A mannequin’s legs are placed on the hard, cold floor. The left is positioned at a rigid horizontal angle, and the calf floats inches from the floor. Meanwhile, the right stands vertical, the heel of the foot reaches for the ceiling, somehow filling the negative space between the physical form and architectural limits. Lipstick red acrylic paint is messily applied in a straight line, passing over an obstructive hole that appears to have been ripped, and cutting near a disturbingly blunt and truncated hip.
Jerry Truong’s 2010 Untitled (Bien Girl) is exemplary of the DC-based artist’s artwork, which seeks to “peel back the formal façade” with the goal of raising “new questions about history, memory, and identity” and gaining “a deeper understanding of our roles within a civil society,” according to the artist’s statement.
A Hamiltonian fellow since 2012, Truong’s work, as part of the gallery’s current exhibition, Social Studies, develops nuanced uses for everyday classroom objects such as transparency projectors and cheap plastic school chairs.
Juxtaposed photography and video works by Annette Isham, Truong in Social Studies succeeds in confronting the viewer with many political questions facing the contemporary educational system.
A blackboard reads in traditional cursive, “I will not create dissent,” causing the person looking at the work to reflect upon times in his own schooling when she was punished for ‘creating dissent,’ whether the act was truly disruptive, or simply one of genuine misunderstanding or worse, creative curiosity. Across, a more hopeful mantra is written, “I WILL ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING AWARENESS EMPATHY.” One must consider whether the dichotomy between the seemingly conflicting statements, one inevitably by the student, the other by the instructor, are inherent opposites, or whether the possibility for conflation or negotiation exist. The question presents itself once again in Truong’s choice of capitals. Is the teacher receiving instruction, is he convincing himself of the task, or is the goal truly sincere?
Truong raised similar questions in his recent work To the Cryptic and Cynics, a Modest Proposal For a New Kind of Revolution, in which selective word choice following the proverb, “I WILL ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING AWARENESS EMPATHY,” allowed Truong to pay homage to the great artists and writers of the 20th century who used teaching as a principle tool in their own creative practices.
In admiration of architect Buckminster Fuller, who rejected the conventional education system mid-century and consequentially came to teach at Black Mountain College, where he was able to emphasized individual intuition, Truong writes in white vinyl letters on white polyester film, “TAKE THE INITIATIVE/GO TO WORK/ABOVE ALL/CO-OPERATE.”
As a teacher at Montgomery College, Truong believes that he and other instructors have the power to “direct a new generation of free thinkers to grow into positive and active contributors to our civil society.”
And now, the DC arts scene is looking to Truong, trusting him to direct our educations, to challenge us with his installations, and to engage us with his word-based art.
Social Studies is on display until March 23, 2013 at Hamiltonian Gallery, located at 1353 U Street NW, open Tuesday through Saturday, 12:00- 6:00 PM.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,