A study of silence and separation

“Curious Silence” at the Brand Library Art Gallery is an exploration of types and causes of silence. The premise of the exhibition is an essay, printed in the exhibition brochure, written by A.S. Hamrah, a contributing artist who delineates feminist author Susan Sontag’s thoughts in her essay titled “The Aesthetics of Silence (1967).”

Sontag’s essays, novels and screenplays about world politics and popular culture had a great impact on experimental art in the 1960s and ’70s. In the Brand exhibition, nine artists exhibit various forms of expression — photography, film, sculpture and installation projects — which address silence as a consequence of separation.

Hamrah synthesizes the rather broad concept of silence into two types — silence of the artist and silence about the artist. Hamrah uses Sontag’s essay as a platform for demonstrating this thesis, and leads into the many potential forms that silence can take. Sontag is silenced by the selective exposure of her life by the media. She silences herself because of her intense shyness and fiercely guarded privacy, which prevent her from offering her own secrets.

Hamrah paraphrases from Sontag’s book on photography that Marxists were troubled by the way that photography beautifies; beauty can be manifested in a photo of poverty, yet the pain and want of the subjects are subordinated to the beauty. The subjects are silenced as it were.

The concept of silence and separation is well demonstrated in a photograph by Jennifer Bastian titled “Ysidro and the Baby Bird (2010).” Gloved fingers in the foreground of the composition hold the feet of a tiny baby bird. The diffused background accentuates the distressed-looking baby. The image is beautiful aesthetically, yet the baby’s struggle in a foreign and sterile environment without its mother is left to the imagination of the viewer. Separation and silence.

Jennifer Bastian also contributes to the exhibition with an installation project based upon the results of a brief qualitative survey on silence. Bastian collected responses to a set of three questions offered on the Internet and via snail mail post card — Has separation affected your life, if so, in what way? Is there any way to avoid physical/mental/emotional separation? What have you learned from separation, whether chosen by you or imposed upon you?

The results have been organized into a system that allows viewers of the project to experience emotions related to separation and silence as they read responses to the survey. A small room has been sectioned off in the main gallery then divided again into two smaller rooms. They are appointed to feel like home environments with warm fabrics, cushions and bits of books and furniture to inspire and embellish the readings. Responses include references to the positive and negative effects of divorce, meditation, love, spirituality and more. It is thought-provoking.

The exhibition offers a variety of aesthetic versions of silence and separation. I don’t particularly enjoy this type of progressive art meets philosophy/psychology/sociology, but no one should be silenced with regard to their art form. Considerable effort was made to promote thought regarding this topic. It succeeds in doing just that. It is absolutely a good fit for the Brand Library Art Galleries.

Terri Martin is an artist, art historian and art critic.


What: “Curious Silence” a group show

Where: Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale

When: Show ends Feb. 25

Hours: noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Contact: (818) 548-2951 or www.BrandLibrary.org

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