Monday, July 4, 2011

Paul Chan : 1st Light at The Whitney Museum

Paul Chan's 1st Light (2005) digital projection on the floor of the Whitney Museum has the power to awaken the spectator from the sleep of reason. With references to the 9/11 tragedy as well as the eschatological idea of the rapture, this ever changing series of silhouettes is literally quietly shocking. What starts as an expanse of evolving color cast on the floor, a kind of homage to earlier conceptual site specific pure light works becomes populated by a telephone pole and wires whose cruciform shape cannot help but be read in terms of religious implications. Soon we witness all manner of material possessions, cars, i-pods, phones, assorted pieces of furniture and more, ascending upward toward heaven only to be shocked when bodies begin to rain downward. This is especially shocking when a body closer to us falls past us nearly blackening the entire lighted frame. The Whitney's wall text regarding the work suggests this is a kind of rapture in reverse, a take on rampant materialism, and 9/11's trapped victims jumping from the stricken architecture as "fallen" victims of not only terrorists, but of their material desires. I walked away shaken by Paul Chan's questioning visual invention, one of the most powerful works of art I have ever encountered. Kudos to The Whitney for making it available...and please note that the word "Light" in the title has a line through it and consider the frighteningly weighty implications.

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