Art Show Examines Audiences

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ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images/Courtesy

In “Audience as Subject, Part 2: Extra Large” peasants become U.N. diplomats, Muhammad Ali is erased from film footage, and mosh pits are recreated. These are all a part of a new multimedia group show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that examines our human nature both as individuals and as part of an audience, spotlighting the horrific aspects of mob mentality and encouraging hope for individuality.

“Part 1” of the exhibit ran from October 2010 to February 2011 and focused on the individual as a “medium” for creating audiences of cultural events, such as plays or films. “Part 2” specifically features audiences of rock concerts, sports events and political rallies. The 12 artists use this same motif, yet establish unique messages. They analyze the psychology of crowds, whether about masculinity, identity, violence, media or pleasure, creating a show that is surprisingly diverse.

Various artists kept the show from just being Cobrasnake-esque party photos, as there were different approaches of crowd mentality. Andrea Bowers’ extremely realistic drawings emphasize human rights and the individual, and on the other end of the spectrum, Rabih Mroue’s video, “With Soul, With Blood,” explores the way that the individual and crowd identities are congruent.

However easy it may seem to simply shoot a video or picture of a mosh pit or spectators at a basketball game, thoughtful details of the pieces are what make the lasting statements. Gonzalo Lebrija’s video, “Aranjuez,” shows a mob outside the 2003 World Cup, at the center of which a few women are crying and desperately slapping off the thick limbs of the belligerent mass of surrounding men. The vulnerability of women becomes the clear message of the piece, especially after finding out that the soundtrack to the video is typically associated with the running of the bulls in Spain.

Because of these cultural references, it was sometimes hard to see what an artist’s focus was without reading the process behind their thoughts. Some of the most key details, such as knowing the significance of the song “Aranjuez,” were only available in the blurbs next to the pieces, which were too small to read, especially with the dim lighting. It was difficult to realize that the before-and-after photos by Wang Qingsong were of a U.N. dinner party with poor Chinese workers instead of diplomats, since the blurb was around the corner, on the wall right next to the door. Raw reactions are often the truest, yet learning about the artists’ mindsets was not accessible without effort.

The most interactive piece also encompasses the metaphysical thought process in viewers most directly. Alexey Kallima’s “Rain Theorum” occupies its own room, only accessible through one curtained doorway. Upon entering the dark room, a light sensor triggers recordings of cheers from an audience, as well as the lights. When the lights go off again, fluorescent paintings of audience members saturate all four walls, painted vaguely enough to get the sense of distance from an audience, yet clear enough to see people clapping, hollering and even flashing the viewers of this piece, who are now standing in as the main event of the audience’s attention.

Each time someone enters the room, the light flashing on interrupts the viewing process, and ultimately everyone looks at the newcomer in the room. This disruption forms the realization that the entire show seemed to make the viewer ponder:  you too are part of an audience, and maybe you too are the next piece of art.