Chloë Bass: Wayfinding
Wayfinding by Chloe Bass, her first solo exhibition, is a sculptural installation made up of 24 signs of varying sizes that mimic the kinds of public directory signage we are used to seeing every day. Public signage is typically meant to orient you in your surroundings and provide you with directions to your location. Bass’ signs, ranging from a few inches tall to double your eye level, lead pedestrians down a different path of questioning — an invitation to reflect personally while in a public space. You can also choose to dial in to an audio guide that reads you park reviews, wayfinding vocabulary, and “sharply composed vignettes that grapple with notions of place, memory, belonging, joy, and risk” as you walk (Studio Museum).
The installation is anchored by the three largest signs in the middle of the park’s great lawn, massively tall and wide with shiny, reflective surfaces that bend and warp the appearance of the trees, sky, and residential buildings in the distance. At most angles, this renders the text nearly illegible. The three billboards ask: How much of care is patience? How much of life is coping? How much of love is attention? These questions, as grand in nature as they are in stature, are abstract and vast. You couldn’t possibly answer them in the time it takes to walk around the park. These are the kinds of questions you spend your whole life considering, often in public spaces and during private strolls much like this one. Groups of people celebrating birthdays, sunbathing, hosting barbecues, and playing sports gather beneath the large mirrors and engage with the questions themselves without even knowing.
As you continue to walk through St. Nicholas Park, eyes craning to catch every dark, matte sign that blends in against the brush, you begin to notice that the musings repeat themselves slightly. “There are times when I have agreed with you only in order to fall asleep” reappears as “There are times when I have agreed with you only in order to stay alive,” then again as “There are times when I have agreed with you only in order to cast relief.” These subtle shifts in thinking represent how our internal stressors like intimacy, identity, desire, anxiety, loss, and politics change over time as we interact with the world around us. This may prompt you to revisit signs you’ve already passed, or imagine how else the questions could be posited by changing just a single word.
Your path around the park is guided by several eye-level signs that reflect on argumentation, attention, and personhood from a single person’s perspective. This voice — Chloe’s? Yours? Your walking partner’s? — ponders the small, social sacrifices they make every day for self preservation. But are these sacrifices so small as they begin to add up and mutate? The signs contemplate: “I want to believe that approaches can be different without being threatening,” then, on the other side of the park, they revisit the thought: “I want to believe that desires can be different without being threatening.” Finally: “I want to believe that interpretations can be different without being threatening.” You start to think about the situations in your life which have invited you to ask yourself the same questions. You think about how other people in your life might answer them. You are hit with a feeling of uncertainty. Which of these statements is the most true for me? Have I answered all of these questions for myself? Can I have closure without addressing them? These signs are the most introspective and private of the installation, so it is fitting that they are at eye-level. You confront yourself in silence, your wants and your needs and your disappointments, while surrounded by park-goers who may or may not be wondering the same things.
If you’re looking closely enough, you may be able to find the rest of the minuscule signs at your feet which respond to these questions with grim conclusions, dark observations. You kneel down in order to read the small, white font: “There is a kind of impatience that in a certain light can be misplaced for eagerness,” then you rise back to your feet with a grimace on your face. “Some days you call out to the world and all that echoes back is your own emptiness,” one says. You could just not look down and ignore the tiny reminders of life’s most depressing unknowns, but you can’t help yourself. Spotting them is exciting. You want to consider every single question Bass posits. There are 24 signs in total, and I have to admit that I couldn’t even find them all. Realizations like this invite you to visit Wayfinding again and look more closely.
Wayfinding is just as much about “gentrification and the quiet force it enacts” as it is about the self (Studio Museum). These questions apply to both our interpersonal relationships and our relationships to public space, society, and culture. On your right is the grandiose, castle-like architecture of City College swarming with young intellectuals. On your left is the historic district of Strivers’ Row, once a home to many iconic Black leaders and culture makers like Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Eubie Black. St. Nicholas Park, nestled snugly in the middle, is the perfect location to cast observations on how wayfinding symbols like architecture, public space, and entertainment attractions interact with the populations who live there and the people who are just visiting. A New York Times review of Wayfinding writes, “The artist found herself interested in the ways urban dwellers orient themselves, especially when she learned that gentrifying urban environments can leave aging residents disoriented.” Perhaps you, too, will leave Wayfinding feeling disoriented. That’s okay, that’s what signage is for.
Wayfinding is on view until September 27th, 2020.
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