Gang violence leaves seven dead. Foreclosures rise. Little help from the government. Banks request a bailout, receive one, and subsequently reward their top-executives with exorbitant bonuses. Iraq witnesses its deadliest month since the war began, a record surpassed the following month. Conservatives demand a return to traditional American values. Politicians snuggle in a bit closer with their primary donors, representing interest groups at the expense of the American people. Iraq death toll rises. Afghanistan nudges its way into the spotlight. Grim. Grim. And grimmer still.
Absolutely covering the surface of nearly 40 feet of drywall, the collage that forms of centerpiece of Will Steacy’s no job no home no peace no rest leaves little room for sunlight. Comprised of “thousands of newspapers collected over many years, his own photographs and writings, and found objects,” the giant mural consciously overwhelms the viewer with its bleak catalogue of all the problems facing America. Steacy organizes his collage around vague thematic “nodes,” with specific parcels of the piece devoted to different subjects – one section, for example, focuses on gang violence, while another centers on the bank-bailouts. After a time, the collage becomes a constellation of despair, imbuing the reader with the sense that these problems are insurmountable. Not a single of ray hope emanates from the piece – the artist seems to believe that a cutting humor is enough to provide the collage with lightheartedness. One small section, for example, juxtaposes cards featuring naked women, overlaid with hands cupped and ready to receive the Eucharist, all beneath a newspaper clipping relating congress’ renewed search for donors. Such portions make one chuckle, but it’s the kind of laugh that aches more than it lifts.
The rest of the show seems like an attempt to complement the collage with a more human dimension, as well as a more visceral “impact.” Several portraits adorn the back walls of the gallery, featuring solitary men and women set against backgrounds stereotypically emblematic of economic hardship. One man sits on a stone staircase leading to a cellar, while another leans against a streetlamp. The idea is clear: the difficulty of life in America as a result of all those rather dry, abstract realities described by the collage in the previous room. However, the portraits lack enough distinct information, so much so that, much like the centerpiece, the photographs begin to meld together, nullifying the humanizing aspects of these pictures that seem to be purpose in the first.
The last section of the show, on the other hand, works very well. The remaining photographs feature inanimate objects, often ironically juxtaposed with their environment, and make vividly clear the effects of the Great Recession. Condos, Chicago – the show’s most impactful piece – portrays a sign advertising the future site of condos behind a chain-link fence, beneath a bright moon. Eerie as an old-horror movie, this piece succinctly summarizes the theme of the show: the gradual inaccessibility of the American dream, and the possible phantasmal nature of that dream.
“Silver Eye.” Silver Eye. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.silvereye.org/exhibitions.htm>.