The Seduction of Galileo Galilei
20 October 2011 - 19 February 2012
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
“Rather than a single voice, it is a chorus of unique intertwining stories” writes curator Carter E. Foster in the brochure introducing the current exhibition entitled The Seduction of Galileo Galilei by artist Aleksandra Mir. A chorus of intertwining voices—because that indeed is the obvious reality of controversial events that make history, whether that be Galileo’s discovery of the law of falling bodies or for example the moon-landing of 1969 (a subject previously explored by Mir). Obvious, yet ignored, or dominated by over-simplification. The reality of history is that it is composed of a plurality of factors and conditions that typically take second priority to the dominant singular account, and thus is too often misrepresented by or glossed over in the summaries written for history books, dare one mention today’s newspapers.
On view at the Whitney is a video recording of the day Mir heads to a go-cart racetrack in a small town in Ontario to examine Galileo’s law of falling bodies by stacking automotive tires on top of one another until they tumble to the ground. One witnesses her repetition of this process over and over again, including an attempt in miniature with Tim Horton’s doughnuts from a catering table, until finally the choice is made to wire the tires together so as to cheat gravity and build the highest tower she and her team of participants can create. This video recording is, however, her appropriation of a legendary event in order to undermine the objectivity of history and the way it is documented, down to the soundtrack she chooses to accompany the piece—a fanfare of trumpets from the “Toccata” section of Baroque opera L’Orfeo commanding a salute to the Duke, or in our case a piece of music connoting our attention be brought to something important, powerful, and official. Mir reminds us, in her own comedic style, that the mythic events and history-changing contentious issues we situate ourselves in relation to socio-culturally are not so black and white, that in fact these things are full of a subjectivity comprised of errors and ideas and participants, the input of each significantly molding what takes place. Even the title playfully suggests the personal-- the highly subjective act of seduction, a method of persuasion of sorts—well understood to be different for each person, to be dependent on a variety of qualities and tastes involved.To highlight the construction of history as a consensus of perspectives rather than a singularly objective account strikes a relevant chord today as attention is drawn globally to the multiplicity of concerns that come together to form a people’s revolution, rather than one singular line of reasoning, or one unified cause for upset—which is not true to the reality of our time or any other for that matter. Indeed, by calling into question the objectivity of history, Mir by default calls into question the objectivity of the future to come—gently reminding viewers of the impact of all the tiny details and actions they might otherwise dismiss.