A House Divided...
Wodiczko’s lifelong investigation of speech in public spaces aims to give voice to the marginalized and thereby generate an impetus for systematic change. Wodiczko’s practice, which he terms “Interrogative Design,” combines art and technology with contemporary issues of urban, historical, and aesthetic culture. A House Divided… stands out as Wodiczko’s first work that focuses on a population defined not by glaring injury, but by painful disagreement. The citizens of New York’s Staten Island were recorded expressing their deeply felt political views. Through video projection, these recordings animate the faces, hands and feet of two statues of Abraham Lincoln as the interviewees’ voices fill the gallery. Looming at eight feet tall and positioned to face one another as if in conversation, these “Lincolns” engage in frank exchange, testifying to the divergent political views among members of a singular community and, in some cases, from within the same family.
The methodology behind A House Divided… was previously explored in My Wish (2017), a work commissioned and in the collection of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea. Similarly, Wodiczko brought members of Korean society together in unified social participation; participants sharing their unique experiences, hopes and dreams as their likenesses were projected on Kim Koo, the Korean independence activist. Wodiczko has previously given a public platform to marginalized voices such as mothers who have lost their children to murder (Bunker Hill Monument, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998), survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb (A-Bomb Dome Projection, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan, 1999), and exploited female laborers (El Centro Cultural, Tijuana, Mexico, 2001) amongst many others.
The exhibition’s title refers to the phrase “A house divided against itself cannot stand” from Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 speech during an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate, which quoted a passage from the Bible, Matthew (12:22-28). Lincoln borrowed a familiar phrase in order to garner support for the contentious proposition of unifying a rapidly expanding nation teetering on the brink of war. Wodiczko repurposes the statement in a contemporary setting to highlight the partisan contention. In 2019, Wodiczko conducted research of suburban social landscapes in the Tri-State area before choosing Staten Island, a New York City borough that is racially and ethnically diverse yet a simultaneously politically divided geography: north as liberal-leaning and south as conservative-leaning.
Concurrently at Madison Square Park is Monument, a site-specific public art installation that renders in high relief the diverse, difficult journeys of today’s refugees. Commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy, the work will project the likenesses and spoken narratives of resettled refugees—who have originated from different parts of the world—onto the Park’s 1881 monument to Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. A looping video projection will bring the monument to life with stories of displacement that illuminate how war, conflict, and political fallout impact individuals globally, encouraging visitors to consider how the history of conflict is memorialized.
A feature length documentary on Wodiczko’s practice, The Art of Un-War directed by Maria Niro, is anticipated to premiere in 2020.