The week’s contributing blogger, Ting-Yu Lin, is a graduate student from New York University’s Visual Arts Administration program with a focus on Not-for-profit Management. Her interests in the arts lie at the intersection of critical studies, social justice, and curatorial practice.
Striving to comment on our current sociopolitical landscape—one complicated by ideas such as “fake news” and “alternative facts”—the installation Truth Be Told is an endeavor to initiate reflection on the first year of the Trump administration. On January 20, 2018, as a part of Art Action Day, artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese installed a 2,000-pound ice sculpture of the word TRUTH in the garden of Jim Kempner Fine Art in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Accompanied by a live streaming event, the 10-foot wide and 4-foot tall melting TRUTH lasted only three days.
Truth Be Told is the sixth ice sculpture of LigoranoReese’s collective series called Melted Away. Since 2006, LigoranoReese have melted several political buzzwords—“first, DEMOCRACY is broken, then, the ECONOMY ruined; the MIDDLE CLASS disappears, THE FUTURE is tenuous, THE AMERICAN DREAM vanishes, and TRUTH remains an open question.” Throughout the series, the artists refer to these site-specific melting ice sculptures as “temporary monuments” that address the civic and sociopolitical issues since the turn of the millennium.
Upon visiting Truth Be Told, my first impression was a feeling of conflict towards its exhibition in a contemporary art gallery in Chelsea. In a site-specific installation, the site plays a pivotal role in framing the context of an artwork, especially when the art takes the form of a socially engaged practice. While it is free to visit the gallery, it is not a peculiarly approachable place for all, especially for those who are not regular gallery-goers. By that account, exhibiting Truth Be Told in a commercial gallery setting served to limit public participation, hindering its capacity for open engagement. Thus, to a certain extent, the site impeded the artists’ aim for the work to encourage human interactions as well as to further provoke conversations.
On the other hand, and contrary to the in-person viewing experience, Truth Be Told’s live streaming feature enhanced the meaning of the work to a greater degree because it allowed open access to follow the entire melting process without the restriction of time and place. Additionally, the online streaming feature made it possible for LigoranoReese to partner with galleries, universities, institutions, and museums across the country, where Truth Be Told was simultaneously streaming in different locations as the sculpture melted away in New York.
Moving the lens to today’s contemporary artists and their critiques on sociopolitical issues—such as the Guerrilla Girls, Dread Scott, Tania Bruguera, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Zanele Muholi, W.A.G.E., and many others—political and activist art has evolved beyond the mere participation within social movements, such as anti-war movements and HIV awareness. It has unfolded to an active individual practice of freedom, where artistic productions have the agency to liberate and generate actions for social justice across intersectional topics such as race, class, and gender. With that said, Truth Be Told echoes countless voices across the continuum of a long-established activist art history, and, in particular, manifests the emergence of a proliferating flow of new artistic energies imbued with activism, which have ignited since Trump’s accession to power. As LigoranoReese has stated, “last year, we entered uncharted territory with no real way of measuring how far away we are from where real ground truth lies.” Indeed, Truth Be Told forgoes the ambiguity of art in its bold, capitalized word TRUTH, where the erosion of ice can be interpreted quite literally as the truth disappearing.
When thinking about their chosen material, the artists reason that “[i]ce is a time based material and brings to mind feelings of loss and decay as it erodes. It has an elegiac feel. The sculpture’s disappearance results from human interaction, the weather and the environment.” Yet while the physical form of ice melts away over time and vanishes before our eyes, ice becomes water and cycles through different forms based on environmental conditions such as pressure and temperature. With the ability to circulate between land, ocean, and atmosphere through the stages of evaporation, the molecules never truly cease to exist. So in Truth Be Told, it’s the form that melts and disappears, but the elements remain, merely transformed.
For that reason, as the TRUTH erodes drip by drip, the energy of the work is redirected and can be repurposed. Although LigoranoReese’s Truth Be Told does not explicitly call for action from viewers, and even though the TRUTH seems to be disappearing under our current political climate, the activist in me finds the act of witnessing the melting process to be thought-provoking enough to spark action in solidarity, to reject the world of alternative facts, and to preserve our unvarnished truths.
 “Truth Be Told: Overview,” Melted Away, accessed February 8th, 2018, http://meltedaway.com/truth-told-overview.
 “Truth Be Told: For the Press,” Melted Away, accessed on February 8th 2018, http://meltedaway.com/truth-told-press.