You’re in a large, dimly lit gallery, black walls adorned with glitter, the hum of quiet noise nudging you toward an otherworldly state of mind. Silent films of moon craters and sunspots loom overhead. Black orbs cluster on heaped dust and rock, some suspended from the ceiling. Although artists, critics and curators often overstate their claims when they ascribe powers of healing and transformation to works of contemporary art, it’s hard not to feel genuinely moved by Folayemi (Fo) Wilson’s immersive installation.
The work takes up the visual vocabulary of Afrofuturism, and Wilson herself talks about it in terms of her understanding of “the African worldview.” Samuel R. Delany, perhaps the best known of all black science-fiction writers, a man whose grandfather was born a slave, famously announced that “we need images of tomorrow, and our people need them more than most.” “Dark Matter” doesn’t offer many specific resources, nor does it really imagine the future, but it provides a respite from the battleground of twenty-first-century life, where anti-black racism threatens your psychic and physical well-being. The artist says she wants to “make America nice again” and, even if I don’t entirely share the sentiment, I have to acknowledge that the show really works as a kind of engine for good feeling. My friends and I lingered longer than planned and felt refreshed when we left.
Cushions are provided and you’re encouraged to lounge in the space. There’s a roster full of musical and poetic performances (and, less appealingly, yoga classes) slated for the gallery. “Dark Matter” has less fire than Wilson’s previous works, and the way you feel about it will probably depend on which side you fall of the old Frankfurt School dictum that good art should be hard. But in a time when everything else is difficult, it’s sometimes a pleasant surprise to think with art that’s not. (Luke A. Fidler)
“Dark Matter: Celestial Objects as Messengers of Love in These Troubled Times” shows through July 14 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell.