In the white-walled room there was an exhibit of photos of people being suffocated, and visitors wandered in and stared at them. Some people regretted coming and wanted to leave after a minute. But it didn’t seem acceptable to take only a quick peek at the photographs of people suffocating, like bored window shoppers, as if they found the photographs of people suffocating subpar. Many wondered how long they should stare at the photographs, was thirty seconds sufficient, or if it was okay to consider two pictures at a time, since otherwise it would take forever to move through the entirety of the exhibit. In each photograph, a person’s head was covered in a translucent plastic bag, mouth agape in various contortions of distress and panic and the posed onset of asphyxiation. Each photograph was $350. Some visitors believed they had deduced the artist’s intent and left feeling assured, their aesthetic powers intact. Some were both confused and deeply disturbed, and they worried they would not sleep that night, that the images would remain with them even after they left the exhibit—though they also recognized that this is the point of art. Everyone recognized the need for silence. One woman was glad that speaking would intrude on the sanctity, or profundity, or whatever, of the space, because she had no idea what it all meant, or how to interpret the differences between the expressions. One set of eyes begged for life; another person, after an exhausting struggle, closed his mouth to accept, maybe even hurry along, his fate. The woman decided to make her exit when no one else was leaving, since outside the exhibit, someone might try to strike up a conversation, and she did not want to speak about the exhibit, but she did not want to speak about things that were not the exhibit. As she waited for the right moment to leave, she was half-heartedly considering a photo of a face trying to eat its way out of the plastic, or that’s what it looked like to her, when a toddler whooshed by and slapped the wall with his little hands, merrily screeching and scurrying away until a woman scooped him up and covered his mouth and left the room. The boy had left a faint, dirty fingerprint on the wall. She stooped to look. She stared for a while.
Samantha Kimmey is a journalist and editor in the Bay Area. She is a co-publisher of Mount Vision Press, a small press with an eye toward nature and the land.