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“Threshold: Art in Times of Crisis” presents art from the past five decades that explores critical turning points, times when crises resulted in major cultural change, political upheaval, and societal transformation. An exhibition of works by 24 artists, presented on Radical Broadcast, Performa’s online exhibition space at
To reach a threshold means to hit a limit, to come to a boundary or a place where you can no longer carry on or move forward, unless you can find a way to cross the threshold. In science, threshold means that a magnitude or intensity must be exceeded for a chemical reaction to occur; thus the threshold must be breached in order for physical change to occur. Culturally, thresholds are often catalysts for moments of change, at times in which social or political situations are no longer tolerable. How we get to that threshold—be it a personal or collective one—is more often than not hastened by moments of crisis, trauma or great difficulty. Although painful, shocking, and sometimes unbearable, these experiences can lead to enormous personal change or seismic social transformation.
We are currently living through an unprecedented moment of global upheaval. The ongoing world-wide pandemic has not only destroyed enormous numbers of human lives, but also caused political, economic, and social consequences across the globe as each nation has dealt with the same problem in a different way. In some parts of the world the same virus has been addressed through the lens of politics, often at the expense of science, creating vastly differing results in respective countries. In America, the decisions made to manage this crisis are divided between states, and are heightened by economic inequality — therefore the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latino populations. The police brutality that has occurred in parallel has led to widespread protest against the institutional racism and inequity that pervades America. Thus, a medical problem that began in China means something radically different inside America’s social and political systems.
This turbulence, and the differing perceptions and reactions to this turbulence, raises the question: how does one make art at a time like this? Whether faced with war, genocide, displacement, civil unrest, political oppression, environmental disasters, racial, ethnic, sexual and gender violence, or pandemics of catastrophic dimensions, in the last century, artists have responded to crisis in thoughtful and powerful ways, creating work that critiques the horror, explores the political and social environments that give rise to it, reveal the cultural forces at play, and also offers a place of reflection, mourning, and healing.