Self + Other

By Rachel Revelle

An ongoing dialogue of self and other

Wednesday evening was one of the annual highlights of the spring for the Kenan Institute. In another transformation of the West Duke halls, we now have Team Kenan’s What Is Good Art? Exhibition displayed, and the opening reception welcomed it with good spirit.

The theme this year was “Self + Other” as a way to explore the ethics of identity. The artists were thinking about this concept in some form—and I’m sure in quite different forms among them—as they composed their work. I found the theme to also be fruitful as the exhibit was transmitted to an audience. Wednesday as the crowd viewed and discussed, we all approached the pieces as individual identities with our own conceptions of meaning. We engaged with the “other” of both the artist and the viewers around us. In a continuum of self and other, there were occasions when I felt like I was resonating synchronously with the artist.  Other times I felt like I travelled from self to other and back to the self as I initially viewed, then read an artist’s statement, and then stepped back for another glance. This theme helps me think about the process of engaging with any sort of art.

A new idea that has been employed with this year’s exhibition allows for deliberate engagement in a way that actually expands the exhibit. Viewers are encouraged to respond to the pieces with short messages on post-it notes, and literally leave a trail of dialogue on the wall. The exhibition booklet says that the “+” in the theme is “a way of encouraging viewers and artists to think about how ‘self’ and ‘other’ might fit together.” This element of the exhibit seems to create an additive relationship.

So, next time you are in West Duke, you have the chance to add a piece of your “self” to the exhibit. I hope you’ll do so as you think about, as Team Kenan invites, the boundaries of identity, art, and ethics.