The Truth Is I See You, the Public Art Fund’s recent collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist Hank Willis Thomas, is on view at MetroTech Promenade through June 3rd, 2016. Dispersed throughout the flush, green common areas of the park, and nestled amongst high rise commercial buildings in downtown Brooklyn, the project addresses issues of communication, individuality and globalism within the frame of Brooklyn, one of the most dynamic urban areas of the United States. Focusing particularly on languages spoken throughout the city, Thomas installed all twenty-two lines of Ryan Alexiev’s Truth Poem in a similar fashion to street signs, each showing a line from this poem in English, while the other side gives its translation in languages including Chinese, Polish, German and Hebrew, accompanied by a pronunciation guide.
Thomas, who started his career in the early 2000’s, has achieved recognition in recent years through an expansive body of work, primarily featuring mixed media sculpture and appropriated or manipulated photographic imagery, often orchestrating narratives of race, gender and identity through a concisely executed formal lens. Studying the complex web of human interaction in the modern, commercial era, Thomas examines and eventually reinterprets society’s fixed codes of race, sexuality or class in his simple interventions and objects.
Following his recent solo exhibition in which he mined a long history of sexist commercials from the 1920’s to the present at Jack Shainman Gallery, Thomas turns his focus to language and expression. Juxtaposed here is a duality that employs English as a metaphor for global identity, while exploring its complicit relationship to other modes of expression, indicating diversity and authenticity. His arrangement emphasizes the influential power of language as a political entity next to its primary role for communication, and the intertwined cultural implications in any act of translation and representation.
Accompanying these signs are two large-scale, metal speech bubbles that allow viewers to lounge and take a break from the fast pace of the city. With their ironic shapes and correlations to Thomas’ general argument for this project, his open-ended speech bubbles articulate the politics around speech as a human right and political tool for declaration of ideas, while emphasizing the format of speech beyond singular utterances. Finally, a tree shaped structure that has words such as “love,” “I,” as well as an exclamation mark and a question mark refer to the blossoming of ideas from words (and vice versa) as its industrial metal form contrasts organic parts of speech. Additionally, In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth), Thomas’ multi-year collaboration with Ryan Alexiev and Jim Ricks, will appear throughout Brooklyn four times for the duration of The Truth Is I See You. This participatory project has already visited many cities around the globe, inviting members of the public into an enormous size speech bubble, where they are asked to complete the sentence “The truth is…” in front of a camera.
Hank Willis Thomas: The Truth Is I See You is on view at MetroTech Promenade through June 3rd, 2016.
*All images are by Osman Can Yerebakan for Art Observed.
— O.C. Yerebakan