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Jane Fulton Alt’s “Crude Awakening”

July 14, 2010

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Sunday, posted “Crude Awakening,” a video project by photographer Jane Fulton Alt depicting swimmers covered in what looks like crude oil—Alt’s own artistic response to the BP oil spill. The images are like a series family portraits gone wrong. Pregnant women, children, the elderly, are all shown in swimwear, set for a day at the beach. Instead they find themselves casualties of the oil spill, their bodies drenched in the stuff, confusion and feelings of betrayal stretched across their faces. says the artist’s “work is taking flak for lack of authenticity. We give you the facts, and ask: doesn’t the value of art derive precisely from the fact that it is not the real thing?”

Honestly, using Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” as a backdrop for these images detracts from the “visceral impact” ascribes to the project; it seems sillier somehow when set to music, as if the artist feels the need to shove her message in her spectators’ faces, rather than letting us come to it on our own. The models’ ambiguous emotions should leave room for us to insert our own feelings on the disaster, but any individual connection with the images is dictated by the tone of the soundtrack. The photographs therefore function more powerfully as separate stills, which can be viewed in high definition at Alt’s website.

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