The spirit mediums of "Hauntology" carefully conjure the living presence of the past
Perhaps the most exciting issue raised by the show is that of medium — what it communicates (i.e. artistic medium as spirit medium), and what it means to make the medium the subject of a piece. Much of the exhibit consists of two-dimensional visual art, but the few deviations stand out. On the inclusion of video, audio, and sculpture, Rinder muses over e-mail, "People don't think in as clearly material or disciplinary categories as they used to. So it felt natural to select from this broad range of works."
Despite the fundamental role music plays in the exhibit's conception, only one audio piece was incorporated into the exhibit, Ivan Seal's Stuttering Piano (2007). Seal has produced cover art for such releases as the 2008 reissue of Persistent Repetition of Phrases by hauntological ambient project the Caretaker, but none of his visual art was in the collection. His audio works often accompany his paintings, so the curators saw this as an intriguing "solution" to that unavailability.
Lutz Bacher's video piece Olympiad (1997) is a silent stuttering image, the deteriorated quality of which makes it disorienting to watch; many works in the exhibit similarly hound the viewer via their chosen medium. Paul Sietsema's 2009 diptych Ship Drawing, oriented as the gallery's centerpiece, is as concerned with medium as any piece in the show. One side depicts a drawing of a ship — note, specifically a drawing of one, since the weathered paper it appears on is also rendered in ink. The other half simply shows a blank bit of the same paper. Thus, the medium becomes the subject. In this way, even the nature of their own production is part of the past that haunts these works.
So all this art, spanning centuries, cultures, and movements, brought together at BAM — why now? Hewicker cites "ghosts that people are not addressing" as evidenced by the "Tea Party movement, the sort of revisionist nostalgia, the rewriting of textbooks in Texas." Derrida's ideas are still relevant to today's political world, and that resonates in how this art affects us, whether it was created in 1658 or 2008.
As one would hope from a thoughtfully curated show, motifs emerge among the included works. There are myriad obscured faces, indecipherable objects, and artworks within artworks, as well as subtler commonalities. This conspires to reinforce the sense of hauntedness in the exhibit, as if something has come down through the ages to inspire art that not only, as Rinder puts it, "[evokes] futuristic ruins, displaced subjectivities, and uncanny silences," but more important, leaves us ill at ease.
Through Dec. 5, $5–$8 (free for students and children)
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft, Berk.