Trained as a filmmaker and subsequently as an architect, Jaar often uses constructed spaces and light to navigate what is seen and what is not. At YSP, seminal installations transform the Underground Gallery and its open-air concourse.
The exhibition includes a major new commission, The Garden of Good and Evil (2017), presented in the open air and visible through the glass façade of the gallery. On entering what appears to be a beautiful grove of trees, visitors experience elegantly fabricated steel cells, which reference ‘black sites’, the secret detention facilities operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) around the world. Carefully chosen to enhance YSP’s landscape, many of the trees will be planted into the Park as a nurturing legacy of the project once the exhibition closes. A work that Jaar has wanted to realise for some years and that YSP is uniquely placed to create, The Garden of Good and Evil is a significant temporary commission for YSP and for the UK.
Powerful mixed media installations transform the Underground Gallery, taking visitors on a personal and sensory journey. The first space features The Sound of Silence (2005), a work that exposes the history of a devastating image of a young victim of the 1993 Sudanese famine, taken by photographer Kevin Carter. The image drew global attention and approbation, and led to aid being directed to the famine, but also to Carter’s suicide. With characteristic subtlety, Jaar frames both the images and stories with delicacy and empathy. At a time when we are swamped by news and pictures, Jaar’s work examines image fatigue, image ownership and copyright; he highlights the control of 100 million historic photographs by the largest photo agency of the world, and challenges the candour of information sources.
In the second space, contemplating the problem of compassion fatigue, A Hundred Times Nguyen (1994) comprises 100 images of a little girl the artist met while visiting ‘refugee detention centres’ in Hong Kong in 1991. One of the many forgotten Vietnamese boat people held in shocking conditions, Nguyen Thi Thuy grew attached to Jaar who photographed her five times at five-second intervals. Standing for so many similarly displaced migrants around the world, the child’s bright face demands that we remember her plight and draws our compassion, whilst offering hope.
Shadows (2014) presents six images taken by photographer Koen Wessing over a single day, early in the 1978 Nicaraguan Civil War, following a farmer’s murder. Presented in a journey across the gallery, images of a family’s trauma are interrupted by the projection of the seventh photograph – an image of two grieving daughters transforming into a white-hot silhouette. The work, etched into a visitor’s retina, follows them into the next room where the remainder of the images and the conclusion of the work, steeped in darkness, offer a reprieve from the blinding light.