February 2013

Jerry Truong + Annette Isham | Social Studies

Hamiltonian Fellows Jerry Truong and Annette Isham ask viewers to reconsider the social and political fabric of their formative years in "Social Studies", an exhibition running from February 16 through March 23, 2013. Please join us for an artist talk on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 7 pm.

Jerry Truong examines the political implications of the education system through an installation based on the visuals commonly associated with the American grade school classroom. Truong alludes to philosophy, activism, avant-garde art and radical politics by subverting materials such as stackable plastic chairs, blackboards and overhead projectors, thereby framing the classroom as a political apparatus. In doing so, Truong offers a critique of the education system as one that aims to encourage free thinkers but produces compliant members of society instead.

In her latest video and photographic work, Annette Isham portrays clumsy, vulnerable adolescent characters based loosely on her personal experience. Revisiting themes such as premature sexual activity, hallway fights and the importance of fashion branding, Isham reenacts the raw dilemmas that adolescents face during the process of self-discovery.

Jerry Truong | Artist Statement 
The recent direction of my work emerged out of a process of reflecting on my role as an educator: how I teach in the classroom and the values I want to instill in my students. I began my research by looking at artists and writers who made teaching central to their various creative practices. After pouring over writings and interviews in which these scholars expressed their individual philosophies about education, I came to realize that as educators we are all driven by the same idealistic belief: that with the right methodology, we can direct a new generation of free thinkers to grow into positive and active contributors to our civil society.

If teaching students things like critical thinking, awareness, responsibility, and agency have the potential to lead to a more equal and just world, then why is there resistance to their implementation? As I looked into arguments against what would later become labeled as “progressive education,” I began to see that mischaracterization and fear mongering were tactics carried over from the 1920’s and 1950’s into the present day. During the Red Scare, being labeled “progressive” was deliberately associated with radicalism. Today, “progressive” has become a synonym for “Socialist” and a stand-in for Communism/anti-capitalism/anti-democracy/anti-Americanism. As a dirty word, “progressive” represents the fear of foreign invaders infiltrating the very fabric of the American way of life; “progressive” is a threat to our traditional methods and values.

The body of work presented in "Social Studies" draws from that paranoia. Within the space of the gallery, elements that reference the traditional American classroom such as blackboards, plastic chairs, overhead projectors and even the iconic dunce hat have been recreated but modified. Each piece possesses two titles, pointing to its operation as a dual signifier. On one hand, the work functions as a critique by pointing out the contradictions embedded in education with its overemphasis of competition, reliance on obedience, and suspicion of dissention. Simultaneously, the work references philosophical, social and political ideas and art movements that challenge traditional modes of thinking. The goal for this project is to call for a reassessment of the position of education in American society and its role in our democracy. This exhibition strives to embody all we hope for out of school, a space that encourages learning and independence, but also the very thing that we fear it could become: a site of conflict as a political tool.

Annette Isham | Artist Statement
I revisit the raw dilemmas of our adolescent years because they showcase the beginnings of our adult identities. This latest body of work is constructed from recollections of middle school sociology taken from interviews with friends, personal experiences, hand-written notes and Eric Erickson’s "Youth in Crisis". Using this research I created clumsy, vulnerable characters that have traits of archetypal teen girls: the follower, the slut, the trendsetter and the misfit. The films use on location documentation of my middle school in Denver, Colorado and explore the time when individuals start to socially categorize, identify and undergo the process of self-discovery. It is a time when fights break out after school, pre-mature sexual activity occurs outdoors and fashion branding is fluid. 


click here to download a copy of the press release

February 16 – March 23, 2013

Opening Reception: 
Friday, February 22
7-9 pm

Hamiltonian Artists:
Jerry Truong
Annette Isham