Shhh...: Reading, Screening and Opening Reception

Arts + Literature Laboratory presents Shhh… from February 3 – March 3, 2018. The exhibition presents a collection of WWII propaganda posters as its point of departure and features the work of 24 artists who use “propaganda” or information/disinformation in some way to address and reframe issues present in our current cultural-political climate.

Propaganda posters from the WWII era were produced in prolific numbers and widely distributed throughout the US. They dramatized the circumstances the nation found itself in and persuaded the populous to support its cause lest we fall into the hands of fascist dictators. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election and subsequent inauguration of Donald Trump we find ourselves with an administration that employs deceptive communication if not outright prevarication as a means to expanding the power of a few at the expense of the many. In response Arts + Literature Laboratory began developing an exhibition examining how artists such as Alex Melamid, Allison Yasukawa, Ebon Fisher, Jody Zellen, and others are using notions of propaganda, information and disinformation in their practice. To give voice to a larger community, Arts + Literature Laboratory sought proposals from artists across the country. The exhibition will feature artists from New York to Los Angeles and places between.

The exhibition title, Shhh… is derived from a theme found in the posters that implore citizens to not discuss or share personal knowledge of troop movements, military production, etc. As the title suggests, Shhh… focuses on works that demand an attentive viewer and includes painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, as well as video, photography, performance, objects, zines, and text. Some artists filter and juxtapose public information with personal observations that range from sarcasm to outrage, while others use historical or contemporaneous narratives to exploit and inspire emotional responses. Still others engage us on a cerebral level to consider a thoughtful yet urgent call to action.

Central to the exhibition are the WWII posters; a poignant backdrop that recalls a time when many people believed that modern art could pave a pathway to democracy. Artists of that era assisted the government in its war effort. The posters testify to that but also to a lingering nostalgia that threatens to overlay the truth of what America stands for with a backwash of sentimentality concealing a devious and blatant assault on our institutions. They illustrate an eloquent national spine highly resistant to those wishing to exploit its freedoms.

Jody Zellen and Daniel Rothman’s Spin, 2016, is an interactive video/sound installation that allows viewers to arrange live media headlines into personal compositions while the sounds of media talking heads circulate subtly in the background. With a measured use of materials that reinforce and bring forward the all-to-obvious consequences of biased policy, Holly Ballard Martz's work By Executive Order, 2017 reminds us that the threshold we cross outside our doors is no different that the one we construct at our borders. Bernhard Geyer’s History of the Art of War, 2017 are humble reflections on the endless cycle of conflicts around the globe. Executed in gouache on cardboard they are like prayers falling on deaf ears, the defeat of materials standing in for the certain nearsightedness of those who see war as inevitable.

Artists Include: Michael Amato, Cromwell CT, Holly Ballard Martz, Seattle WA, Daniel Bernard Gray, Arlington TX, Derrick Burbul, Kearney NE, Caitlin Cass, Buffalo NY, Scott Endsley, Brooklyn NY, Ebon Fisher, Brooklyn NY, Bernhard Geyer, Madison WI, Neil Horsky, Boston MA, Jason Kartez, Madison WI, Chris Kursel, New York NY, Peter Kursel, Madison WI, Darryl Lauster, Arlington TX, Billi London-Gray, Arlington TX, Whitney Lynn, San Francisco CA, Alex Melamid, New York NY, Chitra Neogy, Brooklyn NY, Daniel Rothman, Venice CA, Christian Schmit, Lakeside Park KY, Ed Smith, Valatie NY, Lizz Stringfield, Brooklyn NY, Rob Thurlow, Lowell MA, Allison Yasukawa, Los Angeles CA, Jody Zellen, Santa Monica CA.

Performances and Supplemental Programming

Pero No Ganaran, conceived and directed by Allison Yasukawa, is a performance of the Spanish language version of Crowded House’s song Don’t Dream Its Over. The song will be performed karaoke-style by Madison-area DACA Dreamers at scheduled intervals during the opening of Shhh… on February 3, 2018. The piece addresses the issue of (white) American Exceptionalism, a priority of the Trump administration. Under the promise to restore law and order the administration has trafficked in a not so subtle subtext in which “protecting” America is synonymous with an aggressive policy of xenophobic acts directed against people of color. The songs chorus serves as the source text for the performance because of its reference to a dream and a “wall between us”, its melody evoking an undercurrent of contemplative recalcitrance.

An object titled An Apparatus to Allow Us To Speak Freely In Trumps America created by Jason Kartez is designed for two people to wear. Its structure, a hybrid similar to gas mask headgear connects two people and isolates their speech from adjacent onlistners. It expresses a widely sensed loss of privacy in our culture exacerbated by the Trump Administration’s willingness to develop and promote disingenuous destructive narratives. The piece will be performed at the opening February 3, 2018 and returned to its pedestal for the balance of the exhibition.

Prior to the opening reception of Shhh…, Arts + Literature Laboratory presents a reading by Chitra Neogy at 6pm from her work of fiction, Blood Words: A Warriors Walk, IPMG, 2016. The book is a prequel to her film of the same name. Immediately following her reading, ALL will premier a “vignette” trailer for the film Blood Words as an exclusive to ALL attendees. Neogy uses poetic and cinematic language in her tale of a woman’s journey experiencing pain, anger, love, and compassion as she struggles against the Philistines and bourgeois forces in society. It’s a story that reflects a notion of space and time as perceived through the eyes of a young Indian woman whose voice becomes the voice of the woman in all of us. She is a filmmaker, director, poet and performer. She has produced several award winning documentaries relating to self-expression, cultural issues and art forms. Neogy serves as a Professor of Film at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.


Shhh… is organized and curated by Peter Kursel in conjunction with Arts + Literature Laboratory. The World War II Poster collection is generously on loan for the exhibition by Jim and Cindy Van Akkeren. Thank you to Bram Van Akkeren for the introduction to the family poster collection.

This exhibition is sponsored in part by R.E. Golden Produce.

Peter Kursel: "Swag," acrylic and pillows on canvas, 2017

Peter Kursel is a visual artist and former painting faculty at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign and the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He is the founder and former CEO of Dead Straight Stretchers, a company that manufactures supports and surfaces for artists. He is a co-founder of Open Canvas in Milwaukee, WI, an annual fundraiser benefitting the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Kursel's work was the subject of various publications, including Visual Arts Research - University of Illinois Press, and was featured at the James Watrous Gallery, Overture Center for the Arts, Madison, Gallery 1308 at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, the Freeport Art Museum, the Krannert Art Museum, ARC Chicago, BWAC Gallery Brooklyn, and the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in New York. He lives and works in Madison, WI.

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Arts + Literature Laboratory is located in Madison’s Schenk-Atwood neighborhood at 2021 Winnebago Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53704.

Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm during exhibitions or by appointment. Please check the exhibitions calendar before planning your visit, as the gallery is closed between exhibitions and other schedule changes are posted here.


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