The exhibition A Terrible Thing at Kunsthal Aarhus presents two video installations by American artist Sondra Perry (1986, USA), both of them originally created for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) in the USA.
Sondra Perry foregrounds structures and renders them visible: physical structures, cultural structures and the structures embedded in each of us as individuals. At Kunsthal Aarhus, the exhibition architecture foregrounds the physical structure of the building itself as a video is projected onto a semi-transparent, oblique wall structure. The wall structure mimics moCa’s exterior architecture but has been adapted to its new setting in Aarhus. The second video piece is displayed on a curved wall, highlighting the curved shape of the Kunsthal Aarhus rotunda.
The video projections comprise computer animations, the Geographic Information System (an IT system for storing, manipulating and gathering geographic data), text-to-speech software, drone footage and archival footage. Collectively, they render Cleveland’s infrastructure visible to us. The maps taken from Google Maps are subject to blue screen image errors of the kind familiar from most operating systems. Elsewhere, the landscape is blurry and yellowish, becoming reminiscent of liquid pus spreading across the buildings.
The soundtrack of one work consists of an eerie whispering voice that remains both unseen and faceless. Where’s the body in this equation? Isn’t it welcome at moCa? We may also form the impression that the disembodied voice belongs to very same gaze that zooms in on Cleveland and pans across the empty offices at moCa. As viewers, we share the same point of view on the scene, positing the possibility that the voice may also be ours. In any case, the whispering voice can feel strangely insistent – for each individual visitor to the gallery, but also for the art institution as such.
A Terrible Thing takes its point of departure in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, originally founded in 1796. Since the 1980s, the city has undergone significant urban development and gentrification, becoming a popular haunt of the creative class. The former industrial buildings have been transformed into venues for emerging creative talent. moCa is located in the Mayfield Triangle area, historically home to a predominantly black demographic. The museum is located at the very spot that housed the jazz club Jazz Temple, which, featuring musicians like Dinah Washington, constituted an epicentre of black culture until the building collapsed after being attacked with explosives in 1963. After the Great Depression in the 1930s, the US government offered cheap mortgages to prevent foreclosures, but certain areas – especially those with a majority of black and immigrant residents – were deemed not worth investing in. The Mayfield Triangle was one such area.
Sondra Perry often works with site-specific art and installations. She constructs narratives that explore blackness through history, in culture, art and the media – often based on her own life. She seeks to democratise access to culture and the arts by providing a platform where black people can be portrayed in more nuanced ways than are usually seen in mass media.
Sondra Perry originally produced the work A Terrible Thing for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) (USA), where the exhibition was shown in the summer of 2019. Her Kunsthal Aarhus show is her first-ever exhibition in Denmark. An exhibition catalogue is currently being created in collaboration between moCa and Kunsthal Aarhus and will be published by Hatje Cantz. The catalogue will be launched in the winter of 2020.