Artist brings provocative exhibit to Emerson

by Beacon Staff • February 28, 2007

She certainly did just that in her artistic response to the conditions of power in the United States and the war in Iraq.,When creating her exhibit Nation Building, Karen Finley, Emerson's School of the Arts visiting artist-in-residence, said she asked herself, "What can I be doing to further the conversation to get it to be a discourse, to get it to be a political work?"

She certainly did just that in her artistic response to the conditions of power in the United States and the war in Iraq. More than simply furthering conversation, her exhibit evokes much emotion and brings remarkable images to a political view.

Finley often wells up with emotion as she explains some of her pieces. Regardless of your opinion on the war, Nation Building provides a visual and artistic take on what we see on the news and read in the papers.

The distant and haunting sound of a printer that never stops producing lists is the only sound that can be heard upon entering Finley's exhibit in the Huret and Spector Gallery on the sixth floor of the Tufte Building at 10 Boylston Pl.

In this installation, "Business as Usual," two computers continually print the death tolls of both Iraqi and American soldiers, evoking an eerie and empty feeling.

When each printer runs out of paper, a pile of lists is stacked in the corner. The idea is that this is the reality Americans face when we hear of soldiers dying. Here we see that this is a business, this is merely someone's job, just another day at the office.

No human body is seen, no personal connection is conveyed, and just a simple pile of paper is produced.

"[It] kind of angers me because it's so inhuman," said senior theatre studies major Anna Haas. She realized that this was the intention of the artist, and related the pile of lists to the ones she had seen in Prague of those who died in the Holocaust.

The idea that death is desensitized is a theme constant throughout the exhibit.

Emerson College Archivist and Curator of the Huret and Spector Gallery Robert Fleming approached Finley at Harvard University, where she previously displayed her work, realizing this exhibit could greatly influence, inspire and provoke the community at Emerson.

Many can agree that the subject of war and death is plastered all around us as if it were wallpaper.

This idea is expressed through one of Finley's works that is, in fact, titled "Wallpaper."

"Wallpaper" is a display in which three of the gallery's walls are covered in a repetitious pattern of black-and-white drawings.

The same pictures repeat as if they were flowers on the walls of your grandmother's bathroom. We see Saddam Hussein being hanged by men with no faces, just black blobs. We see nooses, and we see death. Finley explains that due to technology today, this event in particular was all around us. It was on the news and the Internet. You could even watch it on your cell phone.

"I can definitely relate to this," said sophomore screenwriting major and gallery guard Mike Kennedy as he pointed to "Wallpaper." "Here at Emerson, I'm surrounded by media. It's pertinent."

However, in the midst of the feelings of death and sensationalism, there is humor in the work "The Dreams of Laura Bush," a series of paintings and excerpts as if Laura Bush were keeping a dream journal.

One dream includes Anna Nicole Smith with a tattoo of George Bush on her breast and another with the President's head attached to Ho Chi Minh's. Other works in the gallery include many drawings of Condoleezza Rice and a 22-foot noose that hangs from a web of other nooses to show how death is never ending and is "cancerous," Finley explained to The Beacon.

The exhibit holds something for everyone, for Nation Building relates to almost every aspect of Emerson's culture. Missing it would be like missing a part of history.

The exhibit is open through April 18.