Susan Kleinberg

“Fear Not” Catalog Essay

by Joseph Forte

Joseph Forte
Noble Chair in Art History
Sarah Lawrence College
New York City

Fear Not: A Light in a Dark Wood

    “In the middle of my life's journey…. I found myself in a dark wood (Dante, Inferno, canto 1);” 
Susan Kleinberg began her career as an explorer of energy, form and entropy in painting, sculpture. 
Over the years, she learned something about dark woods. Like Dante, Kleinberg chose to continue
her journey in dialogue with people from all walks of life, not in the language of his epic poetry, but
of ubiquitous contemporary media -- video tape and still photos - and interviews. Like Dante, she
wishes to enlighten, to take the road in order to ascend, to pose a timeless question in a particular
context.   In her video piece “Fear Not,” she renders people pleading their cases, investigating their
actions, evaluating their lives, like Dante's saints and sinners, in response to Kleinberg’s gently
insistent question, “what is courage?”

    Kleinberg positions the video monitors in spaces painted blue/silver/grey as a weave of signposts,
using a video loop with still photos and continuous sound.  The walls reflect the light of the monitors,
creating an aura around the portraits presented on screen, investing them with the power of presence
that Walter Benjamin believed all photography and art had irretrievably lost. The photo portraits are
isolated on eight walls throughout the gallery, set like easel pictures.  This description suggests a classical
aesthetic, like the geometric landscapes in the background of Italian Renaissance paintings.   Kleinberg
has continually flirted in her career with the compositional motifs and stillness of Italian classical art, but
loosened from its moorings, forms flying centrifugally in space and time, open to decay re-composition,
and re-birth. Her piece for the 1995 Venice Biennale, floating in the Venetian lagoon between San Marco
and San Giorgio, is a prime example, the gilded detritus of Venetian history along with various odd
contemporary objects, captured in a classical tondo , a bright yellow ring made by NASA based on the
Apollo space capsule's floatation collar that serves as a raft, excavating an idealized past while rolling,
crashing in an uncertain present.

“Fear Not” touches similar themes.  It is not a fixed piece, but a continuing process, engaging new subjects
and responses grouped around the same question.  Each monitor is different, standing in its own space,
the loop timed so that one rarely overlaps the other. As always, Kleinberg's piece is complicated, layers on
layers, in which one shifts, locates and dislocates.  Illumination varies as the photos change and the bodies
move through the filter of the ambient light. Sound, bodies, images carve space in various aleatory ways.
The images compete with, contradict, or complement the voices.  We choose how to see or hear them, who
grabs our attention, how much time to spend, what to say to our selves and to our audience in the tape
recorders.  “Fear Not” is a four dimensional work; we move intentionally in space and continuously in time
through a landscape Kleinberg creates and that we uncertainly inhabit.

“Fear Not” uses uncertainty to raise crucial issues about media, art, truth.  We expect the screens to show
continuous video, not the artist's carefully crafted sequence of stills. We expect the audio to be sound bites,
not to have the focus and formality of Renaissance portraits. She uses the means of television news to tell
a different story, one that challenges the notions of truth and honesty served up by partisan pundits.   In
the world post September 11th, they have nothing to tell us about fear and courage that cannot be better
learned from the democratic voices of Susan Kleinberg’s “Fear Not. ”   Her art inspires us to reflect in a space
of her design and to act in a place of our own choosing, to come to a place of awareness and connection.  
As Ms. Kleinberg shows us, we might become aware of things that truly amaze us.