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"Trouble" at the Hood

Artist Fred Wilson has seen trouble. He was in New York City for 9/11, he was in Egypt during a bombing and in Nigeria during a coup. Just as Wilson began work on his exhibition "SO MUCH TROUBLE IN THE WORLD-Believe It or Not" for the Hood Museum of Art, the London subways were bombed; as he was finishing his installation, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The installation, on display from Oct. 4 to Dec. 11, is grounded in the emotions that the world's troubles inspired in Wilson.

Fred Wilson
Artist Fred Wilson's installation "SO MUCH TROUBLE IN THE WORLD-Believe It or Not" is on view at the Hood through Dec. 11. (Photo by Barbara Thompson)

Wilson's installations are the product of careful culling of a single museum's existing collection. Wilson then rearranges the object in ways that challenge traditional perspectives and interpretations. His work is often concerned with issues of race, class and gender and what material culture can reveal about institutions and their histories.  At the Hood, Wilson was given access to the museum's entire collection, including many historical artifacts that have long been in storage. The result is something that is part history and part art. Visitors will be struck immediately by the collection of 50 Daniel Websters (class of 1801), which provide arresting evidence of Dartmouth's loyalty to its traditions. "There are so many images of Webster-it's quite amazing. There is a reverence for him at Dartmouth, especially through the early part of the 20th century," said Wilson.

Wilson, who has designed exhibits from the collections of more than 20 institutions, said he approaches his installations from an emotional perspective, but that he is guided by history and current events as well. Although history plays an important role in the Hood installation, he added, "The exhibit isn't about current events, but they're in the background when viewing things of a historical nature.  I don't put everything out of my head that's going on [in the world], and that's true for everybody; it's going to come through anyway."

The idea of multiple, co-existing narratives is an important one to Wilson, who said he wants audiences to experience his work as a kind of dialogue. "Some of [the exhibit] you get, some of it you don't. You just have to be open to it to be affected by it, but I'm not looking for a specific narrative. I do expect people to have their own experience, but there is no script behind it. There are a bunch of various narratives coming together, which is how we exist in the world."

Photos of Wilson's Hood installation will be collected in a book, the first such book to be created from one of his college museum installations. The book's text will be written with the help of Assistant Professor of Art History Mary Coffey and writer, poet and artist Jessica Hagedorn.

Looking to the future, Wilson said he would like to apply his installation technique to other, more unorthodox settings than the traditional art or history museum. "I would like to work on a zoo, or a historical outdoor site, or ruins," he paused and added with a smile, "I would really like to work on a planetarium."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08