The art exhibition in the Williamstown Town Hall is titled No Agenda; however, the pieces exhibited and their presence in the historic building exude some political charge, if not an agenda. A site-specific exhibition, No Agenda features the works of the College’s visiting studio art faculty in an exhibition curated by Alex Jen ’19.
An exhibit scattered among office equipment, the seats of politicians and – if visiting during working-hours – often real politicians, No Agenda interacts with and critiques the space it is in. On the first floor of Town Hall is Ilana Harris-Babou’s video piece Reparation Hardware. Installed in a meeting room behind the seats and plaques of elected Williamstown representatives, Reparation Hardware is a piece of dark comedy. Harris-Babou parodies a self-help DIY video for her new line of reparation homes to be granted to the descendants of slaves. Seated in a bucolic setting similar to Williamstown, Harris-Babou, as the designer of the line, presents her prompt: “When designing the new line, I asked myself, ‘How could these newly freed individuals make a space for themselves that was both free of discrimination, tasteful and refined?’”
In her saccharine and almost sarcastic dialogue, Harris-Babou pokes fun at the idea that we live in a post-racial society. She also touches on the futility of reparation efforts, past and present, such as the “40 acres and a mule” falsely promised to former slaves following the Civil War. Additionally, much of the footage of Reparation Hardware shows Harris-Babou attempting to construct the houses to no avail; her sketches of potential homes are mere scribbles, and when building she uses clay hammers that quickly fall apart or she hammers at bent and crooked nails. With its legislative setting, Reparation Hardware presents a comical critique of the bureaucratic approach to reparations. Harris-Babou’s other pieces are scattered throughout the building’s various rooms in the form of clay sculptures of deformed office supplies.
On the floor below Reparation Hardware are the works of Zak Arctander. His video piece Jump is situated in the basement of Town Hall, a room that reveals the building’s former identity as the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. Displayed on a monitor above the house’s former bar, the piece takes on a dark undertone. The video begins with a pack of boys at a quarry yelling at their friend to “jump!”
The boy responds, “It’s just that I don’t know if I want to do it – I mean, it’s not that I’m afraid …” The piece continues to cuts of the boys and college-aged girls, carrying various contraband items, socializing in the woods. In the basement of the former fraternity, the screen of Jump just barely illuminates the décor of the room, revealing “Milk sucks! Got beer?” and “I fear no beer” stickers plastered on the cabinets. In this environment the story of the boy becomes a contemporary commentary on hazing and peer pressure. Situated in the dingy basement of the old fraternity, Arctander’s piece evokes the sometimes fatal consequences of peer-induced binge drinking at colleges and universities, and “jump!” turns into “drink!” The Town Hall basement also features Arctander’s photographic works, comprising of absurdist text superimposed on indecipherable images.
Another artist on display is Allana Clarke, whose vinyl word art Untitled is plastered throughout the stairwells of Town Hall. The off-white text is often hidden behind doors or indecipherably juxtaposed against the white-washed stairwells, making the words seems like a quiet inner thought to their viewer. “Untied,” reads one piece at the top of the third floor, while “United” appears at the entrance of the basement. The most thought-provoking of her pieces was Who would you be if Others didn’t hurt? The phrase carries an overt ambiguity in the omission of an object in its conditional clause. I interpreted the conditional as reflexive, meaning, “What would you do if others wouldn’t hurt themselves from what you did,” while my friend also viewing the piece replaced my “themselves” with “you.” The vague phrasing proved contentious, prompting discussion about the piece’s meaning and our answers to its hypothetical question.
No Agenda also features a disturbing video piece by Kim Faler, who documents blood-red nails grazing porous skin. In the third floor meeting room there is Nicole Maloof’s written piece For the Office of the Town Clerk of Williamstown in marker on the whiteboard that catalogues the historical past of the town – a story brought into the present and enhanced by the six Town Hall employees who were actively going over tax allowances and revenue expenses.
No Agenda’s setting in Town Hall enhances the significance of its pieces with a bureaucratic background, while the site-specific works illustrate the dark political underbelly of the Town Hall and former fraternity house.
‘No Agenda’ features works by visiting faculty that integrate the historic Town Hall space they occupy. June Han/Photo Editor