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On view at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) this past winter was Surjection, an exhibition by New Dehli-based artists the Raqs Media Collective. The show was dense, opaque even, but it had me thinking about the possibility for silence or erasure–or, as Kim Simon would term it “contextual disassociation“–to create a productive distance between subject matter per se and a viewer’s engagement with a work. Sometimes the space that silence or erasure creates makes it possible to engage at all, when otherwise the viewer’s reaction would be to shut down entirely, to dismiss outright or to simply walk away. However, there has to be something generous on the other side of the emptiness; it cannot be the responsibility of the audience alone to supply the motivation to reach across the distance. If the work itself cannot conjure an affectual response in its audience, then the whole affair of meaning grinds to a halt. In the Spring issue of C Magazine, I map my own attempt to grasp the back stories and political concerns of the Raqs exhibition, pushing up against the boundary of what happens when what a work does is leave the viewer cold.

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