“Law,” wrote legal philosopher Robert Cover in his seminal essay Nomos and Narrative, “may be viewed as a system of tension or a bridge linking a concept of a reality to an imagined alternative.”¹ The law, in other words, presupposes a chasm between the present parameters of legal authority and the redemptive promise of a justice that remains perpetually “à venir”.²
The works in this exhibition explore that chasm. Even as they interrogate the ways in which the justice system and the penal system operate today, they simultaneously gesture toward the imaginary, the fictional, the counter-factual.
The violence at stake in the enforcement of the law — from policing practices (Dread Scott’s Wanted) and immigration enforcement (Jenny Polak’s ICE Escape Sign) to incarceration (Gregory Sale’s Life Is Life) and capital punishment (Lucky Pierre’s Final Meals) — reverberates across the works. Yet, rather than adopting an “aesthetic of administration,” these artists instead employ the language of the ludic (Jesse Krimes’ Purgatory), the poetic (Per-Oskar Leu’s An Die Nachgeborenen), the organic (jackie sumell’s Solitary Gardens), even the sublime (Amy Elkins’ Sunshine State).
Ultimately, in shuttling between the real and the “imagined alternative,” the exhibition invites us to reflect upon the role of the artist in politically charged times. Neither embracing art as a morally superior sphere nor decrying art’s powerlessness in the fact of legal and political challenges, it suggests that one of the most critical function of artists is to map our relationship to the institutions of justice we have erected—to shed light on “the gap between law as it is and law as it should be.”³
¹ Robert M. Cover, The Supreme Court, 1982 Term – Foreword: Nomos and Narrative, 97 Harv. L. Rev. 4, 9 (1983)
² Jacques Derrida, Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”, 11 Cardozo L. Rev. 919 (1990) (“Justice remains, is yet, to come, à venir, it has an, it is à-venir, the very dimension of events irreducibly to come.”).
³ Robert M. Cover, Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process, 29 (1975).
The exhibition is curated by Alexandra Perloff-Giles; commissioned and organized by The Agency for Legal Imagination operating throughout 2018 at MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38.