It turns out that quoting one of the exhibition’s own pieces is the best way to sum up “More Love,” the newest collection at the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hanging on a wall by itself, Tracey Emin’s twelve-foot long and boldly-colored patchwork quilt proclaims: “It’s a feeling – that travels through my entire body / even my soul / every moment of my hole existence.” Entering the museum doors, visitors are on the receiving end of one of Julianne Swartz’s site-specific sound installations. It welcomes viewers by professing an endless array of “I love you”—some in frenzy, some in surrender, some in tears.
The “More Love” exhibition is meant to explore love amidst today’s politically charged and technology-based world. The consolidated texts of final statements by Texan prisoners on death row; an iPad where visitors type in, “I could have but instead I ”; an ornate and old-fashioned wreath molded from the pulp of letters exchanged between soldiers and their sweethearts. The artwork is fierce and candid, unapologetically confronting viewers through all mediums, with love in the context of contemporary art. In this exhibition, the “love” extends beyond our penchants for romantic gimmicks and the “contemporary art” transcends its oft-perceived unapproachability. Although the pieces force viewers to engage in artists’ unconventional interpretations, the works are surprisingly relatable in their conviction of what love is and what love can be, but never imparting what love should be.
Greeting viewers in the lobby is Gregory Sale’s Love for Love. Posters, imprinted with green or red text, replicate the small buttons that are available for viewers to keep. Phrases like “everyday very much thank you” and “she’d buy me a cat” are excerpted bits of writing and poetry collected by Sale but written by local and underrepresented groups (think migrant workers and underprivileged youth). Already, love’s collectivity is impressed upon viewers. Next to a ceiling-high screen of silken flowers, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ untitled piece features a 175-pound pile of candy wrapped in bright aluminum foil, a tribute to his 175-pound late lover, Ross. Asking viewers to take a piece of candy, Gonzalez-Torres shares the sweetness of their affection. The pile is never replenished, however, reflecting Ross’ slow deterioration from AIDS—signifying the loss that is inherent in love.
Moving beyond glimpses into others’ love is Yoko Ono’s Time to Tell Your Love. Museumgoers have their photos taken, and their pictures will hang along with the countless other self-choreographed moments in which visitors had charmingly expressed their love. In the same vein, Rivane Neuenschwander’s First Love has some unusual materials: table, chairs, paper and a local forensic artist. As objectively as possible, the faces of first loves are detailed: jutting chin, long eyelashes, protruding ears. They are then attached to the wall, where onlookers wonder: how accurate are these drawings? Who was my first love? A fluid back-and-forth between artist and viewer is continually present in the exhibit, evoking a tangible yearning for love in its many forms and connotations.
One of the most poignant and heartrending pieces in the exhibit is Lullaby by Hadassa Goldvicht and Anat Vovnoboy. Visitors and staff at the Israel Museum were filmed as they croon or hum childhood lullabies in their native tongue. A delicate tenderness and nostalgia come across each subjects’ face and is shared—transcendent of language—with the listener. In a landscape where politics have stripped away such ties, Emily Jacir’s Where We Come From catalyzes love. Jacir asked Palestinians who are denied freedom of movement, “If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” She then embarks, with the freedom of her American passport, to fulfill their requests. Despite the open-ended question, each response emanates with love, regardless of time, distance or achievability: to pray and put flowers on a mother’s grave for her birthday; to water a tree in Dayr Rafat; to play soccer with the first boy you see in Haifa.
In a world overwhelmed by politics, capitalism and technology, “More Love” works to expose our want for affection, affirmation and attachment. It extends beyond how we might identify ourselves—by our family, by our hometown, by our lover or by our art. Rather, the pieces evoke dialogue by presenting the same love we’ve always known in an unexpected way: a silver spoon cast with the artist’s jaw and her mother’s hand, or paper covered with mascara—exactly 1,142 butterfly kisses. Willing viewers to deliberate on such representations of love, the artists provoke new understandings and appreciations of the depth and expression of human connection. Both love and contemporary art are often subject to dismissive societal and philosophical undertones. The meeting place of the two, however, strips away any inhibition or preconception, and the result serves as a defiant but approachable witness to just why we need more love.
“More Love” runs until Mar. 31 at the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill. Admission is free. More information at www.ackland.org.