From magician, to architect, to one of the world’s most politically engaging artists today, Alfredo Jaar’s major solo exhibition forms a key part of YSP’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Born in Chile in 1956, Jaar is well known for his projects addressing humanitarian trauma and the politics of image-making, responding to extreme inequalities and injustices around the world.
The exhibition is named after a significant new work by Jaar, presented outdoors in YSP’s grounds. Upon first encounter, The Garden of Good and Evil (2017) appears to provide the peaceful embrace of a beautiful grove of trees. Yet, as visitors enter, it becomes apparent that the large cubic planters containing each tree are in fact elegantly fabricated steel cells, designed to reference the confinement boxes used to hold prisoners at the secret detention facilities (or ‘black sites’) operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) around the world. Some only just large enough to contain a person kneeling.
In the Underground Gallery, a series of Jaar’s most well-known works explore his interest in contemporary image and compassion fatigue. The Sound of Silence (2005) challenges the candour of information sources, image ownership and copyright through the history of a devastating image of a young victim of the 1993 Sudanese famine, taken by photographer Kevin Carter. Elsewhere, Shadows (2014) responds to six images taken by photographer Koen Wessing following the trauma experienced by a family of a farmer murdered during the 1978 Nicaraguan Civil War. While A Hundred Times Nguyen (1994) relates to the shocking conditions faced by the Vietnamese boat people held in ‘refugee detention centres’ in Hong Kong in 1991.
Though the weightiness of these subjects may sound darkly depressing; there’s also an optimism to Jaar’s work. The title of the show alludes to the choice humans have between good or evil. As Jaar states: “The world of art and the world of culture is the last remaining space of freedom… I am free to speculate, I am free to dream a better world, and I can only do that in the art world.”