A Day at the ICA

BrownIn June, the Scholars Program brought students to the Institute of Contemporary Art as one of many summer events. Below is a reflection on the event by University Scholar Kristen Brown '13.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxM_ZKYdvqQ (link to "The Hunt")

My favorite moment from our visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art happened towards the beginning of the guided tour. After viewing a wall-sized sketch near the main entrance, our group walked to the elevators to go upstairs. There, in the lobby, was a small TV monitor playing a minute-long, 1990s home movie-esque video of a young man (artist Christian Jankowski) doing some food shopping in a Berlin grocery store. Or, rather, doing some hunting: he shoots all of his groceries using a bow and arrow, from bread to dairy products to toilet paper. The cashier plays along and scans his captured prey, each impaled by an arrow, before the film ends with him pushing his cart out of the store.

Even with little experience analyzing art – especially contemporary art – I didn’t need much explanation to appreciate The Hunt. First of all, it’s funny! Supermarkets (and their predecessors) erased the need for the average person in our society to hunt their own food, and the image of this guy in khakis choosing which items to shoot (some of which aren’t even edible) among the well-stocked shelves is, obviously, completely ridiculous. That he then goes through the motions of putting it all on the conveyor belt and paying is icing on the cake. I’d expect just about anyone to watch this and laugh, but also be inspired to consider why it’s funny, perhaps stopping to think about the artist’s commentary on modernity or consumerism.

When I try to figure out why this piece stood out to me among the dozen or so we saw, I think what it boils down to is the emotional reaction I had while viewing it, combined with its clear connection to the real world. Other exhibitions were certainly interesting to look at (like the gigantic cube made of shedding needles) and often more absurd (like the stereotypical “modern art” conglomerates of junk) but none were as satisfying to me as a spectator. Maybe I’m missing the point by needing a reason to care; maybe that unfulfilled feeling is central to the experience and reflects the open-endedness espoused by many genres.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been drawn to art that intertwines itself with real life: I was blown away by the East Side Gallery (also in Berlin!) with its powerful murals that merge art, history, and cultural memory using remnants of the very inspiration of the sentiment – the Berlin Wall – as a canvas. The gallery, a freedom memorial, sits at the former East-West border it once delineated. It isn’t tucked away in an expensive museum; any pedestrian can experience it. I suppose I’m a fan of art that exists alongside us in our daily lives, that catches our eye and manages to impact us even if we haven’t studied the masters -- though if I ever run into a guy with a bow and arrow at Trader Joe’s, I can’t say I’ll linger for too long.


To join us for other upcoming programs, check out the summer events list here: https://www.northeastern.edu/universityscholars/2016/06/02/summer-events-for-scholars/