Dan Ariely had a craving.
The founder of Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight wanted to incorporate meaningful interaction with artistic people into the work he was doing.
So Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics, hired artist Catherine Howard to begin curating shows at the center that would exhibit works by artists responding to his research.
“We started out last fall putting out a call for artists to join us either online with live streaming or in person for a presentation by Dan of his current research,” Howard said. “Then Dan took questions and heard comments.”
The first show explored the research Ariely was doing for his newly released book, “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.”
The second show, which opened Friday at the Durham Center for Advanced Hindsightis called “PoorQuality: Inequality.”
Howard said the works in the show reflect various perspectives on Ariely’s research into the ways people react to the state of inequality. She moderated a session introducing the theme this past February. “The artists were asking, ‘How we can change how people react? How can we make the world more equitable through the artwork as a medium? How can we make this information impactful?’ ” she said.
Howard ultimately chose 32 pieces from artists around the world. The show includes video, sculpture, book art, painting, installation, photography and collage.
Suzanne Broughel participated in the February event, watching it on a computer at the City University of New York’s library. “My work talks about economic racism. For a curator to team up with an economist is brilliant,” said Broughel, who grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., and was one of a few white kids in a predominantly black school.
For her piece, she wanted to illustrate the wealth gap between black and white families. Broughel’s recent work uses white sheets, a simple symbol of purity and domesticity and, more subtly, of the Ku Klux Klan, as canvas, and self-tanning lotions and skin bronzers as medium.
For this exhibit’s piece, she dipped coins into skin foundation. To represent the statistics of white families, she used nude and a darker shade for those of black families. It hangs on a clothesline, attached with clothespins.
“It is so difficult for us to talk about race,” she said. “That is why I am so interested in the nonverbal. Maybe it will ease the conversation a bit. Maybe someone will not have their defenses up when they approach the work. They might be more open to thinking about it.”
Chapel Hill artist Carter Hubbard created a quilt out of unfurled toilet paper rolls and metal bailing wire from the barn where she works.
“The piece refers to the veil of ignorance created by the capitalistic structure and its abuse of natural resources to uphold its steady course,” Hubbard said.
She anticipates learning what conclusions or change in thought viewers might make. “I know that is what art has done for me as it has sneaked past my own defenses,” she said. “There is always more than one way to do, see, or explain something, and not everyone learns the same way. I provide a visual language that may turn on the proverbial light bulb for some, some more than before.”
Each artist received a $100 stipend, and Jody Servon incorporated that into her work for the show; she attached the money to the center’s wall andinvites viewers to take a dollar if they need it, and not to take one if they don’t. “The researchers wanted it hung in the most public place here so they would be tempted,” Howard said. “I think for them it must be fascinating since they are the ones trying to see how people react in research situations, but now they are the guinea pigs, I think.”
Alon Evron, one of the center’s researchers, has gotten used to people looking over his head to view the art. “It was a bit weird at first having the work up, but towards the end of the first show, we were all looking forward to the next exhibit,” Evron said.
Peter Lisignoli, a Duke master’s of fine arts student, created a four-minute video made of 10,000 still images he shot with a camera. He originally intended to explore “food deserts,” areas where people don’t have access to healthy food but rely on sources such as convenience stores for some sustenance.
But after listening to Ariely’s presentation, he made a creative zigzag.
“I thought I’d rather do something more in the line of a poetic description of this place I am looking at,” he said. “So I looked at surveillance at the Stop N Go on Durham’s Angier Avenue. Under the gaze of the surveillance camera, everybody is suspect. I have been interested in thinking about how inequality can be rendered visually, too. It is also something that gets rendered in cultural spaces as well.”
Lisignoli said it is rare for artists to come into contact with researchers who actually gather and interpret statistics. “Once I saw what the center does – look at what is usually something that we always assume but never do research on – I thought if I were to do a project with them, it might help bring the arts into academic conversations.”
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