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Review: Where Do We Migrate To?

D. Eric Bookhardt on an international group exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center

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We live in a time of vast migrations — of ideas, money and especially people. Migration's international flip side, immigration, has become a flash point both domestically and abroad, as the nativist political noise machine defines most immigrants as "other," a potential enemy within — never mind that our own forebears might once have been in that number. Unlike reactionary politics, this Where Do We Migrate To? exhibition is very visually muted despite its reverberating video soundtracks. Resonance is the fourth dimension of all art forms, and here the tone is sociological yet contemplative, occasionally punctuated with totalizing elements like Xaviera Simmons' wall-size Superunknown (Alive In The) (pictured), a massive display of 42 large photographic color images of boat people copied off the internet, all of them adrift in leaky vessels listing ominously toward oblivion, awaiting "rescuers" who may not arrive.

  Oblivion of another sort appears in Julika Rudelius' video Adrift, in which people in a room are all nodding off as if on a moving train or bus, only here it is the room itself that lurches in a rolling spasm like an existential travelogue by Samuel Beckett. Another play on mass movement appears in Korean artist Kimsooja's A Needle Woman video where the motionless back of her head appears like a meditative island of tranquility in a turgid sea of immigrants in Paris, one of the show's more effective couplings of sociology and visual poetics. But those huddled masses are the fuel on which the fires of nativist sentiment feed, and the soundtrack of Brendan Fernandes' Homecoming video of loudly roaring jungle cats actually does sound a lot like the subtitles beneath them that read: "Go Home." Even so, nativism is often just a futile attempt to grasp the ungraspable as summed up neatly in Adrian Piper's Everything #4, a simple oval mirror inscribed with the gold leaf message: "Everything Will Be Taken Away." So true, yet for many in this thoughtfully meandering exhibition, everything was left behind already. — D. Eric Bookhardt

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