Alfredo Jaar's show entitled "The Sound of Silence" combines sculptural elements with moving image to deliver a potent message about power, the media and our responsibility when we observe the suffering of others.
Jaar's use of bright fluorescent lighting jars the viewer upon entering the gallery space. The roughly one hundred ten foot long tubes create a sense of foreboding that is accentuated by the darkness of the interior space one enters on the opposite wall of the cube. An 8-minute narrative film investigates the moral questions that emerge during the documentation of suffering, posing uncomfortable questions not only about the recorder of such difficult imagery but also about us, the consumers.
The image to which the narrative builds was taken by the photo-journalist Kevin Carter in 1993 while covering the rebel movement in famine-stricken Sudan. Taking a walk into the open bush, he heard a whimpering sound and came upon a tiny child trying to make it to a feeding center. As he crouched down to take a photograph, a vulture landed close by. Carter moved to a position enabling him to capture both the weeping child and the vulture. He later said that he had waited 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, hoping for the optimal shot. It didn't and the girl resumed her struggle. Kevin Carter, apparently, had decided to do nothing. One supposes that being a chronicler of suffering through countless wars and disasters natural and otherwise, Carter became inured to it, convinced of the futility of helping.
Eighteen months later, Kevin Carter committed suicide by taping a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of his red Nissan pick-up truck. He was 34 years old.
At the end of the narrative, Jaar points out that the image of the little girl taken by Kevin Carter is now owned by Bill Gates' Corbis Corporation.
Alfredo Jaar's exploration of Carter's death is moving. But it is a little ironic and while it may appear a bit too moralizing, the flaw is deeper. For he has transformed this tragic story - both Carter's and the unnamed, helpless Sudanese refugee - into an installation that will be viewed, and ultimately sold, in a high-end Chelsea gallery. He has taken this vignette of the real world and placed it within a white cube and then put that white cube into another white cube so that we can observe this drama and perhaps silently criticize Kevin Carter for not helping that little girl while never quite grasping that we didn't help her either.