Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The shooting prompted protests that roiled the area for weeks. On Nov. 24, the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict Mr. Wilson. The announcement set off another wave of protests.
In Ferguson (Oculesics), the intention is to capture the essence of this wave of emotional and racial divide that affected not only Ferguson at the time of the verdict but also the entire country and beyond. Additionally, the goal of this exhibition is to prompt the audience to make a face-to-face connection, through eye tracking, physical interaction and movement with officer Wilson. Finally and overall, to perpetuate an understanding of how we as a society have the ability to control, mitigate and propagate massive interruption and disturbance through our collective energy, consciousness and actions.
Upon entering the gallery, participants encounter several simultaneous projections, each signifying one part of a whole or entire system. Significant in the work, sound waves captured within the four walls of the space force a large projected United States flag to move in a wave-like motion. The louder the room gets, the more affected the waving flag becomes, creating an agitating effect.
Prominent at the entrance of the gallery, one comes upon a live recording of the verdict being read by the prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch for St. Louis County, Missouri via Fox News. One can see through this footage the live view of police officers standing at the ready waiting for their orders to manage the riots and protestors in Ferguson.
As one walks further into the gallery they are immediately immersed in the scene of the crime; where Michael Brown’s dead body lay on the concrete face down encompassed by resident onlookers, police officers and police line do not cross yellow tape. Juxtaposed with this image is live footage of the wave of riots that took place as a result of the shooting. The riot footage, however, is only exposed through human physical interruption, here that being the figure of the viewer. The more people that stand in front of the scene the more footage one is able to view, signifying the viewer’s impact not on the actual crime but rather on the wave of happenings afterward.
As the viewer walks further they come upon a small headshot of officer Wilson taken the day of the shooting with accompanying headphones. One is allowed to sit one-on-one in front of Wilson, with their face and head reflected in his while listening to The Fiddle and the Drum, a song originally written by Joni Mitchell and covered here by A Perfect Circle. The song reflects the position of an outsider, that America is “fighting for us all” and has traded the fiddle for the drum. As an anti-war song, it was one of the songs that became associated with opposition to the Iraq War in 2004.
Once still, eye-tracking software picks up the movement of the viewer's eyes and reflects that motion within the eyes of officer Wilson. This moment of reflection is meant to be an intimate one, offering the viewer the ability to make a direct connection, positive or negative, with officer Wilson. The study of eye contact as body language is known as oculesics. Eye contact provides important social and emotional information and the term often defines the act as a meaningful and important sign of communication. This contact often instigates an uncharted emotional and however pleasant or uncomfortable outcome.