This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Hard to See, Harder to Imagine

Documentary / press image of Jane Philbrick's "PULL," 2008. Via Location 1.
Documentary / press image of Jane Philbrick's "PULL," 2008. Via Location 1.

Financial journalism, and economics since around the mid 17th century, has increasingly been about abstractions: intricate movements of people, money and material described and occasionally visualized, but remaining essentially invisible. They endure, like climate change and remote international conflicts, as that which might inspire excitement, worry, fear, or action - and yet necessarily demand a kind of belief in order to do so. Belief in the economy, as belief in anything else, becomes a certain emotional temperature that elevates a thing from an idea to a fact. It cannot be anything but this. So it may be with a sense of puzzled anxiety, an anxiety without an image or a face, that one reads in today's Times of the $85 billion Federal loan to save A.I.G., the capsizing international insurance giant. Equal puzzlement or slightly chastened awe, perhaps, might be inspired on the same day upon reading, on top of's news page, of Damien Hirst's potentially precedent-setting 2-day primary market auction sale, collecting for the artist $200.8 million in the sale of all but three of the 167 works to see the auction block. These numbers in their excess, of profits or deficits, seem to become less real with each shift in the order of magnitude, or move of the decimal point.

Tonight at at Location 1, a different kind of visualized excess occurs. Artist Jane Philbrock talks to Mass MoCA's Denise Markonish about PULL, an installation on view at the not-for-profit through 8 November. The installation is "comprised of 502 fire alarms, strobes, smoke detectors, siren horns, control panels - and one customized vintage fire pull station... Developed in collaboration with 18 engineers from Honeywell’s Fire Systems Group, PULL urges viewers to realize their hidden desire to sound the alarm, here in the form of an historic fire call box situated in the center of the gallery space. Once triggered, the work blossoms into a flourish of lights, words and deafening sirens — a wake up call." A wake up call maybe, although from what dream to what reality remains much less clear than the material extravagance of the piece.