Sharon Hayes's work, as you might imagine, is overtly political, but its greatest interest, at least to me, is in the intersection of individual expression amidst the anonymity of public space. In Parole, shown through multiple video screens of varying size, actress Becca Blackwell, mute but with an incredibly expressive and empathetic face, is the listener, the reflection of the expression, whether it be sitting at a desk in a small office, or walking through great public spaces such as London's Trafalgar Square with a boom microphone capturing Hayes declaiming a passionate letter to an absent lover.
In another, office-based video, U of C Professor Lauren Berlant analyzes the low status of sentimentality among academics. Exhibition curator Lisa Doring writes that Hayes's inclusion of Berlant's analysis "is a reminder that politics, history, and even academia are inextricable from desire and love, a nation that lies at the crux of the artist's practice . . . "
What interested me in Parole above all else, however, is the exploration of the relationship between public (and private) space and the emotional potency of the individual. In that small office, Blackwell mutely coaxes a man, back is to the camera, into reading an intensely impassioned text, but in the context of that small room, sitting only inches away from Blackwell's inquiring face, the man defuses the power of the text by speaking the words in a flat, measured tone, as if reading a recipe. This is his defense. This is how defends himself from the possibility of being swept up - manipulated? - into a visceral, emotional expression.
In Trafalgar Square, Hayes is dealing with a huge public space, one made for rallies and mass congregations, where protesters grab a microphone to amplify their voice to the true scales of their passion, but where, on a common day, the massive square serves to deaden people much as dispersed, immobilized atoms push the cold towards absolute zero. People come and go, or loiter lazily, largely oblivious to the architectural pretensions of their surroundings. Even as they pretend to ignore it, the sound of Hayes's voice cuts like a knife through the miasma of neutered feeling.
Then there are those who are with others, talking, laughing as they walk together, providing a parallel soundtrack to the stream. And there are those that actually distort the boundaries of the public space of pedestrian movement, shouting to someone in the distance, or even chasing each other playfully (let's hope) down the street.
Then there are those who choose to bear witness by making themselves a nest in the architecture, both as groups engaged in a social action . . .
Galleries 182-184 of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan.