What does Banksy have to do with any of this?
The Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) is currently showing Leigh-Ann Pahapill’s exhibition “Likewise, As Technical Experts, But Not (At All) By Way of Culture,” a work that calls into question the meaning of space and the investment that we as a society place upon it to create place. Pahapill references artifacts from the Bertolt Brecht archive to create her exhibition. Brecht's work as actor, director, producer, and poet is not widely known in the United States today, yet he has intriguing ties to popular culture. For me, his career in the theater is marked by the intersection of social and political forces that shaped the twentieth century. A prominent creative force, Brecht was born in Bavaria. He excelled in the arts from a young age, publishing his first poem as a teen. He embraced a communist ideology in the 1920s, witness the fall of the Weimar Republic, and escaped Nazi extremism in the midst of his artistic evolution. As a playwright Brecht's work offered a critical assessment of societal problems and challenged the idea of a passive audience. Brecht embraced a creative process that forced the performers and the audience to reassess the nature of art and their relationship to the "theatre." In his personal and professional life Brecht seemed to reject the status quo and embrace tumult for the sake of creation. This view forced him to question orthodoxy. Brecht life and work make for interesting connections to twentieth century high and low culture. It is at that intersection, between expectation and action, we should consider “Likewise, As Technical Experts, But Not (At All) By Way of Culture” accomplishments.
Brecht trained numerous actors, including Peter Lorre
CFAM's decision to bring Pahapill to Rollins College for a extended residency (a first for the institution) to create this exhibition provides the Central Florida community with an unique opportunity to experience a new and startling perspective. The exhibition offers us a mediation on our collective sense of place by challenging the meaning we invest in space. The museum is, in our modern parlance, a space of high culture. As such we, as its audience (patrons), often assume meaning linked to it. Yet, the museum owe some of its origin to the "Cabinet of Curiosity" practice that followed no set path, except perhaps, the one defined by wonder. Pahapill returns to this classic meaning with an exhibit that brings together object both formed and informed by her understanding of the link between space, place, and culture. The journey is unexpected, in part because all to often we bring a narrow meaning to "the museum exhibition."
The space occupied by the modern museum sits in a emotional dissociative heap created by the tension of imposed meaning. Linked to culture wars spoken and unspoken, we struggle to create a place of comfort in the space ironically reserved for artistic expression. Likewise, modern theatre, detached from its historical roots as a locus of cultural interaction, struggles over perceptions about who should be the audience and what they could see. Pahapill's exhibit offers an opportunity to circumvent these tensions and re-evaluate the investment made to create the place associated with the space occupied by art. The result is an opportunity to redefine those spaces and create new relationships to our concepts of place. The myriad meanings within Pahapill's work offer us anew, wonder about the experiences that surround our existence. This exhibit gives us the chance to redefine "place" free from the restriction of expectation. In this space we are offered an opportunity to create "place" in dialogue with artifacts from our collective mind's eye. The question becomes, where will we go?