24 November 2013

Rebeca Bashley's "Invisible People"; or, A Cobblestone on the Road to Hell

Rebeca Bashley is a highly talented artist whose work I haven't managed to blog before, mostly due to lack of time. Her recent Colour Key was a particularly striking work, ambiguous and disturbing. Quan Lavender put it well: Colour Key was "surrealistic, challenging, massive and tender, strong and poetic, dark and bright." Rebeca's current installation is Invisible People, located at the Lost Town - La Citta Perduta, and it again demonstrates her skill.

When you arrive, look for the sign announcing her work so you can pick up the notecard. (The notecard is not one of the ones you are automatically offered when you land.) The notecard explains the premise of the piece:
This is a story, presented thru camouflage body art,
about all those people that you pass by
on the streets every day and never notice them...

Lets play?

If you Find all invisible people and send me pictures
(sl, flickr or email invisible.people@live.com)
I will give you a sculpture.

There is 21 sculpture to be discovered in city
part of La Citta Perdutta and only one correct
angle of viewing.
The idea is that you walk through the Lost Town in order to locate these people, who are black on one side and textured on the other. If you then line up your camera just right, that texture matches the background and the people appear translucent, as if they were soon to fade away. A few examples:

Technically speaking, what Rebeca has done is impressive, maybe even brilliant. It's tricky to position the people exactly right; small bits can easily be out of alignment, especially if your computer (or your hand) isn't good at refined movements. I was able to get most of the shots, but there were a few that I couldn't figure out at all. As Rebeca says, there's only one correct way to view the people. Difficult as it can be, however, finding that camera location is rather fun.

Wait -- did I say "fun"? Yes. This is a game. I'm not just being perverse -- Rebeca suggests as much in her notecard: "Let's play?" There's even a prize at the end (a sculpture). But in this game Invisible People becomes ethically problematic. Finding the "invisible people" may be the name of the game, but it's also dead easy. After all, on one side the people are flat black. Can't miss 'em.

The actual game is not to find the people, but to position your camera so that they fade into the background. It's the reverse of the technique we sometimes see in which one must place one's camera so that shattered bits conjoin to reveal an image. Instead, in this game the goal is to make these people disappear.


From the tone of her notecard ("This is a story ... about all those people that you pass by on the streets every day and never notice them") I assume that Rebeca's intention is the opposite -- that she wants us to see people who we usually don't. I expect she'd be aghast to hear what I'm saying; in fact I'd bet most of my readers are shocked and will try to build a counter-argument, because we all want to do the right thing (i.e., see the invisible people) and so we want this installation to achieve its apparent aim. Seriously, I hope someone convinces me I'm wrong. Maybe somebody can persuade me that what the game does is make us see the invisible people in their invisibility, or (a hair more plausibly) that it's an ironic demonstration that we secretly want these people gone -- convoluted arguments that seem geared toward securing a predetermined conclusion rather than assessing the evidence, but perhaps one of them could fly. After all, some art is meant to produce queasy feelings. Or maybe there's another way to rescue the muddled ethics of this piece. If you haven't yet seen Invisible People, I urge you to go and judge for yourself. But it's hard to escape the basic facts of the game. Find the people, easy; make them fade away, difficult, so you win a point toward your prize. In a performative contradiction, the reality is that Rebeca forces us do the contrary of what she says she wants us to do (and what we think we're doing), and guides us to feel that in the process we're doing the right thing.

So now what? What does one say about excellent art that inadvertently (well, I hope inadvertently) makes a very conservative statement? Well, probably just "Try again, please." Creating political art that succeeds both artistically and politically is hard. I raised the same point about The Gaia Theory Project. But given how completely fucked up the world is ... just keep trying. In the case of Invisible People, the artistry is highly successful -- and that's easily the more difficult part. People definitely should see it just for that.

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