Tavares Strachan seen/unseen 

Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen is a closed exhibition curated by Jean Crutchfield and Robert Hobbs that took place from September 19th through October 28th of 2011 at an undisclosed location in New York City.

In recognition of the theme that presence and absence assume in the work of Tavares Strachan, a Bahamian-born and Manhattan-based artist, this large-scale overview of his work from 2003 to the present was closed to the public at an undisclosed location for the duration of the show. Focusing on the artist’s overall practice of positioning works so that some of their aspects are visible while others remain conceptual, this exhibition, subtitled seen/unseen, is intended to be a work of art in its own right.

Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen represents the latest contribution to the now legendary tradition of closed exhibitions, including Robert Barry’s now infamous 1969 Closed Gallery Piece and Yoko Ono’s 1971 advertisement for her nonexistent Museum of Modern Art exhibition.  However, unlike these empty or fictitious exhibitions, Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen features drawings, photographs, video works, sculpture, and installations as well as a series of new works in a massive 20,000-square-foot industrial space, converted just for this exhibition.

Strachan began emphasizing presence and absence in his art as early as 2003, when he installed a light meter outside his mother’s house on the outskirts of Nassau and connected it via satellite to a computer-activated light box in his RISD dorm room to create an interactive work, enabling him to enjoy in real time and around the clock simulated Bahamian light and darkness.

Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen includes a series of new works especially created for this exhibition, beginning with a new version of the artist’s internationally celebrated 2005 piece The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want, consisting of a 4.5-ton block of ice, harvested from a frozen river about 400 miles under the Arctic Circle.  New York Times critic Roberta Smith commended Strachan for his “pioneering courage” and characterized this piece as “spectacularly ambitious.”

Tavares Strachan may be best known for his internationally celebrated 2006 piece titled The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want, consisting of a 4.5-ton block of ice harvested in a river near Mount McKinley, Alaska. The ice was then sent via Federal Express to the Bahamas, where it was placed in a transparent refrigerated case and exhibited in Nassau. Ironically, solar power was used to keep the ice frozen.

Over the past decade, Strachan’s explorations have expanded to both outer space and under water, focusing equally on the human body’s ability to acclimatize itself to these radical environments. One of his major topics has been orthostatic tolerance—the body’s ability to circumvent hypotension and withstand pressure during gravitational stress, often caused by quick changes of altitude. Although orthostatic tolerance can describe a change as simple as the body’s reaction to standing up quickly after being seated, Strachan’s art investigates the more extreme circumstances of being launched into the earth’s stratosphere or submerged to the oceans’ depths. Strachan’s research on the topic has extended to hands-on training at the Yuri Gagarin Russian State Science Research Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia as well as a residency at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked with some of this institution’s cutting-edge scientists.

Strachan’s research is tied to his establishment of the nascent Bahamas Aerospace and Sea Exploration Center (BASEC) in his native country. In the course of working with BASEC, Strachan has made several rockets wholly from Bahamian natural resources (glass from beach sand, and fuel from sugarcane) and launched them 15 to 20 miles into the earth’s stratosphere, before collecting and presenting their fallen remnants as sculptural relics. His experimentations with BASEC and his research into extreme conditions have been the basis for exhibitions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (2008); Grand Arts in Kansas City, Missouri (also 2008); and MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, MA (2010).

Last year a 20,000-square-foot overview of Strachan’s work from 2003–2011, subtitled Seen/Unseen, was presented at an undisclosed New York City location and was closed to the public. Curated by Crutchfield and Hobbs, Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen is fully documented with an illustrated catalogue, designed by Stefan Sagmeister and distributed by D.A.P in spring, 2013. An interactive website dedicated to this exhibition is forthcoming.

Tavares Strachan (b. 1979, Nassau, Bahamas; lives in New York City) received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2003 and an MFA from Yale University in 2006. His solo shows include Orthostatic Tolerance: It Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea if I Never Went Home Again, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2010); Orthostatic Tolerance: Launching from an Infinite Distance, Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO (2010); Tavares Strachan: Orthostatic Tolerance, the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2009); Where We Are is Always Miles Away, The Luggage Store, San Francisco, CA (2006); and The Difference Between What We Have and What We Want, Albury Sayle Primary School, Nassau, The Bahamas (2006).



INTRODUCTION by Gregory Volk

Born in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1979, Tavares Strachan left his home country to study art in the United States. He received his BFA in glass from the Rhode Island School of Design (2003), and his MFA in sculpture from Yale University (2006). While still at Yale, Strachan initiated the precocious, wildly ambitious project that would first bring him substantial acclaim. For The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (2005–06), he ventured to northern Alaska, where he extracted a four-and-a-half-ton block of ice from a frozen river, shipped it via FedEx to the Bahamas and displayed it in a gleaming freezer, refrigerated by solar power, at his former elementary school. Many of Strachan’s projects involve radical displacement and reorientation. Many also involve making the “impossible possible” (to borrow a great phrase from American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens’s “Asides on the Oboe,” 1940). That’s exactly what happened here.

In addition to its austere splendor and outlandish verve, The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want resonated with multiple connotations while juxtaposing diametrical forces: ice and sun, Alaska and the Bahamas, motion and stasis, foreign locations and home. As a black man from the tropics in the white, wintry North, Strachan consciously placed himself in extremely unfamiliar and destabilizing conditions, an approach he would later develop in other far-flung works. In photographs accompanying the installation, he also obliquely highlighted how this experience echoed that of Matthew Henson, the African-American explorer who was part of Robert E. Peary’s final and most renowned Arctic expedition in 1908–09, and very likely the first of the party to reach the North Pole, although he didn’t receive the credit. Strachan’s giant ice-cube sculpture, in its transparent freezer, brought wonderment and joy to the schoolchildren of Nassau—along with physical news of a remote and alien elsewhere—while touching on potent issues of race relations and climate change. When exhibited by New York’s Pierogi gallery and Ronald Feldman Gallery during the Art Basel–Miami Beach art fair in 2006, this work generated rapt attention and signaled that a major new artist had emerged.

With a background in glass, Strachan’s aesthetic is often minimal and elemental, while it embraces various dichotomies and complexities: transparency and opacity, emptiness and plenitude, light and dark, silence and sound, creation and destruction. He has employed his glassmaking expertise to precisely duplicate all the jagged shards of a broken beer bottle. The instantaneous and chaotic destruction of one bottle is mirrored in the painstaking creation of its double, and both shattered bottles are exhibited side by side (The Problem of One Thing Existing Simultaneously, 2006). Over time, Strachan’s work has grown to combine diverse mediums, and it always has a questing conceptual foundation. His excellent 2011 exhibition at Rossi & Rossi, London, concerned Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama’s handpicked choice to be Tibet’s next Panchen Lama, who, as a six-year-old in 1995, was seized by Chinese authorities and has likely been a hidden political prisoner ever since. Searching for the missing Panchen Lama, Strachan traveled to Tibet and India, chronicling his journey in photographs. Working with forensics experts, the artist developed Digital Age–progression images that show how the Panchen Lama may have appeared from age five to 22, and exhibited them with I Belong Here (2011), in which a ceremonial yellow hat worn by Tibetan lamas is suspended in a glass tank filled with mineral oil. Under the hat is an exquisite and wispy glass model of the Panchen Lama’s internal organs; but from most perspectives, it is virtually invisible. Conflating presence and absence, this spectral figure hovering in a rigid case is enthralling and deeply touching.

Operating between art, science, history, cultural critique and razzle-dazzle showmanship, Strachan deals in freedom and enjoys surmounting limitations and restrictions. Realizing that his tiny home country does not have institutes for aerospace and ocean exploration, which are common in bigger and wealthier countries, he invented one. The Bahamas Aerospace and Sea Exploration Center (BASEC) is a homemade institute that has, among its other missions, launched transparent rockets—created with locally made glass and propelled by fuel derived from local sugarcane—into the sky toward outer space. For Training in Six Parts (2009–10), a work recorded in high-definition black-and-white videos, Strachan was somehow able to enroll in the Yuri Gagarin Russian State Science Research Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, near Moscow, where he arduously trained as an astronaut. This allowed him to experience, physically and psychologically, extreme gravitational forces and weightlessness; the discombobulating effects of being vigorously shaken, plummeted and spun about uncontrollably; and the sensation of floating in water in a space suit. The art was generated not by orientation, but by disorientation; not by what Strachan knew, but instead, by what he didn’t know and had experienced for the first time. Both BASEC and Training in Six Parts, along with related photographs, sculptures, videos and drawings—some involving collaboration with MIT scientists—are part of Strachan’s remarkable “Orthostatic Tolerance” project, exhibited in three different phases between 2008 and 2011. The title refers to how the body responds to extreme changes in pressure and gravity, as experienced by astronauts and deep-sea divers. Strachan’s 2011 survey exhibition “Seen/Unseen,” installed in an undisclosed New York City location and inaccessible to the general public, was another enigmatic step in the flourishing career of this eclectic and, indeed, visionary artist.

Back to BASECs: Traversing a Bahamian Space Age By Mimi Sheller

With a subtly subversive Bahamian perspective on earthly elements and their limits – from the aquatic depths of the sea to outer atmospheric altitudes – Tavares Strachan’s work traverses the long history of planetary exploration that cleaved the world into two hemispheres (when Christopher Columbus first sighted land in the Bahamas in October of 1492), while ever so slightly displacing it into a parallel world. Strachan’s “Orthostatic Tolerance” is a series of inter-related installations documenting the activities of the Bahamian Aerospace and Sea Exploration Center (BASEC).

In this essay I want to enter a space opened by the artist – for considering his work in terms of universal problems of post/modernity, in/visibility, opacity and transparency. These terms can be considered not only aspects of the (geo)politics of identity, but also more widely as foundational aspects of an aesthetic and scientific exploration of the physical qualities of space, light, and fragility.

I. Caribbean Contexts for “Orthostatic Tolerance”

The “discovery” of the New World hinges on Columbus having first sighted land in the Bahamas in October, 1492. Later the Bahamas would be the location of the development of early under-water viewing technologies, and collection of its corals formed the material basis of natural history museums throughout North America. Recent research makes claims that in the “blue holes” of Abaco and Andros islands, “Clues to how life evolved, not only on this planet but also possibly on alien worlds, might be found in underwater caves in the Bahamas.” Andros is also the site of a US naval base considered controversial due to its research in one of the deepest water channels in the region.

Strachan addresses poignant themes of the Caribbean’s relation to modernity, science, technology and art In the 2009 show “Orthostatic Tolerance”. The body of works explore the line between visibility and invisibility, transparency and opacity, liquid and solid, high-tech and low-tech, and the transfer and transformation of elements from one context to another. While other artists are engaging playfully with themes of space travel as part of a wider nostalgic uptake of 20th-century techno-futurist music, visual arts, and video gaming, the BASEC project resonates with more elemental aspects of the Caribbean presence in outer space and earthly exploration.

The show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, documents the launch of a sugar-fueled glass rocket over a shallow Bahamian sea. The rocket’s glass is made from beach sand, and the fuel from island-grown sugar cane, representing the transformation of “basic” Caribbean natural substances into “advanced” scientific technologies. Natural substances and sub-atomic forces transmute into fragile human efforts of conquest. The processing of sugarcane into rocket fuel references the tumultuous history of the sugar industry in the New World, while pointing towards the powerful energy in cane sugar released as biofuel even as it devours Amazonian rainforests. The experimental drive of BASEC appropriates modern science, while staying grounded in the sandy shores of Bahamas. The video installed inside a Piaggio Ape ( pronounced “ah-peh” – Italian for bee), a three-wheeled light commercial vehicle, refracts the shallow sea as a pattern of light refractions mirrored in aluminum foil wrapping the low-tech launch vehicle’s interior (Figure1). In video documentation, a figure appears at the rocket launch clad in a full-body white bio-hazard suit, absurdly prepared to encounter alien worlds (Figure 2). He is accompanied by two official figures in white pith helmets. The broken glass rocket recovered from the sea is on display in a glass case, a tribute to human ingenuity, or perhaps folly, reminiscent of Icarus’s melted wax wings.

II. Caribbean Space Age: A Transversal Reading

While the Caribbean usually appears as an afterthought in the history of science and technology, it significantly haunts the footnotes of the Space Age. In 1962 the first two Americans to orbit the earth, John Glenn in the craft Friendship 7 and Scott Carpenter in Aurora 7, also splashed back down in the Atlantic Ocean close to the Turks and Caicos Islands and were brought to the US Air Force Base on Grand Turk for debriefing. The European Space Agency today conducts its Ariane 5 rocket launches from Kourou, French Guiana, arcing over the Caribbean Sea and the South American jungles. Moreover, the key element that enables all aviation, rocket launches, moon landings, satellites and planetary rovers is the lightweight metal aluminum, much of which in the 20th century came from bauxite ore mined in Jamaica and Suriname, where today it is still mined and smelted. BASEC also evokes Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, written from his Goldeneye estate in the hills above Kingston, Jamaica, lending a popular culture imprimatur to the idea of Bahamian missiles launched from secret undersea hideaways. Inventions of Caribbean space exploration tap into this simultaneously irreverent yet serious intersection of popular culture, high technology, and Space Age politics.

“Launching into an infinite Distance”, The Orthostatic Tolerance show at Grand Arts in Kansas City, includes video footage of cosmonaut training that Strachan undertook at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. This involved a space capsule half-submerged in an indoor swimming pool, and video footage of the artist donning a space suit and entering the water like a trainee scuba diver (Figure 3). Plucked, dripping, out of the water, he hauntingly re-enacts the US astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom rescued from the Bahamian seas in 1961, as portrayed in the film “The Right Stuff” (dir. Philip Kaufman, 1983) (Figure 4). Geographies are sent spinning, displaced in time and space. Likewise, adventure tourism tours in the Bahamas proclaim “The deep ocean is a truly alien world. It has the infinite vastness of outer space, but unlike space, it is heavily populated with alien creatures, geologic features, and ancient shipwrecks awaiting discovery.”

Strachan’s BASEC echoes the real materiality of the Caribbean in space exploration during the Space Age (including the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), while simultaneously resisting any simplistic reading in relation to science fiction or the popular tradition of re-purposing appropriated technologies of techno-futurism. It enacts theorist Bruno Latour’s vision of “science in action”, which involves the “mobility, stability and combinability” of elements. From the earliest explorers of the New World to the frontiers of late modern science, scientists have worked with artists to mobilize specimens, drawings, and samples; to stabilize them in representational forms, in glass cases, or suspended in alcohol; and to recombine them in the laboratory to create centers of calculation as sources of knowledge and power. Through both para-scientific and artistic exploration, Strachan’s work mobilizies, stabilizes and combines elements, making our most basic (yet cosmic) surroundings visible – air, water, light, space, heat – and reminding us that we are all in motion through “translocal ecologies” only momentarily stabilized as homes. With a conceptual turn of the globe, assumed geographies and elemental relations are sent spinning, atoms are split and electro-magnetic fields are displaced in subtle explorations of the coordinates of time and space.

III. A Transversal Parallactics

Strachan explores the limit points between elements of air and liquid, visibility and invisibility, disappearing histories and imminent futures. Central to the Grand Arts show was a life-size blown glass diver submerged in a 1700-gallon tank filled with 5 tons of mineral oil. The play with transparent glass objects submerged in the ocean, or in mineral oil inside glass cases, raises questions about visibility, gravity, and the thresholds between different states of matter, yet also might be understood as referencing the invisibility of the Caribbean islands, being in but not of the West, as C.L.R. James put it. In Strachan’s hands transparency becomes a kind of opacity, as he plays with the limits of prismatic light and visible forms. The title Orthostatic Tolerance “refers to the stress endured by astronauts and deep-sea divers alike upon exiting and then re-entering the breathable atmosphere of our planet,” suggesting an “exploration of boundaries, the limits of human possibility and the experience of being a displaced member of a society where issues such as science, history and modern imperialism converge.” But how do these issues converge in or around the Bahamas, especially if the Bahamas are largely invisible in the global art market and critical art history?

The show’s sub-title “It Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea If I Never Went Home” seems to reference the national motto of the Bahamas. As the country moved towards independence in 1973, the phrase “Come Back Home” became “a rallying cry for the young nation, and home came increasingly to be configured as located in the past” in a rediscovery of the roots culture of the outer “Family Islands” and notions of rediscovering the authentic culture by going “Back to the Bush”. Yet Strachan’s work takes note of the impossibilities of ever going home and the difficulties of transmitting matter from one state to another. What are the tolerances of exiting and then re-entering home? Once displaced from one’s medium, time travel becomes an impossible project of suspension.

Strachan experiments with the legacies of global exploration and ecological-economic planetary colonization in a challenging examination of science, technology, and divergent modernities. He resists categorization in ways that would limit the spatial and temporal dimensions of his work.“I’m trying to create a new narrative,” Strachan says. “in outer space there is no geography”. BASEC appeals to this idea of freedom. Thus by resisting delineated boundaries or specificities, Strachan’s “new language” is ultimately “more about making space than taking it away”.

Many of Strachan’s works create a double of something in another time and place (e.g., “The Problem of One Thing Existing Simultaneously”, 2006), supported by thermal and chemical technologies that serve to underline both the fragility and the resiliency of human existence on Space Ship Earth (as Buckminster Fuller called our planet). Strachan explores many natural elements grounded in the Bahamian environment: light, heat, chalk, cloud, water and salt residues derived from human urea (a water purification process recently introduced to provide water on the International Space Station). These media are presented as at once elemental and technical, natural and chemical, found-in-nature yet scientifically man-made.

III. Guanahani: Bahamian Tidalectics

While suffused by a phenomenological inquiry informed by western philosophy (Maurice Merleau-Ponty or Martin Heidegger), Strachan’s work even better calls to mind Caribbean philosophical traditions, such as Glissant’s “parallactics”, or Kamau Brathwaite’s “tidalectics”. In facing towards an exploratory Caribbean future with “basic” tools, Strachan optimistically performs what Guyanese poet, novelist, essayist and dramatist Wilson Harris describes as “breaking fixed linear ruling patterns into non-linear simultaneous movement of such patterns forwards and backwards. Such simultaneity brings us into the mystery of timelessness and helps the past to be re-creatively potent.” Harris himself does this through referencing alchemy, native cosmogonies, quantum physics, hypotheses on time and space, dreams, and aboriginal cultures and religions, all elements likewise to be found in Strachan’s work, even if deep inside its genesis.
Strachan’s scientific and geolocational interests, refracted through the Bahamas, are uncannily reminiscent of the writing of Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite, who subtitled his poem “Guanahani” (the indigenous name for some of the Bahamian islands), “flying over the Bahamas 12 Oct 1492 on AJ 016 over the US Easter [sic] Seaboard of Gauguin.” Referencing Paul Gauguin’s post-impressionist island primitivism, telescoping past and present, and superimposing various parts of the planet and their distinctive geographies (“the thin white line of the long beach/the clouds coming right down on the water like ice-floes”), the poem is narrated as if looking at Earth from a spacecraft:

What makes me call out Sahara
as we turn slowly between heaven
and this dead earth of flat contours
not even an eagle or a hawk . arrow of the air
nothing living until we reach
the Bahamas where it will be light
blue & green . w/the face of the dream
looking up towards us like leaves . like Icarus

Brathwaite, like Strachan, deals with elements and geographies in motion, and the ancient failure of Icarus’s flight, crashing back down like the glass rocket. He goes on to refer to “the ice-floes drifting over the Arctic’s infidelity” and the “clouds soon crowding again/strato-cumulus of beginning of the moon from 39,000 feet of the spacecraft.” In this dislocated time-space he becomes a “witness” to the “outer wheels/& limits of spiral galaxies triangeles parachutes. shapes of magenta/stealth bombers ghosts shrouds/Tibetan journeying spaces of time between magnets & continents/causeways into another continuum. approaching the new life of Eleuthera”.

Critics like Maxwell Heller writing in The Brooklyn Rail emphasize the work’s sense of isolation, alienation, and incomprehensibility:

Strachan’s subtle, complex pieces defy discussion, frustrate all attempts to verbally summarize their content and thwart our desire to associate them with any recognizable cause or movement. Like the glass capillaries of Symbiosis, Strachan’s messages hover on the edge of invisibility, slipping in and out of our perceptual grasp as we struggle to locate them within his work.

We have to wonder here at the failure of this non-transversal reading when it is precisely the “slipping in and out of our perceptual grasp” which is the subject of the work. The frustration of verbalization here suggests the orthostatic limits of a kind of metropolitan homeostasis that ignores environing conditions. Only by recognizing and responding to the “edge of invisibility” in Strachan’s work can we fully follow his curiosity in exploring space, moving through time, and translating natural elements from one place to another.
A transversal reading of Strachan’s work situates it in that doubled suspension, creating parallel worlds between here and there. The encased natural phenomenon in several of Strachan’s works remind us that our livable environments are like fragile bubbles in a vast surrounding universe of potentially inhospitable physics. And the BASEC project suggests both the hope and the limits of science and technology. The fragile islands of our life-supporting systems seem ever more tenuous, assisted by technology that may have reached its limits as we surpass our physical tolerances. Can we survive on other planets, and if we leave the planet can we ever come home?
Only by recognizing and responding to the routes of Strachan’s work can we fully follow his curiosity into exploring space, moving through time, and translating natural elements from one place to another.

Strachan describes the creation of a single line as an act of simultaneous creation and destruction, bringing something into being even as it divides space and cancels out other possibilities. This is precisely the dilemma of modernity in the Caribbean: to create science is to destroy nature, to develop the shoreline is to pollute the sea, to leave home is to come back transformed, and to stay in place is to fall behind. The fine line between sea and sky, solid and liquid, presence and absence, visibility and invisibility, universal and particular, origins and future, is the fraught line upon which the fragile Caribbean present must live or die. In the face of hurricanes, earthquakes, and climate change, it seems all the more crucial that we get back to the basics of our existence on Earth, and realize the limits at which it ceases to be possible.

To see the entire essay, please refer to the Seen/Unseen book.

AN UNSEEN SCENE by Dr. Robert Hobbs

On September 19, 2011, “Tavares Strachan: Seen/Unseen,”1 a 20,000-square-foot, museum-style installation, opened in an off-the-beaten-track New York City spot. All the exhibition’s organizers, including even Strachan himself, had signed legal documents committing themselves to the utmost secrecy, then and henceforth, about the show’s specific location. They did so because they understood the extent to which “Seen/Unseen” puts in serious play the genre of art exhibitions as the overarching mechanism through which artistic perception in our culture primarily takes place, and it does so by jeopardizing this genre’s primary mode of access: its eminent visibility.
The press release for “S¬een/Unseen” had already been sent to 2,364 art-world recipients, including critics, museum specialists, art historians, dealers and collectors. It aligned “Seen/Unseen” with the tradition of legendary exhibitions such as conceptual artist Robert Barry’s now-infamous “Closed Gallery Piece” (1969) and conceptual/performance artist Yoko Ono’s 1971 advertisement for her purely conceptual performance and exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.2 Jean Crutchfield and I, the show’s curators, wrote the press release for “Seen/Unseen,” in which we characterized Strachan’s exhibition as:

Focusing on the artist’s overall practice of positioning works so that some of their aspects are visible while others remain conceptual, [since this showing] . . . is intended to be a work of art in its own right.

In addition to the press release, a full-page Artforum advertisement announced the exhibition and included the closing date of October 28, 2011.
Although “Seen/Unseen” was Tavares Strachan’s original concept, it was also a collaborative venture. In early 2011 he approached me and Crutchfield with his absurd proposal and invited us to curate the exhibition, which would not be seen by the public and could only be known indirectly. When we asked the obvious, “Why?” he explained, simply, “It is something I would like to do.”3 He also pointed to the need for artists to challenge ensconced systems, and he considered the exhibition he was proposing to represent exactly this type of confrontation. In addition, he referred to his long-term interest in anamorphosis and this viewing tactic’s requirement of a special, skewed vantage point in order to be seen and interpreted. Regarded in this way, the entire exhibition can be deemed an anamorphic look at one artist’s work, necessitating an oblique or out-of-the-ordinary perspective in order to be properly understood. In the case of “Seen/Unseen,” the act of denying the general public entry to the show served as a means of encouraging visitors to rethink the genre of art exhibitions, and become consciously aware of the ways these productions impact how they see as much as, if not more than, what they see. The hope was for art audiences to come to appreciate the special advantages and limitations of this genre as it impacts their current understanding of art as preeminently a visual experience rather than a cognitive one.
As philosopher Alvin I. Goldman has noted, when working in the area of cognitive science and the related causal theory of knowing, “Perception is always perception in a modality.”5 Extending this observation into the realm of art exhibitions, we can conclude that works of art in these situations are always framed, and this genre’s parameters become special modalities for seeing—both by projecting individual works of art against distinct backgrounds and by subsuming such pieces under their interpretive schemes. Since graduate school, Strachan has understood the array of tactics implemented by exhibitions and museums to structure and bracket information so that it appears objectively present, even though it has been subjectively represented. When he was still a graduate student in sculpture at Yale University, Strachan wrote:

The language of space as it relates to museums has to do with an inconsistent rhythm of reality . . . so the museum is only possible by being objectively subjective. The museum stands in the place of knowledge, and its artifacts are representative of that exchange. In a strange way the museum becomes God and state, using the language of science as a backdrop.

Tavares Strachan Seen/Unseen
Published by Art Asia Pacific
Text by, Robert Hobbs, Gregory Volk, Franklin Sirmans
Design by Stefan Sagmister

Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen represents the latest contribution to the now legendary tradition of closed exhibitions, including Robert Barry’s now infamous 1969 Closed Gallery Piece and Yoko Ono’s 1971 advertisement for her nonexistent Museum of Modern Art exhibition.  Unlike these empty or fictitious exhibitions, Tavares Strachan: seen/unseen features drawings, photographs, video works, sculpture, and installations as well as a series of new works in a massive 20,000-square-foot industrial space, converted just for this exhibition.







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This exhibition has been a long and intense journey and could not have been possible without all of the hard work from our exhibition team.

Jean Crutchfield
Robert Hobbs

Christopher Hoover

Project Manager:
Christophe Thompson

Tom Powel

Carl Everett

Exhibition Production:
Skye Handler
Wendy Lewis
Roman Nicholls
Leonel Rivas
Erica Sellers
Edmund Strachan Jr.
Louise Strachan
Kareem Strachan
David Thompson
Jeremy Thompson
Robert Thompson

Special Thanks:
Claire Kelly
Sumitra Mattai
Eric Paulson
Lynda Realmuto
Elyse Ressler
Mimi Sheller
Franklin Sirmans
Lori Wasson
Tracy Williams
Gregory Volk
Melissa Mizell
& all the children and teachers at Cary Academy

Major support for this is made possible by:
Dawn Davies
Sara Lahat
Peggy Scott & David Teplitzsky

Exhibition “Seen/Unseen”
Curated by Jean Crutchfield and Robert Hobbs
September 19-October 28,2011
Undisclosed New York City Location

Editors: Hanae Ko and Elaine W. Ng
Copyeditor: Eti Bonn-Mulller
Proofreaders: HG Masters, Sylvia Tsai, Sally Brand, Denise Chu

Book Design
Art Direction: Stefan Sagmeister
Design: Philipp Hubert

8 March 2014

In late 2009, I started thinking about th idea of an “invisible” show. Almost two years later, on Spetember 19 2011, “Seen/Unseen,” a 20,000-square-foot exhibition of my work from the preceding six years, opened in a an undisclosed industrial space in New York city. Only the people who actually worked on the show witnessed this undertaking.

Despite the fact that “Seen/Unseen” was closed to the public, a press release was issued via e-flux, a full-page ad was placed in Artforum and announcements about the show were mailed. The exhibition enclosed on October 28, 2011, four-and-a-half weeks after it opened.

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