Neil Goldberg's Anthology Now at SECCA
All the world’s a stage, but none bigger than New York City.
I’m standing at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art with New York artist Neil Goldberg, SECCA curator Cora Fisher, and David Ford, host of 88.5 WFDD’s Triad Arts.
The first thing to notice is that it’s loud, startlingly so. Two videos are projected onto the museum’s blank walls and audio blasts through nearby speakers. From the top of the stairs the images on the wall can be made out; the faces of random New Yorkers are put on display as they exit one of the city’s many subway tunnels. The people are lost, disoriented after emerging from underground, and confusion drapes over their faces as they try to reorient themselves.
They are unaware of the camera filming them, but Goldberg explains, “that’s the paradox of it, [these people] are perfectly acting this moment but they’re living it.” They are the actors on the stage, playing their roles to a T, showing their true emotions but also the “scripted” emotions, the ones the audience expects.
The city of Winston Salem, North Carolina has little in common with the Big Apple, but it’s not difficult to empathize with these New Yorkers; the exhibit barrages viewers with the sights and sounds of the bustling metropolis and places visitors right in the mix of the chaos.
Neil’s demeanor is calm and collected. He paces the floor quietly and patiently, moving from question to question in a deliberate manner. He is a man comfortable with his work as an artist, but when he speaks he unmasks the passion which he still holds for his ideas. After rounding the corner of his subway pieces, we’re treated to a completely different scene. Gone are the cars and the pavement of New York, instead the wall is taken up by a massive projection of a tree with thick twisted branches and full green leaves. Sunlight shines from beyond the foliage. Dispersed in the tree sit five men, all isolated on their individual branches. The men are shirtless but wear fashionable jeans as they sit and read from long lists.
The work, titled Ten-and-a-Half Years of To-Do’s (2014), stuns in presentation. In front of the screen hang five separate speakers suspended above the heads of visitors; each speaker isolates one of the five men in the video and projects only his voice. By isolating the auditory and visual elements of the piece, Goldberg explores the medium of film and its relation to sound. The men sit and list events from Goldberg’s life, tasks which were at some point important and pressing matters. Now far removed with a thick buffer of time, the past seems irrelevant as the sitting men carelessly discard the sheets of paper one by one.
This idea of time as a buffer, as a catalyst for positive reflection on the past runs throughout the rest of our tour. The last area of Goldberg’s Anthology collection attempts to contextualize Neil’s relationships with his parents. His father’s hearing aid sits under a display case in the middle of the room; Neil has covered the instrument with a healthy coat of gold paint. The artifact seems more aesthetic than practical, but the thought lingers that it belongs to a dead man. Just as the man transformed with death, so did the instrument. Practicality has been substituted for beauty. The corner is taken up by another projection and speaker combination. This one, however, lacks the inventiveness of Ten-and-a-Half. Instead, Golberg chooses to focus on the subject matter over the medium and presentation. Neil’s parents sit, framed by the camera, and read aloud from sheets of paper. They are clearly uncomfortable, for their son is handing them descriptions of every dream in which they have appeared in within Neil’s life.
Neil connects with his audience via his parents. He establishes this very candid, human experience, one to which everyone can relate. Opposite the wall of dreams Neil’s camera sits fixated on his father’s wrinkled face. He holds a small mirror up to his nostrils, allowing his breath to mist the reflective surface. Yet the fog doesn’t last long, evaporating before each successive breath. The simple act of breathing is contextualized and the amorphous entity of an old man’s breath is given form. The effort exerted by the man seems almost gargantuan as time elapses; viewers notice his struggle, focusing on the weighty heaves of the old man’s chest.
Ultimately, Fisher’s collaboration with Neil Goldberg in Anthology contextualizes the artist’s work, giving Goldberg traction and authority outside of his native state of New York. Viewers would be hard pressed to skim over Neil’s work, for the presentation of his medium envelops viewers and turns them into participants.