Arts Review – Polygraphs: Truths, Evidence and the Authentic Voice

GOMA, 17th February – 17th September 2017

This collaborative exhibition aims to explore ‘truth, fiction and evidence in a complicated world’, and features works by a diverse array of artists- from local Alasdair Grey to American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. Kruger’s photographic print, entitled You Have Searched and Destroyed, is the first work to meet my eye. The title screams from the frame in Kruger’s iconic tabloid font, laid over an image of long blonde hair being dragged through a bed of nails. For me, this perverse hairbrush draws uncomfortable parallels between torture and traditional feminine beauty practices.

As a whole, Polygraphs refuses to back away from uncomfortable subject matters. A number of works engage with the exhibition’s theme of ‘evidence’ by confronting physical vestiges of slavery. Beth Forde’s The shadow of the object fell upon the edge depicts the artist wearing a mask used as a punishment device to prevent slaves from speaking. On the opposite wall hangs Forde’s recreation of the mask in glass and silver. The juxtaposition between the object’s dark origins and its transparent and bright materials is striking, and hints to the sanitisation which reports of slavery have historically undergone.  

The brutal shadows cast by advanced civilization abound in this exhibition- such as those cast by the slave trade which Beth Forde explores. Both literal and metaphorical shadows have a strong presence in Polygraphs: its physical centre is occupied by a darkened room screening Abstract– a double-channel video by German filmmaker Hito Steyerl. The projection of two different video feeds onto two separate screens allows apparently juxtaposed scenes to become connected. This unusual setup epitomises the sheer variety of media in Polygraphs. At first, this makes the exhibition appear confused, but as the running themes of evidence and shadows appears, the apparently fragmentary collection begins to cohere. Polygraphs raises important questions about what ‘evidence’ is, and how it can be manipulated. With the current flood of fake news and warped statistics into social media feeds and political campaigns alike, how we decide what we believe is as fraught as ever. Polygraphs engages with this ‘complicated world’ of conflicting voices with a similarly polyphonic exhibition.

[Bethany Garner]

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