[Intentionally Left Blank]: A Reflection on Larry Cook’s “Deandre, Aujena, Dougald, Henry”

Last year, I studied the effect of technology on human nature in one of my classes. While I definitely don’t remember the nuances of then lectures or essays that comprised the unit, I do remember Hamlet’s Blackberry, one of the required readings. I’ll be honest, I read the 2 or 3 chapters that my peers recommended (“Read those, the rest is pretty repetitive”), and heavily skimmed the other 8 or so. But, nonetheless, what I did absorb made an impression: it got me to think about gaps.

In William Powers’ part-autobiography, part-social critique, Hamlet’s Blackberry,  Powers explains that society isn’t going down the intellectual drain because we’re all infatuated with technology. Rather, we’re doing so because we’re not attached to technology in the right ways. We text, we load the email app, we scroll, we read, ding!, we text again, maybe again, phone call!, email loading, ding!— and we’ve arrived at class. That’s the extreme, collegiate example, but there is evidence of Powers’ statement almost always at least 20 feet away. In his understanding, we are incapable of having meaningful, technological communications or interactions because we do not allow ourselves space between these interactions to reflect, make connections of our own, and even grow from them. Because we no longer consider these interactions as an activity (dial-up was definitely an activity back in the day), we don’t allow ourselves time in between them, just to be, to be with whatever we have gained from them, or simply to let our mind wander away from them to new places.

So this concept has been in my head for the past year, and I’ve grown with it. It makes me appreciate silences, and in general, the beauty of space. Mentally, and physically.

That was more or less a transition to my latest association with gaps: The Stamp Gallery’s current exhibition by Larry Cook, “Looking Black at Me.”

What Cook is saying here with his art is powerful, it’s weighty, it’s staring straight at you, the viewer (literally). And this power becomes nearly tangible because the space around it, some of which contains you as you take it in, is part of the work. I’m looking at the farthest piece from the main entrance, “Deandre, Aujena, Dougald, Henry,” right now. It is a silent 13 minute video composition of portraits of young black adults, all of which have visible tattoos. The only prompt that the young adults in the video were given was to stare into the camera as if they were looking back at those who had ever stared at them in judgment. This video is placed on two eye-level TVs, facing each other. To view, one stands in between the videos, and looks back.

There are raw, sweet moments in that piece. Physically, the significance transcends into that space between the video loops, in which the viewer is psychologically and emotionally engaged. The piece has meaning when it is seen through that space: in that gap, it is most valuable. One can walk through it, or make a round through the gallery and “see” it, but I don’t think such a viewing could serve it justice. In that light, it’s just another ding!.

Then, internally, the work requires space too. Working in the gallery, I get to absorb and reflect on the work for hours on end as desired. But the greatest reflection I have garnered from Cook’s work has come when I give his pieces my physical space, then walk away, and allow them my mental space as well. It isn’t a lesson in meditation, but maybe in seeing. Larry Cook wrote up a description of the pieces himself, and there is a stack of them at the gallery docent’s desk. I think I can speak for everyone working here that taking that paper, and maybe reading it tomorrow or next week, and then just thinking back– creating and enjoying that gap– is what it means to appreciate powerful work like this.

With that, tomorrow evening is the reception for “Looking Black at Me,” 5-8 pm in the Gallery, and Larry Cook will be there to discuss the pieces himself. Bring one and all–we’re looking forward to a bustling time. And, if you take the work in tomorrow, and then step away, come back another day, the gallery will be its usual ‘sanctuary quiet’ exactly when you need it to be.

Grace DeWitt


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s