'Exhibition depression' is a Bargain Box contribution
written by Alexandre Paige
written by Alexandre Paige
Exhibition depression: where the subject matter, feeling or energy of a visual art exhibition is so strong, pertinent and relevant to a viewer’s sensitivities that it is too much to bear and ingest .
Freelance Arts Writer & Coordinator
Director Hawkesbury Film Festival 2007
The centre of the Islam exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW transports you to another world. Entering the exhibition you feel like you and the Moorish Alhambra in Granada, Spain have met half way; but as you meander through the museum style set-up with neutral coloured walls investigating religious artefacts, you come to a space that can completely pull the carpet from under you. The change in colour alone in this space is breath-taking, but united with the lighting, music and artworks the space creates some kind of wormhole  that visitors become willingly caught in.
I visited this exhibition with a good friend of mine Laura. She has spoken previously of travelling to places overseas, places that have experienced famine, poverty and severely destructive natural disasters such as the 2005 tsunami. When entering these places, seeing the livelihood of people recovering and surviving through perpetual and one-off ordeals, her energy suddenly drops. She feels it in her stomach like she’s just dipped on a roller coaster. Her immune system drops also, usually resulting in a cold or flu or something nastier.
When we entered the centre of the Islam exhibition Laura paused her conversation and swallowed deeply. I picked up on her feeling straight away and asked what was wrong as her face become ghostly. She said “I’ll talk about it when I get out of this room”. So, we walked around the domed lights, I noticed how similar the style of composition and figures were to European renaissance paintings, and then walked back into another neutral toned room. I asked what happened, what she saw that upset her and she explained, “It’s just something about the energy of places like that that bring me down, and so suddenly too”.
I have felt something very similar to this at other exhibitions. Displays of art that showcase the works of oppressed countries affect me in this way. A little while ago I saw a collection of video works from Afghanistan or Iraq (can’t quite remember) and while I love video installation and film, I could not sit and watch or experience these works in their entirety. The voices, theme or subject matter was too poignant or heart-rending that I could not fully digest the meaning or relevance of the exhibition. The art became a secondary field behind a heavy curtain of reality; real human experience and fact. Something needed to be done to help these people in some way. I felt guilty that I was saturated with cries from this area of the world that I did not know what to do but feel down in reverence for the things I could not quite ingest. I leave exhibitions like that bitter and angry at myself, 1.because I expect art galleries to be invigorating or energising in some way and 2. because I can’t do anything to help.
I have heard countless others speak about visiting exhibitions where they leave saying “I didn’t get it; there was too much meaning for me”. I think these responses are linked. However sadly I think others are turned off art galleries because there is too much meaning in some art exhibitions. I believe that galleries have an amazing opportunity to bring facts about our world or some people’s experience of the world onto a safe public platform; but there needs to be some kind of balance between meaningful and palatable art. I’m not saying The Arts of Islam should be re-thought. But art needs to people and create a space for communities to have common ground and feel empowered to change the world even in the smallest way.
These are just some examples to demonstrate that exhibitions can affect people in very deep ways and not just in their minds, but their bodies also. It has led me to coin the term “exhibition depression” as the feeling or state of mind that one can experience after or during an exhibition that deals with big issues that affect one’s normal processes.
This post was submitted to the Bargain Box by ALEXANDRE PAIGE
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 Term coined by Alexandre Paige - July 2007.
 A portal that takes you to a different time or dimension.