Photo by Seth Combs
America’s malls are loaded with distractions. Personally, I can’t recall an instance in which I went to a mall with no agenda other than to see an art installation, but such was the case this past weekend when I stopped by the San Diego Art Institute Project Space in Horton Plaza to see Nick Mansfield’s Weathering the Storm: Trauma Beneath the Surface.
Known mostly for his large-scale photographic work, Mansfield has turned the space into something of an interactive dossier on the conceptions and misconceptions of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Focused shoppers attempted to whiz by the space (which, speaking of distractions, is conveniently nestled next to Victoria’s Secret), but became distracted by the TV flashing images of people and scenes in various levels of stress. The four-minute loop of images is affecting if not a tad blatant but I suppose that was the intent: to distract shoppers just long enough so as to make the point that, when it comes to PTSD, it isn’t just about soldiers.
And for those distracted enough to actually inquire within, the pièce de résistance of the exhibition was just around the corner and down a very dark, hallway. The hallway leads to a boxy white room with no accoutrements aside from a white seat and a pair of white headphones. As the viewer sits down, the headphones blare an endless loop of overlaid static into your brain. For myself, I can only say that the longer I stayed, the more stressful it became. The cracks in the white wall in front of me became bigger and more pronounced and my eyes, combined with the walls and the static in my ears, began to play tricks on me. Tiny hallucinations began to flutter and I became not so much stressed as I was disturbed and intrigued.
This was simply my experience with the piece, but however others come to experience it, Weathering the Storm (which is up through March 5) is a fascinating study of an issue that many of us don’t fully understand or comprehend. And if anyone leaves a mall, of all places, with a heightened sense of empathy for what others may be dealing with just below the surface, then the artist has done his job.