specimens. She uses them to re-imagine a cultural cloister like the Whitney, and although the temptation is there, she steps back just enough to refrain from building an alternate shrine with them. That the exhibition romanticizes engagement might be one critique, but there's much more going on here. She is peeling back the abstractions we surround action with, in a communal space that is centered on ideas. The video is out in the open. Viewing benches are bleachers. And the eye level frieze of vinyl album covers from decades of spoken word recordings - Jerry Falwell explaining end times, a Christine Jorgensen interview, Nixon's farewell address, live recordings of the 1969 student strikes at Harvard - is too specific to feel inauthentic, too corny to not be affecting. If moments like her re-enactment of Patty Hearst's Symbionese Liberation Army recordings seem to veer towards fetishization, it bears noting that at the time she was abducted there was a generation who, whether or not she truly had become a resistance fighter, believed she could have been, or should have been. And that Hayes' faltering recitation of the text is prompted by an off-camera audience forces our hand. We are her captors, we are the FBI, we are her parents, and we are bystanders from the future, listening to every word, and weighing every shade of meaning in them. Hayes is forcing us to take action.
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