In an ambitious exhibition featuring two new installation-based commissions, artist Taryn Simon activates the rituals of applause and the cold water plunge, examining individuals’ campaigns for public admiration, the status of physical community spaces in the digital age, and our persistent desire for a quick fix.
Children learn to seek applause from an early age — an ambition for approval that continues to shape public performances. Clapping transmits contagiously: individuals clap to signal consensus, out of love, to join the crowd.
Cold water plunges — on holy days, as viral stunts, or as solitary strategies for personal reset — have a long history of notable participants. Apache leader Geronimo employed cold-water immersion to prepare boys for manhood and battle. Russian President Vladimir Putin observed the tradition of reenacting Christ’s baptism by plunging into cold water on Epiphany, instead of watching President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Rooted in the artist’s longtime interest in the systems that support power structures, and building on her recent work with sound, thresholds, and sculpture, Simon’s uncompromising, timely exhibition examines how public performance collides with private intentions and experiences. Filling the museum’s expansive first-floor galleries, Simon’s exhibition features large-scale immersive works — Assembled Audience and A Cold Hole — as well as the first-ever major museum installation of the artist’s bookwork.
In the dark interior of Assembled Audience, visitors are consumed by a densely layered soundscape of percussive strikes — thousands of individually recorded claps, which Simon has composed to generate a new virtual crowd. In A Cold Hole, the gallery floor is replaced by an expanse of solid ice with a single square hole cut from its center. Both visitors and performers are intermittently invited to jump into the icy water below. Visitors can view A Cold Hole through a cinemascopic aperture from a darkened adjacent gallery.
Clapping and cold-water immersion have historically functioned as modes for public demonstration, proof of worship or praise, and as a means by which individuals seek reassurance and empowerment. In this exhibition, Simon isolates and inverts elements of each practice to reveal the intersection of physical action, communal spectacle, and the desire for personal fulfillment.
In addition to the two new installation works, the exhibition includes the first major museum installation of Simon’s bookwork. Since the inception of her earliest projects, bookmaking has played an integral role in her work. The technical, physical, and aesthetic realization of Simon’s bookwork — including graphic design, font choice, image organization, and the language itself — reflects the control and authority that are the very subject of her work. The installation will include all of Simon’s bookwork to date, from The Innocents (2003) through An Occupation of Loss (2018).
(Photo: Taryn Simon, Assembled Audience, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and MASS MOCA.)