February 5, 2009
Yesterday Greg and I took a field trip down to the MLK Library to see Matthew Thompson's art exhibit, Hier ist die Future. The installation is meant to be a reflection on Resurrection City, a six week encampment that was constructed on the National Mall during the summer of 1968 by the Southern Leadership Conference (led by Martin Luther King Jr.). Drawing about 2,800 demonstrators, Resurrection City was an attempt to expose the government's failure to address homelessness. Thompson's title, when translated, means "yesterday is the future," a sobering thought.
Though the timing of Thompson's exhibition is very pertinent (with DC's recent closure of homeless shelters, cuts to the Housing First Program, and a national housing crisis), the placement is equally important. While Thompson's work is on display, MLK Library is in the process of implementing new policies specifically targeting the homeless population. Thompson, regrettably, fails to mention any of these factors in his artist's statement.
When Greg and I went to see the installation yesterday, we were surprised to find that there were no signs marking the exhibit, which looks like it was plopped in the middle of the Great Hall with the same care one uses to throw down an area rug. Not seeing ropes or other indicators that make you think an object is to be viewed and not touched, my guy Greg went up and made himself at home--sitting on the chair provided inside the structure, and reading the book sitting right next to the chair looking, for all the world, like someone wanted you to read it.
About ten minutes later, a security guard came busting in and told Greg that he couldn't sit in the chair or read the book. Apparently we were supposed to know that, but I don't know how.
The supporting materials I saw gave sparse, cursory context to either Resurrection City or the artwork itself. The artist's statement was also not helpful, consisting mostly of academic information about how the encampment was constructed. Greg tells me that all of the best information is in the book (written by Matthew Thompson about the exhibit), which is apparently restricted despite its presence inside a library. Without access to either the structure or the book that held the information we were looking for, our visit came to an abrupt and unsatisfying end. That's probably a metaphor for something, but I don't know exactly what for.
Hier ist die Future will remain in the Great Hall of MLK Library until February 28th.
Posted by Matt Siemer at 1:07 PM