Surveillance Cameras and Asylum Ashes: YBC’s Creepy Cool New Exhibit

Categories: Arts

(Listening Post at Whitney Museum of American Art, December 2002. Photo by David Allison)

I spent a good part of last Saturday afternoon contemplating the creepy, yet wholly captivating new exhibit at Yerba Buena Center, “Dark Matters” – and I still want to go back for a second viewing. The theme for the show is the under- and unobserved, and the context for those terms veers from the military and the political to more social and even everyday exchanges, but the way these ideas are presented is far from ordinary. “Dark Matters” is a group show, and the opening pieces come from Trevor Paglen, who worked with former SF Weekly staffer A.C. Thompson on Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights, an investigation into the U.S. governments’ extraordinary rendition (aka secret kidnappings) around the world. Paglen’s photographs are incredible – they look almost like paintings but the tags reveal their top-secret locales.

Other highlights from “Dark Matters” include an entire wall of alphabetized code words for covert operations (which, hey, could also make for some great band names/album titles if you’re in the market); the unclaimed remains of insane asylum patients (which on first glance simply look like rusted cans with some sort of beautiful turquoise debris corroding them); and Listening Post. Give yourself a good chunk of the afternoon for that last one. Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s multi-dimensional display combines distillations of real time exchanges from chat rooms, public forums, newsgroups, and the like and presents them on a hanging grid of small screens. The patterns of words that appear are always in flux, with the presentations shuffling between scrawling sentence fragments and entire passages glowing from every block. The wonderful drone of the audio component is similarly dynamic, moving from ambient music to select readings from the text being channeled into the piece. Overall, “Dark Matters” is a thought-provoking, eye- and ear-stimulating collection of works, and definitely one of my highlights for YBC’s programming in ’07. --Jennifer Maerz

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