We all have objects that mean more than their face value. After a rough breakup, we go through a cleansing process to rid ourselves of every possible item that may remind us of a less than perfect love interest. After a loved one passes, we tend to keep objects that remind us of them. These objects are the primary subject of Hannah Burr’s “Placeholders” currently in display in the Ganser Library.
As Burr writes in her brief statement welcoming every visitor, “This exhibition is a collection of projects that, for lack of a better term, fall under the category of Placeholder: Metaphors in physical stuff of intangible things like relationships, thoughts, interaction, ideas, and fleeting events.” And even before you are able to come to any sort of understanding about the significance of the exhibit, you already become a part of its thesis. Whoever is in charge of the exhibit is required to place a block on the welcoming table whenever a person talks to or makes eye contact with whoever is in charge of the exhibit, or simply enters the room.
The artwork immediately pulls you into the experience. The exhibit is divided into two equal parts, the first filled with abstract artwork and the second filled with art that follows the Placeholder motif. The abstract art that you are welcomed with feels almost secondary to the power that the second half of the exhibit has to captivate and inspire. There are a number of paintings and collages (one that the artist alters every time she sets up the exhibit in a new location), which provides an interesting juxtaposition, but otherwise unsuccessful in isolation.
The main attraction is the second half, which includes an array of interactive art, movies, and recollections of past experiments. The interactive element of the exhibit is Burr’s ”Collective Offering,” in which you blindly feel out an object in a sack that represents an idea, thought, or feeling that you might have. You then release it, along with the associated feeling, by placing it among the other objects that have been released by previous participants. The piece serves to provide a portrait of our collective conscious, the trials and tribulations; our fears, thoughts and anxieties that we share as human beings made manifest in a piece of art. It is beautifully simplistic in its design and deserves a center place in the exhibit.
There are two movies that are located at opposite sides of the room. The first that you are greeted with in the exhibit involves the artist walking across stacks of self-help and spirituality books, stacked in a number of variations. As the artist walks across them, she trips, collapsing the books with her fall. What happens toward the end is fairly obvious, though it comes as an elegant surprise; the books, that might have been previously stacked like a pyramid or a ramp, are now leveled. This serves to illustrate the simply notion that the path we try to take with help from various self-help or spirituality books always brings us back to where we started. In keeping with the theme, Burr only videotapes her legs moving across the books to symbolize the collective path we all take toward enlightenment and self-improvement. As any grizzled veteran will tell you, life experience always trumps anything a book can teach you.
The second movie is, simply put, bizarre. It is something out of the Andy Warhol museum of weird. It also might have been influenced by Lady Gaga. Burr, in a twenty minute video, attaches a number of household objects to her head and takes them off one by one while stating their name in the process. Besides being a handy video for ESL students, the video serves to show us how much we are weighed down by the day-to-day things that we live with. We are what we eat and we are what we buy.
Word of warning to those interested in seeing the exhibit, do not waste your time waiting for some sort of artistic punch line. If you have seen two minutes of a woman removing scissors and tazo tea bags from her head, then you have basically seen all, approximately 20 minutes, of it.
Besides putting up an art exhibit, Burr has also taken the time to educate the art students of Millersville. Students who have interacted with her come away with largely positive impressions. While we all have hectic work schedules and tend not to think twice about the art gallery as we make a beeline for the elevators or computers in the library, try to take a few minutes out of your day to see this exhibit. You will hopefully come off with a new perspective on the objects you own, or at least will get a good laugh at a crazy woman.