- Courtesy of Audrey Mast
- Photo from Martin Hyers and William Mebane’s Empire series
The curators of the Museum of Contemporary Photography‘s “Peripheral Views: States of America” suggest that any effort to distill the complexities of 21st century American life into one exhibit would be an exercise in futility. “Ultimately,” the wall text reads, “the works underscore the impossibility of creating an encompassing picture of contemporary America.” The 12 artists included in the show, which occupies all three floors of the museum, approach this open-ended subject from a range of viewpoints.
Harry Shearer’s video installation Silent Echo Chamber features multiple television sets showing satellite footage of individual talking heads—John McCain, Karl Rove, Anderson Cooper—in the moments before they go on air. The installation is thoroughly unsettling: the figures fidget nervously, blinking and practicing their smiles for the camera as we, the voyeurs, observe these public figures in moments that no one is supposed to be watching. Swiss artists Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs embarked on a road trip to explore the wildness of the American west, creating elaborately staged, ominously lit images of barren landscapes.
The sense of unease present in these two works permeates the entire exhibit. Despite the range of media used and locations visited by the artists, the America that emerges most clearly in “Peripheral Views” is a nation haunted by devastating economic inequality, political isolation, and a lack of interpersonal interaction. Almost entirely devoid of portraits or human figures, the works focus instead on isolated landscapes and rundown neighborhoods.